Boyle HeightsTechnology Center Launch is East Los Angeles Celebrity Affair

---"I used to ditch school a lot.  I failed math.  Now, I want to be an engineer."  Luis Rois, 15, student at the Boyle Heights Technology Youth Center.---
Mayor Anthony Villaraigosa and Councilman Jose Huizar recently hosted the official launch of the Boyle Heights Music and Arts Program at the new Technology Youth Center.

John Paul De Jorian shares his teen memories and advice for success in life

The band Ozomatli  provided live music for this packed event that was well-attended by celebrities, including the Black Eyed Peas' Taboo and, Jasmine Guy, Snoop Dogg, Robert Robert Downey Jr., Ed Begley Jr., Olympic Gold Medallist Carl Lewis, and John Paul De Joria, founder of Paul Mitchell SalonsDe Joria was also a sponsor, donating his Patron tequila for visitors' enjoyment that evening.

Teens assembled across the street from the arriving celebs' cars were orderly on the sidewalk, but beside themselves with excitement.  They kept running back and forth, hollering to each celeb.  They whooped, however, when the inimitable Snoop Doog made an impressive appearance on the red carpet, swooshing along elegantly amid his entourage, and stopping to share his wisdom with the press.

"Ya'll keep your minds focused," Snoop Dogg told the kids.  "The Mayor just did somethin' sweet for ya'll.  This is special.  So ya'll, cherish this moment, cherish this building so ya'll can be somethin' in life- maybe even the next Snoop Dogg."  Dogg considers himself a supporter of the kids, the Mayor, and Los Angeles, and also considers himself a "student of Los Angeles."  "This is from the heart right here," he told me, pointing to his chest.

Robert Downey Jr. praises the Technology Center and the opening event

"Having a youth center in Boyle Heights is a really positive thing," Robert Downey Jr. told me.  "LA's changing a lot, in general, so this is not a 'big' surprise."  He reported he was there to say hello to some friends and, obviously heading toward commitments with other press, he was quite gracious and posed for photos with local teens and students on the red carpet.

The county-run school has a link to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who secured some $7 million for the youth center when he was a member of the L.A. City Council and hundreds of thousands of dollars more when he became mayor.  Villaraigosa has called the facility a "school of best practices," and administrators and educators join him in his view of the Center and its adjoining school as a model for others since it provides a superb blending of technology, education and opportunity for troubled teens.

Lovely Jasmine Guy shares her life wisdom

The Mayor and his support team at City Hall are the driving force behind this community-based facility that is using state-of-the-art technology to jump-start academic achievement.  The goal:  to give neighborhood at-risk kids an infusion of hope and the opportunity to develop the skills they need to move forward in their lives to sustain a viable future. 

The Center includes an accredited alternative high school, afternoon and evening community courses, internships, mentoring programs, job readiness training, and college counseling and placement.  So far, the Center has a 9th and 10th grade class.  Administrators plan to open an 11th grade class next year, then a 12th grade class, and, eventually, serve some 100 at-risk students.  In the meantime, opportunities undreamed of by other students are available: a while back drummer Mark Schulman- who has played with Pink, Cher, and Velvet Revolver, visited to talk with the students and donate drums. 

Robert Downey Jr. hangs with son of the teens attending the reception

At the event, L Sparks walked the red carpet and then proceeded to one of the recording rooms and gave a talk to assembled teens about his life and work.  "I'm out here as a taxpayer, to see that the money is well spent and that the kids aren't using it to 'mess around' and avoid any real responsibilities," he joked.  Grinning mischievously, he added, "Kids, I know when (you hear this) people are going to want you to cut it into something sensible, reasonable and business-like.  Well, forget that- cut it into something ridiculous!  Become a music video director and make lots of money.  Then you can hire me when you get your first film job."   
Many of the celebs attending the event had stories to share about their own teen years and the importance of education.
"I'd like to tell the children that they can do whatever they want to do with their lives," Jasmine Guy told me, "just be focused, diligent, believe in yourself and love yourself and everyone around you, and you'll be okay." Guy added further, "I wasn't in any particular trouble when I grew up, but I didn't know what I wanted to be when I grew up.  But it was dance, and music, and acting that gave me direction and purpose and, because of that, I did well in school so I could stay in my performing arts programs.  They kind of fed each other, and I think you need to believe in something, and have a goal and a focus in your life.  I think the Boyle Heights Center will give children the focus they need to find that special interest in their lives, that one special thing they can do."
Guy had more to say in the way of sharing words of wisdom.  "I can say I'm in my 40's now," she added, "and over the years I have accumulated a lot of titles.  I started out as a dancer and then I went into musical theater and acting, and now I'm producing, and I've written a book.  The name of my book is 'Evolution of a Revolutionary.'  She lists all of these things for a reason.  "I say all that,' she told me, 'because sometimes there were things I didn't think I could do- like write a book- that other people believed I could do.  And I just kind of rode on their belief in me until mine kicked in- if that makes any sense."  Those of us listening all nodded our heads in unison.  "Sometimes I'd think 'I can't do that,'' she added, "but if I think you can, I'll give it a try.  So, I think it's best to try, and the more things you're afraid of, the more things you can be proud of."
De Joria shared his experiences of having been "turned around" as a teen.  "When I was in junior high school," he told me, "there was something called 'remedial reading.'"  He smiled, acknowledging his personal experience in this area- hence his fondness for the concept and programs at the Technology Center.  "Today they call (remedial reading)  'hooked on phonics,' and, well, this is a technical center where they show it on a computer how kids can read and write and spell really well.  Once I could read and spell really properly, my whole world changed; I went from a D student to a B student...'
De Joria's advice for students:  "The difference between successful people and unsuccessful people is that successful people will do all the things unsuccessful people don't want to do.  I started Paul Mitchell (his line of hair care products) 26 years ago from the back seat of my car with $700." 

Media man Alex Gomez takes a moment to chat with us

Other sponsors of the evening included California Pizza Kitchen, Aquarius water, and Saddlerock winery (who provided an amazing, velvety cabernet sauvignon).
Fittingly, the Million Trees LA program provided sweetly ribbon-adorned dwarf evergreen trees as parting gifts.  The goal of the program is to plant one million trees in LA, thus, once the trees mature and begin providing shade, saving some $10 million in energy costs each year.  The cards attached to the trees at the reception thanked visitors for attending the Opening and read:  'Plant a seed and watch our future grow!' 
Nothing could have described the evening any better.
Some interesting statistics:
46% of Boyle Heights residents live below the poverty line
51% of the residents over 25 did not complete high school
Less than 1% in 12 has completed college
East Los Angeles students rank among the rock bottom in reading, writing and match scores in the State of California
The Center is operated by the Youth Opportunity Movement of the City of Los Angeles in partnership with the Los Angeles County Department of Education.
M. D. Caprario is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles who works in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York.
Text copyright of M.D. Caprario
Photos by Wendell Llopis, copyright Wendell Llopis, and used with permission
Thank you, Wendell!

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