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The Social Justice Learning Institute, one of the nation’s leading nonprofit organizations at the forefront of the social justice and equity movement since 2008, has been working for over a decade to improve the education, health, and well-being of youth and communities of color through research, training, and community mobilization.

The Urban Scholars program started as the Black Male Youth Academy in 2008 at Morningside High School in Inglewood, CA with 15 students and a vision to transform the lives of young men of color by empowering them through education.

Now, we have partnered with more than 20 schools within the Greater Los Angeles area to increase college and career preparation, academic competencies, and skills building among students of color.

Urban Scholars Uses 4 Key Areas to Empower Los Angeles County’s Young Men of Color

Using education as a tool, we empower young men of color to create thriving communities and more equitable systems by providing relevant curriculum and academic support.

By tapping into the following 4 key areas, they learn to build knowledge of self for personal transformation, develop social awareness of the world around them, and achieve academic success. 

1. Academic and Career Development

We provide individualized academic and career pathway development and take students on college and career field trips to support their journeys to and through post-secondary plans.

2. Socio-Emotional Support

We work with young men of color to address and overcome trauma through restorative practices, outdoor retreats, and individual therapy sessions with mental health professionals.

3. Identity Development

We strengthen students’ sense of self through mindfulness activities, team-building, and leadership development in the classroom and at retreats.

4. Social Justice Youth Leadership

We train young men of color in community-based action research, policy advocacy, and organizing so they can become leaders who transform their communities. 

Transforming the Lives of LA County Youth Through Urban Scholars

Emmanuel “Manny” Karunwi, a Class of 2022 Urban Scholar and Jordan Wings Scholarship winner, began our program as “a young Black man trying to get into high school and be the cool kid. You know, be popular,” said the University Pathways Medical Magnet Academy graduate. “But through SJLI I learned the wonders of education and the better man that I can become.”

By 2021, Emmanuel and other youth leaders across Los Angeles County led efforts that successfully pulled $36 million in funding from the LA School Police Department, removed police from LAUSD campuses, and secured over $96.7 million for student services like counselors, psychiatric social workers, restorative justice coordinators, academic counselors, student safety coaches.

With help from our Educational Equity team, he graduated in June of 2022 with a full gap scholarship through our partnership with the Jordan Wings Foundation and currently studies film at Howard University.

“SJLI has given me all of the resources that I need to be successful,” he said. “The Urban Scholars program has helped educate me and give me an outlet to change my community for the better.”

Urban Scholars Impact Numbers

Since 2008, we’ve been tracking our impact so we can make program improvements that lead to more significant gains in academic achievement. Here is a look at some of our numbers:

Where You Can Find Urban Scholars In Los Angeles County

Our California Urban Scholars program is an evidence-based, credit-bearing course that is embedded into the school schedules of Antelope Valley High School, Augustus Hawkins High School, Bret Harte Middle School, Centennial High School, Cesar Chavez Continuation-Centennial, Cesar Chavez Continuation – Compton, Charles Drew Middle School, Crenshaw High School, Dymally High School, Eastside High School, Franklin Middle School, Fremont High School, John Adams Middle School, Lindbergh Middle School, Millikan Middle School, Morningside High School, Nelson Middle School, Palmdale High School, Robert Fulton College Prep Academy, Ulysses S. Grant High School, University Pathways Medical Magnet Academy, and Washington Prep High.

Bring Urban Scholars to Your LA County Campus

If you operate a school committed to improving educational outcomes for young men of color, we want to work with you.

Urban Scholars programming is typically offered during the school day as an elective period, or as an extra-curricular offering. All participating school sites will receive a designated school site coordinator to work directly with your selected instructors.

Instructors Receive: 

  • Complete curriculum
  • Curriculum training and ongoing support
  • Regular professional development

Students Receive: 

  • College preparation education and guidance
  • Exposure to college-level coursework
  • College field trips and tours
  • Academic and leadership retreats
  • Educational conferences and trainings
  • Scholarship assistance

Join Our Los Angeles County Urban Scholars Community

As our roots continue to grow throughout Los Angeles County, we welcome you to get to know us better. Join our community of folks who are ready to learn, grow, and change the lives of young men of color together.