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What is Youth Empowerment and Strength?


Gangs in Pasadena were perceived much differently in the 1970's than they are currently as harbingers of violence and drug abuse. Originating as groups of young African-American men who wanted to act as role models for others, these gangs' primary concern was with clothing and style—they wished to sport the most expensive, trending clothing at the time as a demonstration of their prestige and elite status. But this all changed with the crack cocaine wave that swept America in the 1980s. As a means of acquiring more money to purchase more expensive clothes, gangs in Pasadena began to sell crack cocaine to their communities, causing escalations in turf battles. The addition of cocaine to the equation thus led to the current situation of gang violence in Pasadena and the fragmenting of families due to youth being drawn away from positive role models toward "anti-role models" like gang members.


YES (Youth Empowerment and Strength) is a youth group comprised of individuals from various areas around Pasadena and La Cañada Flintridge dedicated to promoting positive role models for families in California and communities beyond.


We believe that the answer to preventing gang violence and ensuring that our youth can thrive safely in their homes is twofold: combating ignorance with a greater understanding of the context and history surrounding gangs, and ensuring that youth seek inspiration and leadership from positive role models, not anti-role models. To do so, we are organizing 50 youth in five high schools around LA (John Muir, La Canada, Blaire, La Salle, and Pasadena) to prevent gang violence by pressuring local and state representatives to invest funding into proven accountability and treatment services for justice system-involved youth by August 2018 and challenging the judicial system’s policies regarding incarceration of juvenile youth. We will do this by recruiting, identifying, and training fellow youth organizers, holding 1:1 meetings with organizers in the same field of work, leveraging relationships with influential community leaders, and hosting training events preparing members of our constituency to present our purpose and work to local and state representatives.

For us, positive role models are passionate for change, community, social development—for people in general. YES believes there is a clear distinction between genuinely positive role models and what we term "anti-role models," those who fracture the healthy dynamic within families and the community. With examples seen in figures like El Chapo, Al Capone, and Pablo Escobar, these "anti-role models" create excitement around themselves because they have a certain mystique that makes them dangerous, and as a result, enticing. The problem with anti-role models, however, is that they foster an unhealthy conception of the purpose of youth and ultimately turn youth away from genuine social progress toward a path marked by violence, substance abuse, and ultimately self-destruction. More and more in Pasadena today, we see violence due to gangs, and we believe that the best way to break the oppressive cycle of gang violence is by introducing positive role models into the lives of youth and encouraging them to turn to these healthy role models over anti-role models.


When confronted with the choice of heading off to school or going with their gang to participate in a turf dispute, what will today's youth choose? Join YES today in our effort to help youth make the right choice.

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