Summer Night Lights – My Favorite Season

Summer is one of my favorite seasons and this summer has been one of the most gratifying. Through a partnership between InsideOUT Writers and Summer Night Lights, I was given the opportunity to teach creative writing to young people in South Central Los Angeles and Highland Park. This experience was one-of-a-kind and opened doors for me to grow as a young artist, teacher and motivational speaker.

The two class locations were very special to me, but each had unique challenges. In South Central, my students were easily distracted and had a hard time focusing in class. My oldest student was only 11, and many didn’t have strong writing skills. I had to find ways to engage them. I started with arts and crafts, followed by some writing and I wrapped it up with a treat at the end of the class. For one class “treat” I brought in a guest that gave manicures to all of the little girls.

Jimmy Valdez and his students.

Jimmy Valdez and his students.

In Highland Park, one challenge was the kids who thought writing (or sitting in my class) wasn’t going to be “cool.” Little did they know that their teacher was cooler than a polar bear’s nail. Soon, I had an average of 12 to 15 students at every class. To me that was powerful, because they were not obligated to join my class or to stay. I taught a variety of topics including: “The Inner Self,” “Goals,” “Dreams” and “Proper Conduct.”
At the end of the summer, I bought backpacks for all of my students and filled them up with school supplies. I was very honored, blessed and full of joy to have been able to give back to them.
My students also gave back to me. Since I’m a “Summer Baby,” I showed up with pizza and soda to one of my Highland Park classes. I was happily surprised to discover my students had gotten together outside of class to make a delicious cake and cake lollipops to celebrate my birthday.
Summer has been a delightful season this year. I couldn’t have spent this summer in any better way than with my students in the Summer Night Lights Program.

-Jimmy Valdez


The Summer Night Lights (SNL) program is a public and private partnership undertaken by the City of Los Angeles Mayor’s Office of Gang Reduction & Youth Development (“GRYD”) and The GRYD Foundation.

During the Summer of 2013, SNL operated at 32 locations across the City of Los Angeles, keeping recreation centers and parks open until midnight Wednesdays through Saturdays. As a violence–reduction program, SNL targets one of the seasons of greatest need and those locations historically impacted by such violence (evidence shows increased gang-related violence during summer months).