To me, a better world is that place where everybody can live out their dreams. It’s the place they think of when they close their eyes, where every barrier that holds them back have dissolved away. Here, life’s challenges that confront us are the same obstacles we’ve collectively overcome. In this world, there’s no racism, no sexism, no poverty—nothing to hold us back. And at the end of the day, we can determine our own fates—our own destinies—and we can build something new that no one has ever seen before.
A WORLD-CLASS CITY
I’m actually a fourth-generation native of Los Angeles—one of L.A.’s rare species. I’m fortunate enough to have had a great-grandfather who came here as a young boy. He and my grandmother come from the Eastside. My parents—they grew up on the Westside and in South L.A. For me, this whole city has been a combination of all of those communities and neighborhoods.
I grew up and went to school in the San Fernando Valley, but left for a few years to continue my studies on the east coast, and then in England. When I left to go abroad, I saw the face of Los Angeles on the face of the world.
There’s so much to love about L.A. I love its people. I love its topography. I love the layout of this place—how the beautiful mountains collide with the ocean. It’s the edge of a continent, just rich and ripe with possibility. And I love that this city is both free and innovative.
I’ve been working with Youth Policy Institute for over a decade now. Throughout these years, I’ve witnessed how they embody Los Angeles’ creativity and innovation. They’re able to be this incredible tapestry of the city, weaving programs with a philosophy that’s inclusive of everybody. It’s in some ways how I’ve modeled my governance style. To be successful, you cannot leave anybody behind, you can’t leave any dollar behind, and you certainly need to have a plan of where to go when you bring these bits and pieces together. YPI embodies that.
At a time when resources are thinner than they’ve ever been, at a time when people feel more disconnected in more ways than ever before, YPI is the glue that held things together. They pull funding sources and braid these streams together. They pull different philosophies and unite them. They are the bridge—the connection between peoples coming from different backgrounds and neighborhoods, of different ages and philosophies. They’re the bridge that I think is able to take young people from despair to hope, from disconnection to connection, and ultimately take them out of the pressing problem of poverty by finding a pathway that leads to possibilities and opportunities for everybody.
In bridging these gaps that Angelenos face, YPI, having stood at the intersection, gets how we live. They know a young person’s need might be counseling today, or that need might be mental health support tomorrow. On the third day, the need might come from a student’s family who’s seeking legal services, and the day after, they might need help with their tax prep and finances.
In some ways, YPI pioneered the idea that there’s no wrong door. Once they find you—or you find them—they take you from the immediate need you have today to the challenge you face tomorrow, supporting you, and even expanding their service to include your family and maybe even your entire neighborhood.
As technology was fast cresting, they thought ahead of the curve to make sure that young people and communities of color in low-income areas of town had access to technology that’s just as cutting-edge as the one in the wealthiest areas. It’s something that we take for granted now, but it’s the thing that YPI had always had in mind.
YPI has also been a superb, key partner in my goal of making sure that every young person in Los Angeles can find a job in the summertime and during the school year. These jobs help prepare her or him to graduate, to go to college, and to have a great career. Sometimes, they even hire youth directly, if not help find them in great job opportunities with partners that support the agency.
Los Angeles was one of the first three cities in the nation to be selected as a Promise Zone, President Obama’s signature anti-poverty policy that’s based on the idea that poverty will only be eradicated when we serve people as full human beings. A natural leader in the fight against poverty, YPI does that every day.
YPI was instrumental in helping Los Angeles become the only city in the nation to have won the three signature neighborhood revitalization initiatives to the Promise Zone. In some ways, the Promise Zone was built almost entirely on the success of the city and YPI’s work that brought the three federal grants here, which then led to the creation of the Promise Zone.
We would never have gotten here were it not for YPI’s core philosophy of bringing every person, every grant, every organization to the table together. They’re collaborative, which is so rare for nonprofits. As YPI has grown, they’ve brought so many people and so many organizations together, who, as partners, grew alongside one another. To me, threading this tapestry that stretches across Los Angeles is part of the legacy of YPI. It’s a legacy that’s tailoring Los Angeles to be a better place—a place belonging to the world we all dream of.