Watt Way Blog examines urban reform in greater Los Angeles and is produced by USC Annenberg journalism students.

Straight outta Compton: A cricket club?

By Sophie Gosper

COMPTON – In a nation where cricket is considered an emasculated version of baseball and in a neighborhood known more for gang violence than the gentlemen’s sport of tea breaks and ducks has found its way to this South Los Angeles County city.

The players wait patiently in their white slacks and caps, ignoring the sweat rolling down their necks, as they stand littered strategically across a grass lawn, waiting for the bowler to make his move. He stands out like a patriotic vision, dressed head-to-toe in red, white and blue; not exactly an ensemble one frequently sees in cricket. But today’s game is just for fun, and the bowler has opted to wear his nation’s stripes and a backwards cap rather than the traditional all-white attire. He straightens his arm and swings it around and around like a brightly colored windmill, attempting to throw off the batsman with his comedic routine.

Crack. The sound of the hard, red leather ball hitting the flat wooden bat echoes across the lawn. The fieldsmen cry out and scatter to catch it. The batsman makes his run, the players laugh, the match is over.

The team, formally known as The Homies & the POPz, is the only all-American cricket team in the world, sporting members from the African American and Latino communities. Their mission is to use the principles and ethics of cricket to curb the negative effects of gang activities amongst youth and address homelessness in Compton, South Los Angeles and all inner cities.


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VITA Centers offer free tax preparation in South LA

View South Los Angeles VITA Centers in a larger map

Two-hundred dollars. That is the base rate Liberty Tax’s Watts branch said it charges to prepare a simple tax return. According to 2000 census data the median household income in South Los Angeles is $25,303. This means that most South Los Angeles residents could have their taxes prepared for free.

IRS Spokeswoman Anabel Marquez said anyone who made less than $49,000 last year qualifies for Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA), a free tax preparation service offered by the IRS.

So why do people still pay to have their taxes prepared at Liberty, or H&R Block (whose base rate in Los Angeles is $99), or Jackson Hewitt (whose base rate in Los Angeles is $39)?

Kathy Jun, a volunteer tax preparer at the USC VITA center, has found that some people simply aren’t aware that VITA exists. “I’m sure there are a lot of people who qualify and just don’t know what their options are,” she said.


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South LA coalition pushes for foster care improvements

There were about 15,600 minors living in out-of-home placements in Los Angeles County at the end of last year, according to the Department of Children and Family Services. This means that these children are living in group homes, foster homes, shelters or homes of relatives or non-relative extended family.

Nearly half—about 7,600 total—are living with extended family, in formal Relative Care, placements that allow children and youth to remain in the care of an extended family member.

Most of these minors living in foster care reside  in South Los Angeles, Aaccording to the Community Coalition of South LA, (CoCo), with about 25 percent of these minors in the care of relatives reside in South LA, though it comprises around 10 percent of the county’s population. CoCo has been running a campaign called Kinship in Action, to get more support for these caregivers, as they make everyday sacrifices to take in the children and are an integral element to stabilizing their community, said CoCo community organizer Doniesha Young. Continue

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The evolution of Olvera Street

This week’s post comes by way of a downtown photo adventure. Armed with historic photos of the area in and around Los Angeles’ historic core, I set out to recreate several of them amid the city’s bustling modernity. As it turns out, in many places, vestiges of history have manages to shine through.

Follow the jump to see my slideshow and hear music from a few native Angelenos.

Historic photos: University of Southern California Digital Library; movie stills from the 1921 film “The Kid,” starring Charlie Chaplin and Jackie Coogan.

Modern photos: Massiel Bobadilla

Music: “El Pescado Nadador” by Los Lobos

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Little Ethiopia: Preserving a Los Angeles treasure

The inconspicuous sign at the corner of Fairfax Avenue and Olympic Boulevard that marks Los Angeles’ Little Ethiopia enclave never fails to stir up strong emotions in Meron Ahadu.

“Whenever I see that sign, that Little Ethiopia sign, tears come to my eyes,” she said.

Thanks in large part to Ahadu’s activism, the L.A. City Council formally recognized Little Ethiopia in 2002, making it the first African cultural district in any major U.S. city — including Washington, D.C., home to some 300,000 Ethiopian immigrants.

Rahel, the owner of Rahel's Ethiopian Vegan Restaurant in Little Ethiopia, chats with a customer over coffee.

But it goes much deeper than that.

In formally branding the neighborhood Little Ethiopia, the city also recognized the contributions of the Ethiopian immigrants who settled there and turned an abandoned, riot-torn sector of L.A. into a vibrant hub filled with restaurants and boutiques.

Despite its continuous success, Ahadu doesn’t take for granted that the strip of Ethiopian-owned businesses that dot Fairfax in L.A.’s Carthay section will be around forever.

“It scares me that one day this could all be gone,” she said, gesturing towards the window from her table at Rahel’s, a restaurant that serves vegan Ethiopian cuisine.

The area needs a serious face lift to ensure its survival.


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Looking forward to a different Los Angeles

By 2030, the legendary rush-hour traffic that turns the Harbor Freeway into a giant parking lot no longer will be a reality of life in Los Angeles.

Satellite technology will give school-aged children the opportunity to take a virtual field trip from their downtown classrooms to Cape Canaveral, Fla., to watch a rocket launch. Meanwhile, their parents will be home, hard at work at the kitchen table, using the same technology to communicate with clients in Beijing, London and Geneva.

And home will more likely mean a chic Silver Lake loft than the far-flung suburban McMansion of yesteryear.

This is the Los Angeles that transportation, city planning and education experts predict we’ll be living in just two decades from now.

But what do all these changes mean to residents of America’s second-largest metropolis, to our well-being, and to how we relate to each other? What potential challenges might they create?

Construction on a high rise on Los Angeles

Cal State Los Angeles sociologist Wai Kit Choi said he thinks we’ll become more connected as people flock to live a more centralized existence downtown and become increasingly dependent upon public transportation.

And that could be a very good thing.

“More interaction will hopefully create a situation where we’ll have to care more about other people. You can’t just ignore them,” Choi said. “You don’t see suffering, you don’t see poverty” from your car. Continue

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Social programming at the Old Plaza church

The Old Plaza Church, built in 1814

Across the street and a little to the left stands a stuffed burro, one of Olvera Street’s more kitschy photo ops. Across the street and to the right, a film crew sets up lighting as they prepare to shoot a scene outside the historic Pico House. To the immediate left, under the colorful auspices of a mural of the Virgin of Guadalupe, a hodgepodge band of disabled veterans and elderly women hawk armfuls of plastic religious paraphernalia. To the immediate right, large tracts of upturned earth mark the site of a planned cultural center –and a long forgotten cemetery.

Looking west over the central plaza, the nearly 200-year-old Old Plaza Church on North Main Street can easily blend into its boisterous surroundings. Built with the aim of providing for Los Angeles’ first settlers’ spiritual needs, the Church today operates under the auspices of the Claretian Missionary Fathers, and works to attend to the needs of Downtown residents in matters beyond the spiritual.

Immigration services, basic health care, family counseling, community theater, and food services are among the regular programs offered through the Church.

Follow the jump to hear in-take worker, Aidee Angel, talk about why volunteerism is at the heart of her work, how target demographics are shifting, and why the Church has taken such a firm stance in support of immigrants’ rights.


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A neighborhood icon survives the swirl of urban change

This is the second of a four-part series on Jefferson Park and the changing urban neighborhood.

Almost every community has one – a place to hang out, grab a bite, see friends and feel safe – think Central Perk in “Friends” or the Regal Beagle in “Three’s Company.” Places like these aren’t always portrayed in the media for predominantly black and Hispanic communities, but Jefferson Park has what many in the community call their “black Cheers”: Harold and Belle’s, a family owned Creole restaurant.

Ryan Legaux at the Harold and Belle's bar with three regular customers

“The people here, it’s almost like family, ok. Everybody sitting at this bar, we know each other, we look after each other. We buy each other drinks, we buy each other food, it just depends what day it is. It’s almost like our cheers,” says Tony Sargent, who has lived in Jefferson Park for 40 years and has been a regular at Harold and Belle’s for most of that time.


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Q & A: City Council candidate Austin Dragon

City Council Candidate Austin Dragon

Austin Dragon does not have much experience in politics; he has spent the last 16 years of his life working as a corporate recruiter. He describes himself as an “average person” from the private sector. And this is exactly why he says he is the right person to unseat District 10 incumbent Herb Wesson in the March 8 city council elections.

In sharp contrast to Dragon, Wesson has had a long career in government. He has worked as chief of staff for two former Los Angeles City Council members, was a California State Assembly member from 1998 through 2004, and has been serving on the Los Angeles City Council since 2005.

We sat down with Dragon to find out more about his background, why he thinks the council needs fresh faces, and his vision for District 10, which includes parts of South Los Angeles neighborhoods Leimart Park, Jefferson Park, Crenshaw, Baldwin Hills, and West Adams.

Click play to hear Dragon’s answers, or read them below each question.

Q: Why are you running, and what led you to that decision?

I’m running because, what I tell people, is I moved to Los Angeles 20 years ago. I love everything about this city except for one thing and that is the people who run our local government. We are in a crisis situation, and the leadership we have right now is basically clueless. They have no plan of action. They are not doing anything about the financial crisis the city is in and that is why I am running.


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Turning fans and followers into activists and advocates

One-thousand one-hundred and thirty people “like” the Community Coalition of South LA’s (CoCo) Facebook page. This seems like a respectable number for a relatively small advocacy group based in a low-income community where not everyone is toting an iPhone and a MacBook.

But, how do you turn a Facebook fan into a fundraiser…a marcher…a volunteer? This is the question CoCo, an advocacy group that works to reduce poverty, crime and drug use in South Los Angeles, is grappling with.

“We hope to really refine how can we use online media, our website, our email, our Facebook, our Twitter, to move those online supporters to take action,” said Carla Guerrero, communications assistant at CoCo.

CoCo’s push to increase their online efforts comes at a time when a firestorm of criticism has erupted around so-called “digital activism.” In October 2010 Malcolm Gladwell wrote a hotly debated piece for the New Yorker, arguing that, “Social networks are effective at increasing participation—by lessening the level of motivation that participation requires.” In Gladwell’s view digital activism “succeeds not by motivating people to make a real sacrifice but by motivating them to do the things that people do when they are not motivated enough to make a real sacrifice.” Continue

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