Dear SPWLA Community,
I am writing to thank you for your generosity, support and hospitality last summer. My experience was one of tremendous growth, humility and exploration and I am incredibly grateful to have received the SPWLA fellowship to pursue my own research project and engage with neighborhood communities in Los Angeles. As a senior majoring in Urban Studies and Political Science, this project allowed me to explore both my interests in urban crime and local policy in a unique way.
This summer I worked dually with two organizations that address issues in the foster care and juvenile justice systems: Fostering Media Connections (FMC) and The RightWay Foundation. FMC is a non-profit that focuses on harnessing the power of journalism to juvenile justice reform by covering emerging solutions to the legal systems’ challenges while The Right Way Foundation is a non-profit providing direct mental health and employment services to foster youth and previously incarcerated youth to direct them towards self-sufficiency. FMC and The Right Way Foundation complemented my honors thesis project where I sought to understand the neighborhood experiences of inner-city youth in South Central, Compton and Boyle Heights. FMC gave me the knowledge and tools to write about research affecting this population on their publication The Chronicle of Social Change, while The Right Way Foundation allowed me to work directly with youth.
Your support allowed me to live and work in the city of Los Angeles as a true resident where I could immerse myself in the city and be proximate to the communities I was engaging with. Living in Los Angeles allowed me to witness and understand issues of homelessness and gentrification firsthand. Moreover, this funding gave me the access to stay late at work and meet with youth and stakeholders for interviews at multiple locations.
My residency in Los Angeles further affirmed my interests in attending law school and pursuing a position in public interest work. The narratives of injustice that I heard of youth taught me about the child welfare and justice system’s challenges in creating adequate forms of sentencing and crime prevention and about the powerful narratives of youth who come from nontraditional family backgrounds that face the consequences and burdens of our government’s welfare problems.
Beyond my research and career aspirations, the experience I had this summer taught me the importance of humility, patience, compassion and empathy. Additionally, it made me committed to ensuring that whatever legal or welfare systems I work with in the future create a space and a platform to understand at-risk youth’s needs and experiences. I hope to begin this commitment by potentially presenting some recommendations to either the Department of Children and Family Services or Los Angeles County after I complete my honors thesis this year.
Thank you for allowing me to explore my journey in research. I have no doubt that the influence of this summer will remain with me not only in the way I choose to represent and advocate for individuals one day but simply in my daily life in approaching others’ experiences with humility and gratitude. As a low-income student, I wouldn’t have imagined that the opportunity to conduct my own research or to write articles on emerging research on juvenile justice was possible and I am so incredibly grateful to you for allowing me to have this opportunity.
Marisol Zarate ’19