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Crisostomo Led Student Walkout in L.A. Schools

When Paula Crisostomo was 17 years old, she led a walkout at her public school in eastern Los Angeles to protest the deplorable quality of education. The organized protest, held in March 1968, remains the largest protest ever by high school students in the country. Twenty thousand students, disgusted by low academic standards in their public school, walked out in an attempt to protest racial discrimination and spark a movement for better education opportunities. These included access to college and decreasing of class sizes. The protestors also sought to free themselves from the demoralizing impact of racist teachers and school administrators. Many students endured police brutality during the walkout. Symbolically, students were finally able to stand up against the authority that they were taught to respect unconditionally. The walkouts succeeded in closing schools for one week, but Crisotomo recognized a more significant result. In addition to prompting other walkouts around the country, the perseverance, determination and leadership exhibited by the students changed their perceptions of what they could accomplish. Crisotomo said, “The walkout was not our first step. It was our last.” Before walking out, Crisotomo and her peers made multiple attempts to improve their situation. They talked with school leaders and supported public officials who agreed to pursue their agenda. But their efforts had little effect. After attending the Chicano Youth Leadership Conference, Crisotomo and other students founded a group called Young Citizens Community Action. Crisotomo said that the struggle against educational inequality was one that she and her classmates had to live with everyd ay. The 1960’s were characterized by changes in social and political activity, but what many people fail to recognize is that the struggles of this time continue today. Crisotomo asked students to remember her story and understand that people with power must be conscious of their actions and ensure that they do not oppress others. She added that the current generation of young people must be wary of slipping into the apathetic mindset that someone else will set into motion actions to change societal structure.