Remembering Why I Love JSA

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014 @ 7:52AM

Last month, JSA held an event in support of the JSA Chapter at Alliance #5. This school, which supports traditionally underserved students, has brought the student-run JSA model to the entire student body, getting students engaged in their own neighborhood. In addition to raising funds to sponsor students to attend JSA institutes and summer school, the event was also an opportunity for alumni like Jordana Lewis Jaffe to reflect on their lasting connection to JSA. 

It’s easy to remember loving something without remembering why you loved it in the first place. I will always love JSA — but as enough time has passed, the reasons why I loved JSA were getting… fuzzy. I was sure it had something to do with my first Spring State. Or maybe spending a summer at Georgetown. Or winning the governorship. But it took an alumni luncheon here in Los Angeles to remind me: I love JSA because of the people.

Last month, Rachel Kaganoff Stern and Eric Stern opened their lovely home for a joint event between JSA and the Alliance Charter Schools. The main event was when Ambassador Frank Baxter fielded questions from Dan Schnur, but, for me, that was easily overshadowed by the cocktail hour (cocktails aside). That’s when I fell into conversation with a lovely group of students from the Alliance School. And I was quickly overcome with pride and respect and sheer joy that these students had somehow found JSA — and that JSA had somehow found its way to them.

I spoke with Caleb Walton, the Alliance #5 Chapter President, and a handful of other students from Alliance about their experience at school and with JSA. Staff and supporters with Alliance students
They were about to go on Spring Break (and couldn’t wait to catch up on sleep) and, in many ways, their high school experiences and their inside jokes and their quick banter felt very comfortable and familiar to me. But as we spoke in more depth, I got a very different version of Southern California than the one I knew as a high school student. When these Alliance students gather together for a Chapter-wide thought talk, they confront real issues they grapple with on a daily basis. For example, they had most recently discussed the pros and cons of an “Adopt a Corner” program, in which students would take back and clean up corners in their neighborhoods that have been overrun with drunks and drug dealers. They explained the issue to me with grace and poise, and I remembered all over again why I loved JSA so much as a student — and why I continue to support the organization as an adult.

I’ve always thought the best part of JSA was its ability to attract students of different backgrounds and beliefs, throw them in a room together, introduce a contentious topic of debate, and find out what happens. It’s like a great social experiment that, in any other situation, especially one involving adults, would probably result in failure or a fist-fight — or worse. But year after year, JSA pulls it off. The contentious debate turns into a thoughtful dialog. Everyone gets a turn and everyone gets heard and more than a few minds are challenged and opened and changed. And that is a beautiful thing — that should be treasured, and not forgotten.

Jordana served as JSA Southern State Governor (1997-98) while a student at Foothill High School in Tustin, California. Upon her high school graduation in 1998, she attended Harvard University (2002), and later University of California – Los Angeles School of Law (2007). Jordana is a television writer for NCIS: Los Angeles, and a member of the JSA Alumni Association National Steering Committee.

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