From Concrete to Coastal Sage Scrub

By Jessica Sosa and Stacey Vigallon

What kind of lasting impacts do Los Angeles Audubon programs have for students from the urban core? Now a senior at Dorsey High School, Jessica Sosa has been participating in Los Angeles Audubon programs since her freshman year in 2008. She represented Los Angeles Audubon at the Audubon California Assembly in 2009, and is now conducting her third year of research as a Greenhouse Intern at Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook State Park. She has completed the Los Angeles Marathon three times, and in the fall of 2012 she will start her freshman year at Brown University. Below, Jessica discusses her experience growing up in Los Angeles and how Los Angeles Audubon’s programs have helped shape her goals…

Greenhouse Intern Jessica Sosa works on her research project at Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook State Park.

Greenhouse Intern Jessica Sosa works on her research project at Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook State Park.

Concrete dominates my life. Every day I walk down concrete stairs, through concrete hallways, down concrete sidewalks, toward a mostly concrete school. It is everywhere and green is scarce. Low-income housing, a 7-Eleven, a laundromat, an elementary school, and my high school border my apartment complex. This concrete, these stores, and schools comprise my home – my "neighborhood". Walking down my apartment’s blue stairs and opening the gate, I know I will encounter more realities of my neighborhood: police sirens, graffiti, gang members, and too many kids who aspire to gang life. Seeing a “neighborhood” is difficult.

However, the fact that I have grown up in an area that commends retaliation and disrespect for authority has given me reason to challenge the norm. When I walk down the streets of my community to go to school or to volunteer time to improve the environment, I see potential and opportunity where others see decay. Although the overabundance of concrete might discourage many (including myself at times), I use it as inspiration. It is a call to change what is too common in my community: a lack of green space, the fact that there are more liquor stores than grocery stores, and a lack of environmental awareness. In my community, both environmental justice and social justice overlap.

Through science, I have found an outlet to fulfilling and challenging the reality of my neighborhood. It is this inspiration and belief in contribution and change that drove me to apply for the Baldwin Hills Greenhouse Internship program at the end of my 9th grade year. Through this program I have found myself contributing to building a different kind of neighborhood – one of science, community outreach, research, art, and environmental awareness. I have been able to shape my community in a vision that rallies my neighbors and other concerned individuals behind an ethic of environmental awareness.

As a Greenhouse Intern, I have been given the opportunity to conduct a three-year scientific experiment that examines companion planting between California native plants and vegetable plants, but also the opportunity to venture out beyond just my project. Now in my third year in this program, I have taught elementary school students from Leo Politi Elementary alongside colleagues from the Baldwin Hills Greenhouse program about the importance of native habitat. This year I have again been able to work with Leo Politi students, setting up an experiment where students planted and monitored chard and California poppies. In addition, through the Greenhouse Internship I have been able to volunteer in habitat restoration events at Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area, removing the invasive pampas grass, and at the Venice Beach Least Tern Colony, removing sea rocket. Through the program I have also received a Planet Connect grant from the National Environmental Education Foundation to implement a native plant garden project in my school and educate the campus community about the importance of native habitat and its impact on native urban wildlife. And, I have interpreted conservation ideas into art, as one of the artists involved in the Kill Your Lawn comic book project last summer.

Countless habitat restoration events have filled my weekends over the past three years, and despite the hard work under the sun, and numerous cuts from pampas grass, I have never lost motivation. Despite my neighborhood’s lack of concern and green space, I still believe that hard work makes a difference and that even small contributions will improve my community. Breaking the present concrete won’t be easy but I am determined to continue challenging the norm. Leading by example and continuing to work with my community will hopefully lead to a slow but long- term change, like the one started in my high school garden with native white sage, purple sage, and blue-eyed grass. Now as I continue onto college I hope to pursue a degree in the sciences.

Published Western Tanager Vol. 78 No. 6 Jul/Aug 2012