A man sits waiting for the bus at the Vermont and Santa Monica transit center.

Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 66

Today I’d like to take a moment to congratulate the class of 2020.

It’s been over two months and just shy of one week since the shut-down orders in California went into effect, and as this writing series stretches into the end of the school-year, I realize that I would be remiss not to address the class of 2020 for a moment.

Students, let’s be heard:

To be a graduating senior at this time is to trade your one-way ticket for the journey of a lifetime for a one way entry into the challenge of a lifetime, of gargantuan proportions.

It is to leave one of the most familiar institutions in your life for a globe that’s just teeming into a newfound uncertainty.

And it is to be introduced, to a world that needs more exposure if it is to change.

In Los Angeles, over the span of two months, we’ve learned much about the world here that we might have already known, but which, just in case we’d forgotten, has come back resoundingly for us to keep in mind:

The world has come to accept an unacceptable inequality.

The world is profoundly in need of new leadership.

The world needs new voices to lead these calls.

The fact of the matter is, in times of great crisis, much of the world is convinced that the only resolution is to “get back to normal.”

But if normal in this country is far and away a time spent waging wars, incarcerating the poor, and pricing the most vulnerable among us out of their homes, is that a “normal” that we should want to get back to?

This is what our elected officials mean by “normal.”

And but if normal in this country is indebting first-generation college students, and maintaining racialized job markets upon their graduation to solidify racial hegemony, and offering all of these students and workers only the most basic benefits and health services, is that a “normal” that’s optimal for us to get back to?

Remember also that normal is a world in which Black, Brown, and white children in the United States still go hungry, in which people over the age of 65 have no health-care during the most important days of their lives, and in which Wal-Mart executives would rather let their full-time employees live on food stamps instead of raising their wages.

I believe the students have to scrutinize this “normality” better than anyone in the days ahead.

I also believe that America needs the students, as well as their parents, to see America for what it truly is in this way.

A world that is not fair; a world that has actually spent an immeasurable amount of time and energy in arresting the development of generations of people to bolster inequality, and a world which can only grow more unequal if we don’t take this moment, that is, this next decade, to stand for something better.

Congratulations, class of 2020, for all your hard work leading up to and in spite of this moment, and because America will benefit greatly from your exposure to this reality.

In the days ahead, no matter what may lie ahead, I promise you this: my voice will not be far.

J.T.

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Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 41

I want to take a moment through this series to recognize the myriad of teachers, professors, and other educators in Los Angeles whose herculean efforts to continue providing instruction to the many students relying on them are a clear show of the profound work they take part in on a daily basis during circumstances of all kind.

Only yesterday, I spoke briefly with an instructor who informed me that they “have no weekends,” as they do the work of lecturing, advising, and grading for three different classes with more than two dozen learners in each class all by themselves.

I marveled at the heroism in the professor’s voice, unbeknownst even to them as they told me of their troubles. Then I remembered a line by another professor, one of my favorites, from many years ago:

“Being a professor, is just like being in college for the rest of your life.”

Of course, it made perfect sense when she said it. And I can still remember thinking to myself, I can do that too.

So guess who’s looking at a credentialing program this morning. Our teachers need help! Let’s assure them more support is on the way.

J.T.

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Helen Bernstein High School from Sunset boulevard, East Hollywood

José Ocampo: I Wanted School to Be Over

Many students (high school seniors, I’m talking to you!) constantly share one common wish: for school to be over. As seniors, we have put up with nearly 12 years of schooling, have gone through twice as many teachers, met 5 times as many annoying-ass kids, and just wanted our final year to be a breeze. Do we still want that?

When we said, “UGH! I want to get out of here already!” we meant that we wanted the school year to go by fast, unnoticed. However, fate and life (and some may even say God) enjoy toying with us, and like making a wish at a magic genie booth at the L.A. County fair, we actually got what we wanted, just in the most undesirable way possible.

COVID-19 has every school in the major Los Angeles area closed with a very high chance that they’ll remain closed until the upcoming fall. Suddenly, all of us students have been forced into online schooling, with every teacher trying to host a Zoom session at the same time, with many teachers assigning homework every single day, and with some teachers still having no idea how to use technology. This is not the end we wanted.

Suddenly, it seemed our introverted lifestyles were becoming a law and a survival guide: don’t go outside, don’t interact with anyone, avoid direct contact, only leave to get food. Finally, our binge-eating and binge-watching routines were no longer taboo, but being encouraged by the leaders of our state. In a nutshell, it can seem ideal. Living in it, though, has been a serious challenge.

Be careful what you wish for. You don’t know the value of what you have until it’s gone. These are sayings that are kicking everyone in the ass at the moment.

The vast majority of people always complain about the insipidity of their daily routine; we’re always asking for a change. It’s only now that we start to realize how dependent we are in our customs. Think about it: you’re sitting on your couch, watching something random on Netflix for background noise, eating your 5th Cup Noodles this week, and daydreaming about how life was perfectly normal a month ago (though you were probably complaining about it then too).

Many of our lonely souls just want this to be over because we miss our friends. We miss making plans we probably weren’t going to show up for. We miss rolling our eyes at the kids in the halls who take their sweet ass time walking to class. We also miss seeing that one teacher that remembered what being a high school student was like. Some of us are even questioning if we’ll still remember our social skills once this is over. Will we remember how to say “hi” properly, or how to hug our friends?

No matter what kind of person you may be, you probably miss the times that seem like forever ago too. Every day lasts 72 hours now, and there is apparently nothing to do. We all want this to be over, and soon. But what can we do? Be awesome and listen. That’s what. Also, remember to wash your hands and practice saying “hello” at home whenever possible.

(This blog was originally published on the new LA Voice Blog by José Ocampo)

JO

José Ocampo is an 18 year old Senior high school student in Los Angeles who will be studying at the University of San Francisco as a Psychology major this upcoming Fall 2020. He loves writing about the world, and sharing his mind with as many people as he can. Please check out and subscribe to his new blog, the LA Voice, immediately during this quarantine season!

EPISODE 6 – LIVE FROM LACC RESOURCE FAIR, OCTOBER 12

In this special broadcast rich with sounds from LACC’s Resource Fair, Kevin Lopez joins us for a brief reflection on the day’s turnout, our takeaways, and what our organization may just be on the precipice of with our continued ‘stand’ as community advocates in the neighborhood.

J.T.

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Working-class L.A. is Real and Will be Heard

While posts have been far and fewer this month, I can assure the people of J.T. that their friendly local neighborhood writer hasn’t actually been away, but that in addition to Starbucks, I’ve also been on a super-secret assignment as of late.

I’ll detail the specifics of the assignment when the time is right, but for now, what I can say to the people is that it has everything to do with L.A., and everything to do with yet another crucial part of what’ll make The L.A. Storyteller a premier source for the working class voice in Los Angeles.

And what a powerful thing it is to call J.T. an experiment for the working class. Just a few years ago, any discussion about “where I came from” was one I avoided more often than not.

During college it was easy, after all, to talk about anything except myself. There was an English course to discuss, or a philosophical argument to pose. There was news to review with friends, or some traveling to chat about. It was all fascinating subject matter, of course, and I couldn’t count how many passionate conversations I enjoyed with so many people. But what I didn’t realize while I was having those conversations was just how much my perspective was actually influenced by the environment that I was born and raised in.

I always knew I came from ‘the hood’, but I didn’t exactly view ‘the hood’ as anything more than a fact of life. Or, I didn’t view my upbringing as anything which was truly unfair, but as something which was just unique in its own regard, like anyone else’s upbringing.

I still view things this way, but I’m more interested than ever in how the different backgrounds in L.A. got to be this way. I’m interested, for example, in just how LAUSD’s 2008 class graduated only 48% of its students on time.

I’m similarly interested in how over 58,000 people ended up on L.A.’s streets and parks. I wonder during which mayoral administration homelessness took off so much, and just how shelters and civic groups have failed to catch up throughout the years.

I’m also interested in the link between L.A.’s role as the largest jail system in the country, which books over 171,000 people annually, and the 450 hoods claimed by over 45,000 gang members throughout the county.

Critics and sociologists have long recognized a ‘school to prison pipeline’, but with J.T., I’d like to create space for discussions that consider the individuals referenced by such phrases as actual people, not as statistics. I’d like to do this for the simple reason that I’ve been one of the statistics described above who’s also met a number of other people with stories that have been ignored, neglected, or flat out denied.

Moreover, I can see that just as it has been for me personally, it’s also true that many of the youngsters at schools today may not exactly know how they’re being marginalized, although they do understand that something is tragically unfair about their environments.

And so, as I was fortunate enough to meet people from so many different ealks of life through the course of my education who’d encourage me to see a different side of the world, I want to serve as a motivating source for the next generation of individuals who will make L.A.’s schools, governing offices, and much more.

I now see this “working class L.A.” then, not as a hopeless world, but as a sleeping giant, filled with the potential to create a world in the 21st century which the people of the 21st century deserve.

After all, it was just in 2013 that LAUSD increased its graduation rates to 66%! By the same token, in 2014 voters in California passed Proposition 47, which reduced penalties for petty drug crimes from felonies to misdemeanors, lowering the potential number of people sent to California’s overcrowded prisons instead of treatment centers or clinics.

And while L.A. hasn’t yet committed itself to ending homelessness on its streets, I’ve got a feeling that we’re getting there.

One step in commitment at a time,

How the Job Hunt Imitates Chess

The job hunt is on. Earlier this week I officially joined the influx of recent college graduates looking for work in an effort to reach the next chapter of my legacy. After sending out my resume to at least thirty different organizations, it’s become clear that the hype about joblessness isn’t just hyperbole after all, but it’s for real! It’s harsh. It’s cold out there. And it reminds me of chess.

In chess, when my game starts heading into a direction that I dislike, a wave of regret washes over me. I look back, and I want to think about what I could have done better. Similarly, as the job hunt bares its fangs, I consider my days as an undergraduate student and think about how I could have done more; I think to myself: maybe rather than spending so much of my time chasing great conversations, girls and poetry, I could have spent that time looking for certain work to fall back on after graduating, like at a diner or some office. Or, if not that, I think I could have focused more on my assignments in order to have greater accolades to walk into the game with, and thus a safer, smarter position. Then I think that maybe I could have just chosen another major, or gone to a technical school instead of a community college.

A tough chess game inspires the same kind of regret, where after I find myself in a rut of anger over the mistakes I made which placed me in the tough spot to begin with, I not only just want to quit the game right then and there, but I consider the very act of taking the moment to play as the biggest mistake of them all.

For a moment I want to believe that I never should have played the game to begin with, and that considering my terrible track record, which could only worsen with another terrible game, I should just avoid approaching a chessboard ever again.

Of course, a moment later, I can only smile at this line of thought, as giving into the idea that I simply had too much fun during college could only be as crazy as believing that I’d be better off in my life if I’d never learned how to play chess. Both of these things aren’t just bad ideas, but they also forget about the bigger picture.

The truth is –my favorite truth, at least– is that even as I spent so many of my days and nights throughout college as an avid socialite looking for a good time, I was also simultaneously growing my network, writing, and taking advantage of ever more opportunities to further my potential; since the moment I joined the Model UN club during my first year at Pasadena, in addition to being a student, I was also a writer, an activist, a leader, and a world’s worth of other things that made the college experience ten times more memorable. More than anything, though, I was adventurous!

Not only did I trust that going after great ideas, great conversations, and other kinds of pleasure would simply make me happier than the students who focused solely on their work, but I also trusted that my happiness was the most crucial part of being a great student, writer and all that other stuff in the first place! In hindsight, I think it’s fair to say that those decisions paid off, as I’m still as filled with a love for adventure today as I was six years ago when I first stepped into the unfamiliar territory that was a college education.

With this in mind, not only does it hit me that I was right on track during college, but I also realize that even if there was a better way to do things, it’s all over now anyhow! And that just like a bad relationship, bad spaghetti, or a poorly calculated chess move, what’s done is done, but it’s also done for good reason. So that I can learn from it.

In turn, being hard on myself for the way I’ve chosen to lead my life isn’t just akin to a blunder of a chess move, it’s also counter-productive! After all, I’m looking for work, aren’t I?! In order to deliver the best on my resumes and cover letters, I have to feel my best.

Once again, then, the job hunt is just like chess; if I’m going to play, not only do I want to play with deep focus and resolve, but I want to play with the confidence that I CAN WIN.

And how do I do that? Well, I can consider how over the span of thousands of games that I’ve played, it’s true that I’ve lost many, many times. However, it is equally true that I’ve also won many times.

The same is true with my track record during school, along with my track record applying for a job: whether it was a lazy cover letter, a grade I felt I didn’t deserve, an interview that could have gone better, a poetry slam I could have done more preparation for, or any other test of my character which didn’t turn out the way I wanted, the simple truth is that I’ve won some, and I’ve lost some. But the thing is, I am ultimately determined to win more than I lose.

Which leads to the last point. In the time after college, until further notice, the job hunt itself is my job at the moment! Or the ultimate chess game. While this might seem obvious at first, what might not be so clear is how I’ve got to approach the job like I treat the game;  with chess, each game is a little different, and possibly even harder than the last. But in keeping my head up and working through the losses with the same resolve that leads to the victories, I am confident that I will see a better day. A day in which I’ve got more wins than losses, and then some.

As such, I’ve got to get back to work! As always, the game awaits me yet again, and I live to play. It’s just what I do.