The Women’s Leadership Project (WLP) is a mentoring and service learning advocacy program designed to educate and train young middle and high school age women in South Los Angeles to take ownership of their school-communities. Since 2006 WLP has been based at South L.A. high schools like Gardena High School, Washington Prep High School and Duke Ellington Continuation School with pilot programs at King Drew Medical Magnet and Crenshaw High School. The program is sponsored by the L.A. County Human Relations Commission. Using a humanist curriculum with a social justice lens, the goal of the program is to empower young women of color to develop their own voices, increase their self-esteem, foster healthy relationships, promote critical consciousness about and activism around race, gender and LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning) equality, and prepare for college and careers. The WLP guides young women through school-community advocacy projects of their own choosing, toward helping them develop and sharpen their critical thinking, writing, collaboration and leadership skills.

Core Program Features:

  • Peer educational trainings
      Reproductive health and reproductive rights
      Sexual violence awareness (including sexual assault and sexual harassment)
      Intimate partner violence and domestic violence
      LGBT equality & anti-homophobia training
      HIV/AIDS prevention
      Women’s history
  • College Access mentoring (including financial aid/scholarship resources assistance
  • Women of Color Speaker Series
  • WLP alumni College Panel
  • STEM programming and mentoring

The program meets on campus during lunch and after school and is facilitated by trained adult mentors. Students receive service learning or course credit for their participation. As part of their core instruction they participate in expository writing exercises, group dialogue, media analysis, and peer education training. During the course of the school year WLP peer educators provide approximately three to four separate trainings to over three hundred students. WLP peer initiatives include Denim Day sexual assault awareness training, HIV/AIDS education and awareness, college preparation education (including A-G advisement, financial aid and scholarship research), college resource development for AB540 undocumented students, Day of Silence with Gay/Straight Alliances, school-wide dialogue workshops, and Women’s History Month forums. Students also spearhead and present at an annual end of the year human relations conference on youth leadership, health literacy, media literacy, feminism and promoting positive intergroup relations across race, gender and sexual orientation. Since 2007 the conference has been attended by partner schools such as Crenshaw, King-Drew Medical Magnet, Washington Prep and Dorsey High Schools and Peary, Audubon, Clay, Bret Harte, and Horace Mann Middle Schools and the Hilda Solis Academy. Partner and supporting community organizations for this initiative have included REACH L.A., the Women’s Foundation of California, the Ida B. Wells Institute, Secular Women, Black Women for Wellness, Peace Over Violence, Planned Parenthood Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable, Secular Student Alliance, Toyota Foundation and Sempra Utilities.

The WLP’s graduation and four-year college going rates for seniors exceed that of the general population of its home schools. According to California Department of Education School Accountability data during 2012-2013 the graduation rate for Washington Prep HS was 72%. The graduation rate for Gardena HS was 74% and 68% for Duke Ellington Continuation School. During the 2012-2013 school year the four year college going rates for Gardena HS and Washington Prep HS were approximately 22% (rates for Duke Ellington CS are less than 10%). During the 2012-2014 school years all thirty two WLP seniors graduated and went to two and four year colleges and universities. Fifteen went to community colleges and seventeen to four year colleges. 98% went to state colleges, 2% went to out of state colleges. 95% were first generation college students. 50% were African American, 47% were Latino, 2% were mixed race/multiracial and 1% were Asian Pacific Islander. 18% of graduating seniors were undocumented. 18% were foster care/homeless. Graduates received full and partial scholarships from the Posse Foundation, Horatio Alger Foundation, the Chafee Grant Foundation, the L.A. Urban Policy Roundtable and Delta Sigma Theta. As of 2017, WLP alumni have received undergraduate degrees from UC Davis, CSULB, Hobart and William College and Syracuse University.

The majority of participants during 2014-2015 were tenth graders from Gardena HS. Out of twenty five to thirty active participants 60% were Latino, 28% African American, 8% mixed race/multiracial and 4% Asian Pacific Islander.

During the 2014-2015 school year, WLP initiated an African American young women’s class for grades 9-11. For the 2016 school year five seniors graduated and went to community colleges. In 2016, WLP initiated a program at King-Drew Magnet of Medicine and Science. The cohort is 60% African American and 40% Latino with approximately fifteen participants who have been trained as peer educators. For the 2016-2017 school year students have conducted three peer education workshops on cultural stereotypes, rape culture and gender bias in the workplace. Youth also co-organized and presented at the LACHRC’s Future of Feminism conference, which was attended by one hundred and thirty youth and adults from South and Central Los Angeles high schools and service providers.


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