SACRAMENTO (CBS13) – The term “at-risk youth” was commonly used in both penal and education codes in California – until now.
Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation that went into effect on Jan. 1 that officially wiped the phrase from the state’s language. The phrase will now be replaced by “at-promise youth.”
Assemblymember Byron Jones-Sawyer (D-South Los Angeles), who penned the passed legislation, says the measure will change the negative connotation that comes along with the “at-risk” label.
“I learned that words matter – and once they were called ‘at-risk,’ they almost were in the school-to-prison pipeline automatically,” Jones-Sawyer said.
Jones-Sawyer says the negative narrative has the greatest effect on young people who are a part of minority populations.
Battling expectations is something Alejandro Galicia Cervantes is all too familiar with.
“My whole family does corn. We sell corn on the street and we do ice cream too. So that’s always what my family does,” Cervantes said.
Cervantes says he’s proud of his family, but he knew he wanted a different life to break the cycle – though he says quickly it became clear the road would be difficult.
“I joined different programs and that’s where the label started to be used,” Cervantes said.
He was in high school the first time he was referred to as “at-risk.”
“It just felt like, damn, I’m like really at-risk? That’s the path I’m heading towards? It felt like there was no empowerment in it.”
So Cervantes took the power into his own hands, joining youth programs like “Improv Your Tomorrow” that helped him get to college. But he knows he’s one of the lucky ones.
In California, there are 650 young people in operated juvenile centers – with 87 percent being black or Latino, according to the Division of Juvenile Justice.
Though the definition will stay the same, Assemblymember Jones-Sawyer says changing the language will change the whole meaning for young people like Cervantes.
“No educators, no law enforcement will no longer be able to call our young people who make a mistake ‘at-risk,'” Jones-Sawyer said. “We’re going to call them ‘at-promise’ because they’re the promise of the future.”
The bill received 66 “yes” votes in the Assembly and 34 “yes” votes in the Senate.