L.A. Youth

Music With a Message

When was the last time you heard music that actually made you think? It�s not like you hear it on MTV, where "artists" sing about "getting tipsy," "groupie luv" and "getting low."

Music used to be an art form, something that showed the personal opinions of the artists. It might relieve you to know that in today�s candy-coated world of music with TRL-style corporate pop and bubble gum rock, music with substance isn�t as hard to find as it may seem.

About four years ago, I started listening to older rock and punk bands like Rage Against the Machine, Bad Religion and the Dead Kennedys. I got turned on to them by the radio and friends. I loved the way the instruments and vocals had a real fast and furious sound. There was a rebellious tone in the music and I liked it. At first I didn�t pay much attention to the lyrics, until I started listening to the songs more often.

I heard the words "Zapata" and "Leonard Peltier" in Rage Against the Machine songs. I became curious, these names were new and mysterious to me. Why would anyone want to write a song about them? I knew this band was political, but I didn�t know what it was political about.

I started asking people questions and looking up these topics when I was stuck at home with nothing to do. I realized that Rage lyrics aren�t just words. They are protests against corporate greed, sweatshops and the oppression of human rights in Mexico. The songs started to mean something. I eventually understood this music and grew to like it for more than just its good sound.

They addressed important issues

I also discovered that aggressive punk bands like the Dead Kennedys and Pennywise sing about social problems like police injustice, discrimination against lower classes and censorship. Pennywise�s song "F*** Authority" was released to enrage not only censors, but the government as well. It also happens to be one of my favorite songs. I love its fast sound and blunt statement. The lyrics are very explicit, like "We�re sick of your treason, sick of your lies/F*** no, we won�t listen, we�re gonna open your eyes."

A few months ago, I asked my mom who the Zapatistas were and what they were fighting for, because they had been mentioned in several Rage songs. She told me they were ancient Mayans from Mexico who are struggling for their human rights.

Still, I wanted to know more. So I went to the internet and researched them. I learned that when the Europeans colonized Mexico, the Zapatistas lost the right to live life the way they were used to. They lost land and are now secluded in a small area of Mexico called Chiapas. They are poorer than Mexicans who are descended from Europeans. They�ve become second-class citizens in their own country. I think this is important because I have Mayan blood on my mom�s side. I felt pretty disappointed that I was just learning this. In my AP Human Geography class in 9th grade, all we learned about the Mayans was that they lived in Mexico. Believe me, we didn�t learn about their 500-year struggle.

Learning by listening to music is a lot better than sitting in some boring class. I had a history teacher last year who could easily waste an hour of our lives by rambling on about his own personal experiences, like trips to Mexico he took. At some point it became repetitive and dull. I was so bored, by the time he got back to the lesson I was too disinterested to care about what he had to say. After the school year ended I felt really stupid for not learning anything. And not learning means you really don�t have an opinion.

You can use music for that purpose, to not feel stupid when someone else has something smart to say. It can be your motivation to understand better what goes on around the world. Unfortunately, today�s punk rock has been watered down by "pop-punk" and "emo" so there isn�t as much political outrage. But at least with these bands I�ve talked about, you can find your own opinions and express yourself.

The Dead Kennedys have made several songs about police injustice. In one song, "Holiday in Cambodia," they attack the police system by comparing it to the violent reign of Cambodian dictator Pol Pot, who killed anyone who didn�t agree with him.

Another band, System of a Down (which is more well-known), uses straightforward lyrics to get its point across. In "Prison Song" they sing about how minimum drug sentences should be abolished to reduce the prison population. They sing, "Minor drug offenders fill your prisons, you don�t even flinch/All our taxes paying for your wars against the new non-rich."

As I took a good look at the justice system, I noticed something: there are a lot of minorities in prison, and abuse of power by police is rampant. This is especially true when it comes to police brutality against minorities and the lower class. You hardly ever see a white guy get busted on the TV show COPS. Also, there are political prisoners such as Mumia Abu-Jamal and Leonard Peltier, and none of them are white. It just goes to show that racial profiling is alive and well.

Does everyone get a fair chance?

I also realized that minorities have it rough, especially when it comes to getting into a good college. Most of the people you see at colleges are white and rich because they have money and power. What about the rest of us? This hurts the chances of minorities and people from middle- and lower-class families, people who want to get into a good school like New York University and make a difference. Do you really think the Olsen twins would be going to NYU if they weren�t rich and famous? They probably would be lucky to get into Arizona State (no offense to any potential Sun Devils).

Rock musicians aren�t the only ones making political statements. Hip-hop artists like Public Enemy and 2Pac have taken a stand against racism. This kind of social voice goes all the way back to the '60s, when the Vietnam War raged on. Bob Dylan made protest songs a staple in his early albums, and Edwin Starr came out with his famous anthem, "War." This is probably a time of music that most teens don�t care about. After all, Bob Dylan is a folk musician whom your parents would be more likely to listen to. Still, it is probably the most extreme time period when it comes to exercising the First Amendment�free speech�through music.

You don�t have to be a passionate musician or a political know-it-all to be moved. If all you have is a taste for music and a little curiosity, whether it is 2Pac, Bad Religion or Bob Dylan, something out there will help you find your voice. Use it, because we all have a right to express what we think, and not enough teens speak up. As Bad Religion says in "Raise Your Voice," "Don�t be misled, you�ve got a lot on your head/And nobody�s gonna pay attention when you are dead.

Read more from Alex on LAYouth.com about the music he recommends.

Black Colleges Tour

Lauren Martin is strongly considering attending Clark Atlanta or Southern University at New Orleans.

When I first started thinking about college, I thought that I would just stay in California and go to Cal State Dominguez Hills or Cal State Northridge. I had visited those schools with Young Black Scholars, an academic club at school. But I wasn't thrilled about them. I knew that I could get in but they weren't where I really wanted to go.

Then my mom found out about a tour of historically black colleges in the South. At first I didn't really want to give up my summer vacation. I also had some stereotypes. I thought that going to an all-black college would be so ghetto. My cousin, who went to UC Berkeley, told me that I would just go down there and party and come back pregnant. At first I agreed with her, but my mom convinced me to take the tour anyway.

The week that I spent in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Florida, I visited seven schools. When I got down there I realized that it wasn't as ghetto and crazy as I thought it was going to be. Instead, as I looked around the beautiful campuses and tidy brick buildings, I saw groups of students talking quietly. I really enjoyed being in the South. Everywhere we went, there was farmland. Life moves more slowly and peacefully, and the people are really friendly.

Compared to the Cal States that I visited, the black colleges are a lot smaller and more supportive. I liked the fact that I'd be in a different environment, meeting new people and making a lot of new friends. After coming back home from the tour, I was faced with the decision of which schools to apply to -- there are nearly 200 black colleges and universities. Many people encouraged me to apply to Howard and Spelman because of their excellent academics, but I knew they weren't the schools for me, although they are very nice. I was the one who had to be at the school for four years, so I didn't care what everybody else thought.

When it came to applying, I had already prepared an essay for a school assignment that I could use for my applications, though some did not require an essay. I asked for my high school transcripts and got recommendations from two teachers and a counselor. The paperwork was a breeze. I finished five applications in a day and was done by November 1. I paid $200 for five application fees -- not bad when you consider that many schools charge more than $50 to apply. Here's some info on some of the black colleges I looked into:

*Note: Costs include tuition, housing, books and personal expenses. Data is drawn from the College Board Guide to Colleges and FastWeb.com.

Clark Atlanta University
Atlanta, Georgia
3,864 undergraduates
$21,932 annual costs*
Average GPA of freshman class: 2.98
Moderately selective

Walking on campus and seeing the beautiful brick buildings surrounded by the plush greenery, I was immediately drawn in. It has a friendly staff and faculty, and four sororities and four fraternities. For the non-bookworm, there's the band, dance, drama, a radio station and sport teams including varsity football, cross-country, basketball, baseball and numerous others.

Florida A&M University
Tallahassee, Florida
11,212 undergraduates
$16,048 annual costs*
Average GPA of freshman class: 3.18
Moderately selective

It was much too big to walk around in one day, so we got back on the bus and drove around. And it was wonderful, it had every building, major and subject you could imagine. It reminded me of UCLA only prettier. Besides having a good reputation and friendly staff, they have everything on campus that you'd need for four years. You would never have to leave. Although I liked the school very much, it was too big and overwhelming, so I decided not to apply there.

Howard University
Washington, D.C.
6,841 undergraduates
$18,750 annual costs*
Average GPA of freshman class: 3.2
Moderately selective

I didn't get an opportunity to visit Howard on the black college tour, but I do know that it has an excellent academic reputation and is known for being one of the most competitive black universities. It has famous graduates such as author Toni Morrison and choreographer Debbie Allen. Living in Washington, D.C. does not appeal to me because it's too fast-paced. But for those who love living in the city, this would definitely be the school for you.

Southern University at New Orleans
New Orleans, Louisiana
3,351 undergraduates
$15,000 estimated annual costs*
GPA: Not available
Minimally selective

At this school, you show up and you automatically feel like part of the family. During the tour, it started to rain so we went to the cafeteria for lunch. Everyone turned to look at us strangers. Then a whole table of people walked up and introduced themselves and started talking to us. They were so friendly, it made me feel really confident about putting this school at the top of my list. I could see myself going to football games and cheering the team on. Although some students told me that the food was nasty, I was won over by the school spirit. It's still a school that I could see myself attending.

Spelman College
Atlanta, Georgia
2,080 undergraduates
$23,225 annual costs*
Average GPA of freshman class: 3.37
Moderately selective

Spelman is one of the most popular liberal art schools for black women. Don't think that you'll never see guys if you go there, though. The dorms are same sex, but Spelman students attend classes with students from neighboring Morehouse, an all-male African American college well-known for such graduates as filmmaker Spike Lee and Martin Luther King, Jr. Spelman's reputation for academic excellence has been breaking down stereotypes since 1881, making it one of the most competitive black colleges in the country. Walking onto the campus and looking at all the tall well-manicured buildings and beautiful lawns, I was expecting a wonderful and very informative staff, but I was somewhat blown away by hostile and abrupt attitudes. The representative who told us about the school was rude, as if we were imposing on her. After leaving I decided that Spelman is a great school that gives its students a superb education, but it wasn't the school for me.

Tuskegee University
Tuskegee, Alabama
2,608 undergraduates
$19,312 annual costs*
Average GPA of freshman class: 3.2
Moderately selective

Driving up to the campus made me a little apprehensive, because of all the empty space around it. Although its surroundings are kind of isolated, the school is gorgeous. The well-kept buildings and cozy atmosphere give you all the comforts of home. It was a nice school but I decided not to apply because it's in the middle of nowhere and freshmen are not allowed to have cars.

If you'd like to take a black college tour, check out: www.soulofamerica.com/tours/tour_colleges.html

Lauren Martin is a 17-year-old student at St. Bernard High School in California.

Why Does My Textbook Say Sex Is Harmful?

The author

This year I finally had to confront one of my high school graduation requirements -- health education. The class took me through a never-ending spiral of dull chapters in "Health, A Guide to Wellness." As I endured lesson after lesson, I was never particularly moved until I came upon the chapter "Adolescence, a time of change."

The book's definition for the term abstinence is: "The conscious decision to avoid harmful behaviors, including sexual activity before marriage and the use of tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs. Abstinence is the only healthful and safe choice for teenagers. By postponing sexual activity until marriage, teens avoid the many risks of sexual behavior such as� loss of self-respect." At first I read over this definition without even thinking about it, but as I reconsidered I realized teens need to be given a much different message than the one provided here.

This definition implies that sexual activity is as bad for you as tobacco and alcohol. Tobacco and alcohol are drugs, which can harm and even kill. Tobacco causes lung cancer and emphysema, while alcohol abuse may lead to traffic fatalities and liver damage. Sex, however, does not have to be a harmful act.

The tough question teens face about whether to have sexual relationships should be met with frank discussion by teachers in health classes. The reality is that teens are having sex. By classifying premarital sex as something negative, the authors are overlooking what is going to help teens make meaningful decisions -- correct information on all choices they have when it comes to sex. Using the word "harmful" solidifies the point that sex is a damaging act and that it always has negative repercussions including loss of "self-respect."

The book gives helpful advice on how to avoid a situation that might lead teens into a sexual encounter. It suggests going places in big groups, and never going somewhere dark with someone you've just met. And if a partner is being pressured into having sex, the book recommends ending that relationship. These tips suggest that to be safe teens must surround themselves with people who can protect them from their partners.

But what about those teens who think they are ready for sexual intimacy -- where is the advice to lead them into a healthy sexual relationship? Isn't it possible to have sex without losing your self-respect? Not according to my book.

A health book is an educational tool and should not be a way to preach to teens about acceptable sexual behavior. The authors should not be taking a stand on the issue, and yet they clearly preach their position. Teens should be able to decide for themselves how they feel about sex, and whether they want to do it. Sex education should help teens make mature, educated decisions and not say all sex is evil, the way this book does.

Lack of Info Leads to Problems

If teens were educated about safe sex, then the teen pregnancy rates would not be so high. According to the Web site www.teenpregnancy.org, four out of 10 women get pregnant at least once before they are 20. Teens these days are left with minimal guidance, and resort to imitating the mainstream images that bombard them every day in the media. TV shows like The Real World show people having sex casually, and not always using condoms, while many health books and teachers teach that premarital sex is wrong. So where are teens supposed to turn for guidance that will teach them how to practice safe sex?

Almost once a month I see young girls in the halls at my school with their newborn infants in their arms. People try to avert their eyes as the young mothers walk by, but it's clear where their attention is focused. You can almost feel the young mothers' embarrassment. They are swarmed by smiling friends offering congratulations. It seems like these friends are the only warm and accepting faces in the whole building. I think most people feel sorry for them and what they're going through. No girl should become a mother before she finishes high school.

In our society sex is approached as an uncomfortable topic that adults often ignore and blush at whenever it's mentioned. It is often taught as this unavoidable evil that should not happen because it will make a person dirty. On the other hand, teens are dealing with their natural impulses, and the images they see on TV that they want to copy. With these two very different messages being presented, where are teens supposed to turn to make their decisions? Teens should be able to decide for themselves whether they are ready for sexual intimacy, and they should be given the tools to make that decision.

Robyn Licht is a 16-year-old student at North Hollywood High School in California.

Backing Bush

flagIt is hard listening to teachers or students at school say "Bush is an idiot," or "It�s all for the oil." I bite my lip and try to continue my work, although many times I have found myself in a debate rather than studying Spanish or history! Here�s what I feel: George W. Bush is not an idiot. President Bush is protecting us as a nation from the serious threat of Saddam Hussein. We as Americans should stand behind our president; he is an honest man and deserves our respect and support.

As Bush pointed out in his State of the Union Address, Saddam Hussein has developed nuclear, chemical and biological weapons such as anthrax. Hussein says he doesn�t have them, but he is lying about it, as he has been for years. Bush said, "The dictator of Iraq is not disarming. He is deceiving."

Hussein could easily pass these weapons on to terrorists. Bush said, "Before September the 11th, many in the world believed that Saddam Hussein could be contained. But chemical agents, lethal viruses and shadowy terrorist networks are not easily contained. Imagine those 19 hijackers with other weapons and other plans�this time armed by Saddam Hussein. It would take one vial, one canister, one crate slipped into this country to bring a day of horror like none we have ever known. We will do everything in our power to make sure that that day never comes."

"We�ll be protected from this threat."
I found this comment both inspiring and comforting. I feel good knowing that the Bush administration can see the threat and is taking steps to protect us. How can people say that we should let Hussein stay in power? Colin Powell told the United Nations that Hussein experimented with weapons on prisoners. Powell also described Hussein�s use of mustard gas and nerve gas against the Kurds in northern Iraq in 1988 as one of the 20th century�s most horrible atrocities. Since Hussein has used these chemicals on his own people�what would keep him from using them on the United States.

Yet many people feel that Iraq is not an enemy. Friends often tell me that I am wrong, and that Iraq has nothing to do with the terrorists. When they ask why I support the U.S. in killing innocent people, it�s hard to respond. I try to choose my words carefully. I do not hate the people in the Middle East. I do not want people to die. I do however, want the terror to stop. I want all Americans to stop feeling anxiety, stop fearing that at any minute America could be attacked. War must stop it. War must put people�s minds at rest, and war must take Hussein out of power. War will risk lives, but countless lives will be saved. War will bring an end to Saddam Hussein�s feeding support, money and supplies to the terrorists who are staying in and around Iraq.

Some of us may lose family members or friends in this war. I beg you not to hate President Bush for this. As he said in his speech, "Sending Americans into battle is the most profound decision a president can make... This nation fights reluctantly, because we know the cost and we dread the days of mourning that always come."

Remember, too, that the people who chose to enlist in the armed forces knew that they might risk their lives for America. Their family members were aware of the danger. And for their sacrifice, they have my utmost respect. I feel we should be proud of them, pray for them and know that they are fighting for us and our country!

Our soldiers can be proud that they are doing what�s right. As Bush said, "We strive for peace. And sometimes peace must be defended. A future lived at the mercy of terrible threats is no peace at all. If war is forced upon us, we will fight in a just cause and by just means�sparing, in every way we can, the innocent."

While this is my opinion, I respect and am open to what others have to say about President Bush and the war. But if you hate President Bush and are against war, know all the facts before coming to a conclusion about both. Because if you do, who knows? Perhaps you will have a change of heart.

Valentina Cardenas, 15, is a student at Ramona Convent and a writer for LA Youth.

Why I Oppose the War

stop bushWhen I think about a war with Iraq, the first thing that comes to my mind is the 48 percent of Iraqis who are younger than 18. How many of them will die? The second thing that disturbs me is hearing radio interviews with young foot soldiers who are so ready to go and kill. Look what this conflict is doing to the young people of our world. We are being trained to kill and be killed.

I have always been against war, but I have never had one touch so close to home. One of the main reasons that I am against this war is because I have not been given any good reasons, nor shown any evidence, that supports an invasion of Iraq. Here are the reasons I have heard and my responses to them:

Getting rid of Saddam Hussein will benefit the people of Iraq.

  • The numbers of deaths from the Gulf War of 1991 were extremely high. Beth Daponte, a research professor at Carnegie Mellon University, estimated that there were 114,500 Iraqi civilian deaths directly or indirectly caused by the Gulf War. It seems reasonable to expect that such deaths will be high this time too. The war will make it difficult for Iraqis to get the basic necessities like food, water and medical care.

  • Does the United States actually have a plan for Iraq after the invasion? The U.S. has yet to show anyone official plans as to what they plan on doing with Iraq once they get rid of Saddam.

  • After we left Afghanistan, we promised to help restore the freedoms of the Afghani people, but reconstruction efforts have not gone as planned. John Sifton, an Afghanistan expert at the Human Rights Watch in New York said, "The truth is there is still widespread lawlessness and insecurity."

Iraq has weapons of mass destruction and is hiding them.

  • In Colin Powell�s address to the United Nations he cited satellite photos, intercepted conversations and other intelligence to show that Hussein�s administration is deliberately defying inspectors.

  • This might be true, but it has not been proven. United Nations chief arms inspector, Hans Blix, told the United Nations Security Council that he "has not found any such weapons." With regard to whether or not Iraq has been uncooperative, Blix told Time magazine, "Is non-delivery of documents that they deny having noncooperation? They deny they have these documents, and [others] say they are not giving the documents. Well, I don�t have evidence that they have them."

Iraq is harboring and supporting terrorists.

  • Colin Powell says that an important Al Qaeda figure is operating a base in Baghdad coordinating "a movement of people, money, and supplies into and throughout Iraq." However, the Los Angeles Times reported that other U.S. officials have said the evidence of the link is "largely circumstantial or subject to interpretation."

  • We don�t know for sure if there is any connection between Hussein and 9/11.

It will be a quick war. The Gulf War lasted only 42 days.

  • Deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz told the House Budget Committee, "we have no idea what we will need until we get there on the ground," adding that it was impossible to predict accurately the war�s duration or cost.

  • President Lyndon B. Johnson promised that the Vietnam war would be quick and it lasted more than a decade.

  • Iraq has a population of 22 million people; many will die whether or not it is quick.

  • I don�t want my friends going to fight in ANY war, no matter how long.

This is a just war. President Bush said, "we will fight in a just cause and by just means."

  • There are many different ideas as to the real motives behind this war, including Bush�s desire to be re-elected, U.S. interest in controlling oil supplies and a personal vendetta because Hussein attempted to assassinate Bush�s father.

Brynn Holland, 18, is a student at Cleveland High School and a writer for LA Youth.
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