Under a hot, late morning sun in Burbank last month, about 250 students from Alain Leroy Locke College Preparatory Academy rode in waves up the escalator at the AMC theater in the city’s downtown.
They weren’t there to see a movie. But they would see a movie star.
In collaboration with Jenesse Center, a Los Angeles-based domestic violence intervention program, the students traveled across Los Angeles to take part in a youth conversation to raise awareness about teen dating violence. The culmination of a series of workshops focused on fostering healthy relationships, the day gave students, including ninth-graders Talisha Skinner and Danny Velasquez, the chance to do some important learning outside the classroom.
“You’re not taught a lot about things like this in school,” Danny said. “This helps to focus what we’re learning. You’re going to have to make your own decisions.”
For the students, getting off campus and learning larger life lessons is a big part of the draw of programs like the Youth Conversation, said Briana Kramer, who teaches ninth-grade English. “What we are trying to do at Locke is build a community of students who are aware of what’s going on in the world,” she said. “They’re interested in knowing about life outside of Locke and their community. They genuinely want to learn more.”
The day-long program, which also included a spoken word performance, a short film and a discussion panel all focused on fostering healthy relationships, was funded by a $1-million grant to Jenesse from the U.S. Department of Justice to help its efforts to break the cycle of violence for young people from low-income backgrounds.
“We want to impart information and create the next generation that doesn’t need shelter,” said Karen Earl, CEO of the 35-year-old Jenesse Center, which provides housing to women and children through its six emergency shelters as well as offering education programs, support services and referrals and resources that go beyond shelter. “We’re always at the schools, making connections with kids. They want answers – these types of partnerships make that possible.”
And there was Halle Berry. She was a bit of a draw, too.
As the Oscar-winning star of such movies as Monster’s Ball, X-Men and Cloud Atlas made her way into the theater where the program would take place, the bustle of the students grew louder. “Can we get a picture with you,” one asked – and Berry happily complied. And she complied a few more times, surrounded by two handfuls of students at a time, before everyone was nudged into their seats.
“I care about the women in our community,” said Berry, who has worked with the Jenesse Center for nearly two decades. “We’re trying to start eradicating domestic violence. It’s very important to reach the kids at these ages.”
Once the program started, Berry as the featured speaker, shared her own experiences with domestic violence as a child. “That makes me a victim of domestic violence,” she said before turning to her central point:
“How do you think we can change it? Be involved. Don’t sit by and be passive. Lend a hand.
“I love this place because Jenesse really does care,” she added. “We care about our black and brown communities. We care about our youth.”