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VOICES

Alyesha Wise - 

Poet and Activist.
 
LOS ANGELES, Monday January 15, 2018  
Interview by Daniel Dougherty, edited by Norberto Urrea. norberto@laworks.com

 

Alyesha Wise, otherwise none as Ms. Wise in the Los Angeles poet community, is a New Jersey born artist and frequent performer at Da Poetry Lounge; an LA based establishment dedicated to the experience and appreciation of poetry.
 
With a lot of hard work and dedication Ms. Wise discovered a passion for poetry at the young age of 11 when she wrote her first poem. 20 years later she is an accomplished poet and teacher with a strong emphasis in social justice and communal relations. “I guess you can call me an organizer. I like to do a lot of things of via my art for the community. And I have a soft heart, so I just want people to be good. My poems are more about community-based social justice. I work with young people a lot.”
 
Most recently she was a guest speaker at the La Works’ annual MLK Day of Service on January 15, 2018. The event commemorates the civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as well as promotes the importance of civil rights to the Los Angeles community.
 
Ms. Wise was more than excited to join in on the day of service and expressed a real appreciation for what it represents. She said, “MLK Day is very important, first of all because I’m a black woman. Because when I think of MLK, I think of a necessary person who had the courage to do things that still need to be done.” Things that she herself aspires to do through her art.
 
She believes that Los Angeles is in desperate need of unity, an idea that she has carried with her since her arrival. “I only got here four years ago, but right away I started working with young people and one of the things about young people that I saw is that it’s so much of a separation between white and brown communities.”
 
Staying true to her name Ms. Wise proved to have a good understanding of the dynamics of the issues in LA, “I know there’s been historic times when we’ve come together in Los Angeles. I’ve heard about plenty of them and we talked about one of them today. But I see a lot of separation more than I’ve ever seen on the East coast between black and brown. I think it’s foolish, especially between people of color - we are so strong when we come together.”
 
On a more compassionate note, Ms. Wise afford some valuable words of advice. “If everyone can give a piece of what they can, we can do so much better. It doesn’t mean being color-blind or being like we’re all the same. We’re not the same. It also means what Audre Lorde said: “Celebrate our differences”. We have to celebrate our differences and still come together and know that we are a force to be reckoned with when we do that.”
 
 
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Bobby Lee Verdugo - 

Leader of the 1968 walkouts in East Los Angeles.
 
LOS ANGELES, Monday 18, 2017 - 
Interview by Norberto Urrea. norberto@laworks.com
 
Robert (Bobby) Lee Verdugo, is a 67-year-old retired social worker who participated in the historic walkouts that happened at several East LA high schools in 1968.
 
The walkouts were part of a movement lead by Sal Castro, a high school teacher and Chicano students in revolt against the inadequate education and resources being provided to them by the Los Angeles Unified School District. The event is viewed as a pivotal moment in history in which young minorities took a stance for equality and has been the inspiration for similar movements in the decades that followed.
 
Bobby recalls his experience as part of the effort to be inspiring and life-changing. At the time of the walkouts, he was a senior at Abraham Lincoln High School and to him, it was about taking a stance against oppression. “I blamed myself for failing, but it was the school failing us just as much as I was failing.” He explained how teachers would belittle him, telling him that he wasn’t good enough and that he would never graduate. “I started out strong all through elementary and middle school, I was a bright kid, but in high school things changed, my grades dropped from A’s to D’s and F’s.”
 
The movement wasn’t strictly Chicano Bobby said, “there were Asian and Black students in the mix as well, they were also part of this “Chicano” movement.” The guiding force among everyone was frustration, the upsetting feeling that in some way or another they were being overlooked and treated as second-class citizens.
 
For Bobby and many of his classmates the walkouts symbolized much more than a better education, but a chance for a better future. “It was a time of great change not just here but worldwide, Bobby Kennedy had just been assassinated, MLK too, and the war in Vietnam was in full swing,” Bobby said. Tensions where high and the minority youth were in desperate need for equality, “If I didn’t graduate I was going to get drafted,” he recalls.
 
50 years later, Bobby admits he has lived a blessed life, he dropped out of high school in 1969 but was given the opportunity to attend the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) through a special minority help program. Although he only spent 2 years there, he appreciates the opportunity and says he learned a lot. He went on to have a long career in social work helping young fathers in need.
 
“Tom Brokaw says that my dad’s generation was the best, but we were pretty good too,” Bobby said. “Everyone I know from back then is either a police officer, teacher or social worker… it’s like this experience created a generation of people who want to give back to the community.”
 
As for the current political or cultural climate, Bobby admits that there is a lot of fear, “I would have never seen this coming back then, we were fighting for equality and better education, but kids today have it rough.”
 
However, he is hopeful and believes in the power of united voices, “I tell high school students today, dreamers, it didn’t happen overnight you still have a lot to do, but look at us my generation went through Nixon and Regan, and we are still here, and this fear will inspire one of two things it’ll cause you to stop and close your eyes, or get off your @$$ and do something.”