In serving the community of Boyle Heights, Azucena Hernandez, director of community transformation for Promesa Boyle Heights, has it very clear. The mission is to ensure the community’s wellness and prosperity.
Promesa Boyle Heights is a collaborative in East Los Angeles, working with students, families, and local institutions to build a strong and prosperous community. This neighborhood is deeply rooted in the Chicano civil rights movement and therefore it serves as an emblem of cultural pride.
Located 4 miles east of Downtown Los Angeles, Boyle Heights is a vibrant neighborhood with a prominent Hispanic heritage. Nearly 95% of its population is Latino, mostly of Mexican descent, including first-generation immigrants.
“As a formerly undocumented student, LAUSD graduate, and UCSB graduate, I understand the different pathways to college and the difficulties that come with being an undocumented first-generation student,” Hernandez said. “It thrills me to be able to work with young people, parents, who are finding different solutions to see a different world.”
Hernandez noted many of her organization’s achievements have been possible through partnerships and good advocacy work.
“Seeing all people coming together to push for different immigration reforms, in particular those that affect our English learner students, seeing how all levels of advocacy come together is very exciting. I’m really excited to be doing this work alongside United Way,” Hernandez said.
Promesa Boyle Heights is part of United Way of Greater L.A.’s CLASS (Communities for L.A. Students Sucess), a coalition of community organizations working with parents students, and educators in LAUSD working together to ensure equitable funding is allocated across the district to support high needs-students succeed in school.
“Together we’ve been able to score some amazing wins for LAUSD students, push for, in particular, the Close the Gap policy. Together, we are sharing our experiences, and our knowledge doing advocacy work. There are folks on the ground every day, working with students so when you bring all those folks to the table, the magic really happens!” Hernandez said. “We are creating solutions together but also ensuring that students, parents, and educator voices are heard.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, students’ access to mental health services became one of CLASS’ top priorities.
“This pandemic really demonstrated that there was already a need and it just has been exacerbated. So mental health within our LAUSD schools is a high priority as well as supporting our highest needs students for example, English learner students, and ensuring that all of the intersectional pieces that affect the student from immigration status, homelessness are addressed,” she said. “That’s not one single issue, so bringing those into perspective really allows us to advocate for a full series of policies that will support our students.”
Creating L.A.’s Future
Hernandez thinks the future of Los Angeles lies in the younger generation, so it’s critical that students’ success is at forefront of all their advocacy efforts.
“I want to see young people thriving and leading. Living with living wages, and access to everything they need from food security to home shelter.” Hernandez noted. “ I’m really excited for the intergenerational work that’s to come. Seeing them working together with the amazing elders in our community.”
Intergenerational collaboration is especially valuable in communities like Boyle Heights. Hernandez believes this is what can bring real change.
“Bringing those two lived experiences together is transformative when they work together,” she said. “I’ve been able to see amazing wins both as young people are teaching adults how to navigate technology and some of our elders in the community teaching the knowledge right of what it means to be advocates for the community. For the long run, that’s what sustainability looks like.”
Growing up, Hernandez learned from an early age that every neighbor, despite of age or background, has an impact on the community.
“People should care about their neighbors because it really does take a village to thrive. We all play a big role in ensuring that we’re living in an adjusted healthy society,” she said. “Everyone, from the teachers to the bus drivers, has really helped me pave the way to where I am today, so giving back in that sense, it’s just making sure that everybody has access to the same resources.”
Creating Shared Prosperity
Promesa Boyle Heights has been in the business of creating prosperity in the community since its establishment in 2010. Today, the motivation to foster an adjusted-healthy community is greater than ever.
“That means that folks feel safe to walk outside, they don’t have to worry about their next paycheck, their next meal. Whether they have shelter or not… that they have time to rest, have fun, and the community has a space [for every person] to be free, be healthy and most importantly feel safe.”
“I think that there’s so much opportunity when one of us gets to a certain level as an individual organization or institution that we’re bringing others along with us.”Azucena Hernandez, Promesa Boyle Heights
“When individuals, organizations, and local institutions bring together the resources and knowledge that they’ve acquired and expand it in the community, it can be transformative. “When we work collaborative, we work collectively, it’s really, really powerful!”