South Central youth deserve safe futures

A lack of youth programs reveals a need for University-community collaboration.


On a Tuesday afternoon, while my team from Passion SoCal Network and I were distributing cheeseburgers to students next to West Adams Preparatory Senior High School as a way to connect with them, a shocking incident unfolded. 

About 40 students ran screaming from a scene where a student pulled a gun on a peer, leading to swift action by the Los Angeles Police Department. During this frightening moment, a remark from one of the students struck a chord with me. It was a heartfelt expression of their longing for safe places to simply have a meal, highlighting an ongoing issue of the critical lack of safe and nurturing spaces for youth.

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The University of Southern California, with its vast resources and proximity to these communities, is uniquely positioned to lead the charge in creating these much-needed havens. As an institution that benefits from the cultural and economic tapestry of L.A., it bears a moral responsibility to contribute positively to its surroundings. 

With an annual revenue exceeding $6.9 billion, USC has the capability to make a transformative impact, particularly for the youth who find themselves navigating an environment rife with challenges.

Statistics paint a grim picture: Advancement Project California reported that there are over 800,000 youth residing in L.A., a majority of whom are people of color and living in conditions that predispose them to poverty, violence and entanglement with the justice system. 

The Youth Justice Coalition points to a lack of supportive spaces as a significant barrier to youth development. Herein lies an opportunity for USC to step in and make a difference. By investing in after-school programs, improving local parks and supporting community-led nonprofits, USC can contribute to creating an ecosystem that nurtures rather than neglects.

I’m proposing the idea of establishing a dedicated youth and community center, an initiative that could be led by USC’s Master of Social Work students and faculty. This concept represents a forward-thinking approach to community engagement, envisioning a center that could stand as a beacon of hope. It would offer a comprehensive range of services and activities designed to support the all-around development of young individuals.

Moreover, by engaging in collaborative efforts to enhance local infrastructure — such as parks and recreational facilities — USC can help beautify and safeguard community spaces, making them welcoming and accessible to all.

The benefits of these initiatives extend beyond the immediate provision of safe spaces; they represent a long-term investment in the future. By fostering environments where young people can thrive, we not only mitigate the risk factors associated with poverty and crime but also cultivate a generation of leaders, thinkers and innovators. 

These are potential future Trojans, whose aspirations and talents should be nurtured, not suffocated by their circumstances.

USC’s engagement in South Central should not be seen as optional but as an essential part of its mission to serve and uplift the broader community. The University has the resources, influence and moral imperative to act. By doing so, it can help bridge the gap between academic excellence and social responsibility, demonstrating a commitment to not just education but to the well-being and success of its neighboring communities.

In conclusion, the creation of safe spaces in South Central is more than a mere aspiration; it’s a necessity that requires immediate attention and action. USC has a pivotal role to play in this endeavor, and the time to act is now. 

Let’s not wait for another incident to remind us of what’s at stake. Together, we can build a brighter, safer future for the youth of South Central, ensuring that they have the opportunities and support needed to grow, thrive and succeed.

 Byron Apen

Dworak-Peck School of Social Work

Class of 2026

Program Director at Passion SoCal Network

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