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Youth march urges peace, honors Cesar Chavez

Organizers estimate about 150 people, mostly middle and high school students, joined the annual demonstration in Pasadena on Saturday.

March 29, 2009|Ruben Vives

On Saturday afternoon, under a cloudless sky, dozens of youths from several nonprofit organizations gathered at the Villa-Parke Community Center in Pasadena to demonstrate for peace and honor Cesar Chavez.

The young demonstrators began their march through narrow residential streets, passing houses with well-kept lawns, calling out for peace and an end to violence.

The march, which ended at Jackie Robinson Park, was short -- only a mile -- but poignant, said Randy Jurado Ertll, executive director of El Centro de Accion Social, which organized the event.

In recent years, Ertll said, getting residents to participate in such walks was an uphill battle.

Then, two years ago, "I got tired of dealing with cynical adults," he said. So he shifted his attention to middle and high school students.

The Cesar Chavez march held last year, he said, was among the biggest in his four years at the nonprofit organization. Most of the demonstrators were students.

"That's what made it great, the youth participated; it was shocking," Ertll said. "You can tell the difference in the kids' energy. They love chanting, they feel like they're participating, and they tell their parents about it."

Last December the organization got a boost after receiving a grant from the California Endowment, leading to the formation of the Peace Ambassadors program.

The program pays 10 students from John Muir High School and Washington Middle School to become leaders and recruit other youths to participate in after-school programs and community events.

The youth leaders get paid $200 in installments throughout the semester. Students interested in joining must submit a resume and be interviewed by the program coordinator.

"We're teaching them to be committed, to work hard," Ertll said. "We want them to know that you don't get anything for free."

Among those who participated in Saturday's march was 13-year-old Areli Anselmo, a peace ambassador from Washington Middle School. She spent six hours after school one week stuffing fliers about the march into envelopes to distribute to residents.

Standing on a basketball court Saturday in Jackie Robinson Park, Areli said she wanted to see more young people come out to the march. She said more kids "need to participate and become part of the community."

Among other groups who participated in the walk were school and city officials; Mothers on the Move; Neighborhood Outreach Workers, run by the Western Justice Center Foundation; and City Year, a youth service corps.

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ruben.vives@latimes.com

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