I worked for four years, from the ages of 13 to 18, in the offices of my School Board Member, Steve Zimmer. From him, I learned this deep lesson: that a community is made-up of a collection of individuals, and the collection of their stories. Everyone has a unique story to share. This is mine.
I graduated from Venice High School last June. Flash forward eight months, and I am now attending the second semester of a rigorous joint program between Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary. When I left in August for the Big Apple, I thought I was leaving Los Angeles City and LAUSD behind. It became quickly clear moving to the Big Apple was not going to detach me from my community; it remains my home. Growing-up, I was the kid who wanted to solve problems, to help. I was never able to just sit back and watch, to be a by-stander.
I always felt a sense of responsibility for the state of any situation or group I was a part of. Taking President Obama’s inaugural message of community activism to heart, I approached my Councilman at age 13 to ask him how I might make a difference in my community. Impressed with my desire and determination to create community, he facilitated the educational opportunity for me to intern in his office.
At first, my duties were solely administrative, answering phones, filing papers aiding his staff. With time came a platform to do so much more. By pushing me to learn about the unique organizations, people, problems, and challenges of the 11th District. Councilman Rosendahl afforded me the tools for creating just that community in Los Angeles that I could be proud of.
Upon entering Venice High School, I noticed an evident need for student leadership and community involvement. Believing high schools to be the backbone of strong communities, I approached School Board Member Zimmer about working in his office in order to learn more about the schools and educational obstacles in Los Angeles Unified. What’s amazing is: Steve Zimmer said ‘yes.’ Steve Zimmer welcomed me right into his office, he embraced my idea of bringing a group of student leaders from across the district to meet with him monthly to share their ideas personal opinions on improving their schools.
Continuing to intern for Councilman Rosendahl, I worked with Board Member Zimmer and Councilman Rosendahl to help create a partnership between offices. Both offices made my projects a priority, as they aided me in expanding my school supply drives to ensure that every student in L.A. Unified could go to school with supplies, as well as creating the 11th District Youth Council of Los Angeles.
Through four years interning for LAUSD School Board Member Zimmer, his collaborative style has taught me how crucial it is to unite people, to bring individuals and communities together. He embodies this process, which involves listening to individuals, their unique experiences, and their stories. From him, I learned that while not everyone will agree on every particular issue, you must still listen to others, educate yourself on the issue, and put what is best for your community above all else.
In contrast, it has been my experience that so many other adults wouldn’t listen to my stories and insights. Mr Zimmer is different. He had the patience to listen to me, acknowledging my stories and insights as he would his colleagues’. Furthermore, sharing my vision for a united community, he helped me accomplish many projects.
Over the last several years, I have, personally, watched him work endless hours, running all over town to listen to all of these myriad stories. Besides helping me personally to develop into a young man, he helped me achieve many of my goals. He remains my cheerleader, advisor and mentor.
Besides taking the time to listen and work with me, Mr. Zimmer listened to all the stories of my peers at Venice High. He regularly showed up to our House of Representative meetings, never leaving a single meeting early. As several of our best teachers were pink slipped last year, the students of Venice High launched a campaign to retain several of our most dedicated teachers. Venice students emailed everyone; including the press, Superintendent Deasy, our Principal, and the School Board Members.
Only Mr Zimmer responded to every email, spoke to every student, and told us, the students of Venice High, what he would and could do. No one seemed to hear our voices or acknowledge our concerns, except Mr Zimmer. He worked endlessly to bring back two teachers who the students of Venice High School felt impacted their education and lives. And, I will feel indebted to Mr. Zimmer always because of the time and concern Mr Zimmer has taken across so many years, to listen, teach, and encourage me.
Sitting 3,000 miles away in NYC, I am frustrated to watch this race become about outside interests. I am sick and tired of reading articles about unions and billionaires. We need to elect the person who is best suited for the job. In my opinion, Board Member Steve Zimmer is that person.
He always puts the student first, is an experienced teacher, and a coalition builder. In a time when everyone wants a voice and has a personal story, we need a Board Member that will listen and vote independently. I want to hear about how the candidates have changed the lives of students; I want to hear stories!
This article was submitted by Daniel Sobajian, Venice High Class of ’12 and current Columbia University freshman.