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Daily Inspiration: Meet Sandra Taylor, Daisy Rodriguez, Jazmine Hooks, and Chantal Jarrett of The Empowerment Zone

Today we’d like to introduce you to The Empowerment Zone.

The founder of The Empowerment Zone (Sandra Taylor) was always a student with great potential and although she was able to attend and graduate from UCLA, she never felt like she or her peers had a proper support system. She went on to be a college advisor for high school students and saw the same issues persist. Students who had not been crowned “gifted” or had the highest GPAs were not given the support, information, and resources necessary for them to make plans for their (very near) futures. In an effort to fill this gap Sandra decided to design a program that would cater to all students not just high achievers. The Empowerment Zone was created in 2015 and its program engages students from K-12 to provide them with the essential knowledge and resources necessary to transition to higher education, vocational school, the military, employment, or entrepreneurship. We understand the unique cultural barriers our students face, and we often use our personal experiences to help them see the possibilities in their own lives. Since its start, The Empowerment Zone has built partnerships with several schools and organizations in LA and has been providing workshops and resources directly to LA students. 

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
I doubt any business has had a “smooth road.” The Empowerment Zone has faced and still faces multitude of struggles in its operations. From finding partnerships with long-lasting ties to our members finding the time to put in to meet EZ deadlines with work, family, and school obligations, but we make it work. Our main struggle from our conception until now is getting a steady stream of students. If there is one thing that you can count on it’s hot and cold participation. Sometimes we advertise workshops every day for a month and present to 30 students and other times we get maybe two participants, but every student reached is an opportunity to change their access to the information that they need. Another struggle we face is finding balance in our vision for what we want to give back to the community and remaining realistic and focused on what we have the capabilities to do right now. Especially with the pandemic looming its head for the last year. The team structure and dynamic has really helped with maintaining focus within the group. Many of the plans that we have put into play over the last few years have had to take a backseat, such as finding a physical space and many of our normal activities like our backpack and toy drives. We are finding ways to remain relevant, but it becomes daunting not knowing if the people that you know need the resources you’re providing can see you and interact with you.

As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
The Empowerment Zone is a non-profit that partners with local Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) schools and community programs as a resource for underserved students to help them reach their goals. We help students develop vital skills such as critical thinking, effective communication, cultural and self-awareness. Once a student becomes a part of The Empowerment Zone, they will receive support from four UCLA graduates who have various experience and knowledge working with the K-12 population. Students will receive guidance counseling, individual academic assessments, participate in workshops, mentorship programs, tutoring and other activities geared towards creating multiple pathways to success for underserved students.

Rather than labeling children and assisting only those who we feel are gifted or who have been identified as gifted, we want to provide an equitable space where students will be given equal opportunity regardless of what their test scores and GPA may be. Preparing students not only for college but to be well-rounded individuals who are successful regardless of the path chosen.

We have hosted an annual Backpack and School Supply drive in August and a Christmas Toy drive in December for the past four years and have been able to provide supplies and gifts for over 300 kids. We are also very proud to announce that we will be giving out our first scholarship, called the Rose Scholarship. We decided to create this scholarship in honor of one of our members (Milan Rose Ardoin) who unfortunately passed away in 2018. The application will be available to students from March 1st – April 9th and the scholarship recipient will be announced on May 1st.

Let’s talk about our city – what do you love? What do you not love?
Los Angeles is a distinctly diverse city that attracts people from all over the nation and its residents to pursue their dreams and become successful. It seems like this city gives people the opportunity to achieve their goals. On the other hand, it is oversaturated with people aspiring for success that it becomes immensely competitive. Without the right networks and adequate resources, it will be more challenging to obtain your goals. Even more concerning is Los Angeles’ tale of two cities: rich and poor.

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Image Credits:

@ghettoeinstein, @shootbyscoop, and @the_empowerment_zone for image credits.

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