2014 was a great year for Watts! The Watts Community Studio has spent its time identifying new and innovative ways to continue its commitment to residents of our neighborhoods which remain impacted by poverty and a limited access to resources that respond to the findings of the 2013 report. At this juncture, WCS will partner with agencies for one annual project as it develops into a formal organization. Future posts will include our vision, mission, and directions. For now, here is a brief overview of some 2014 local events (since there are too many) that attest to Watts’ vibrancy, resiliency, and diversity, addressing the 2013 report findings’ neighborhood priorities.
In the 2014 Rose Parade, the Watts Towers shared a float with many treasures of Los Angeles (e.g. Hollywood Sign, Olvera Street, Endeavor’s voyage). This moment solidified the importance of Watts for the City of Los Angeles. Weeks later, Mayor Eric Garcetti attended mass at Saint Lawrence of Brindisi Catholic Church with Councilman Joe Buscaino. The presence of the two elected officials impacted many residents who were excited to witness their commitment to Watts. These moments actualized the value of Watts, as a neighborhood of resiliency and diversity, truly stands.
Neighborhood Priority #1: Employment – If not the toughest, employment is one of the top most difficult community priorities to address. The 2013 report found that Watts has a 13% unemployment rate, not considering those groups out of the workforce that represent a large population of Watts residents like the long-term unemployed and previously incarcerated. Participating in the workforce and opportunities to work are instrumental to community development. Important efforts in 2014 led to the discussion of local hiring. For example, Altamed recently opened a senior services center in Watts, the MLK community hospital is opening in Summer 2015, and various WorkSource programs offered employment fairs. These examples have started a significant conversation of employment opportunities and skills developments in the top hiring markets for the residents of Watts.
Neighborhood Priority #2: Physical Activity – The findings of the City of Los Angeles Health Atlas showed that Watts residents’ life expectancy have not improved over the last 40 years and they have a 12-year lower life expectancy compared to more affluent neighborhoods in the City of LA. This means that important preventive community programs are necessary for an improved quality of life. Examples include the groundbreaking of Monitor Park (now known was Watts Serenity Park) as an example of community participation in transforming a vacant lot to a space where children can grow healthy and play. Additionally, the significant commitment of the East Side Riders brings over a dozen of bike riding and community events to Watts that address youth advocacy, healthy living, and important health topics like cancer awareness and community unity. Following this element of physical activity, Macedonia Baptist Church hosted the First Annual Watts Healthy 5k that included the participation of many residents, advocates, community leaders, elected officials, and partners. The event challenged the notion of a violent Watts when over 200 participants ran through the neighborhood promoting healthy and active living. Finally, the Annual Watts Turkey Trot included a massive collaborative and successful community event to promote health in the neighborhood.
Neighborhood Priority #3: Cleanliness
There has been a massive mobilization of ensuring the cleanliness of the Watts community. Outside entities have largely contributed to the illegal dumping that continues to impact the livelihood of residents. The We Clean Watts group in partnership with Council District 15 and Beacon House have volunteered to actively improve neighborhood cleanliness. Their efforts in 2014 beautified Watts and made it safer for residents to move through their neighborhood. From clean alleys to sidewalks, this partnership is seeking ways to support its efforts. Additionally, street services identified streets that needed improvement as a larger citywide effort.
Neighborhood Priority #4: Enforcement and Safety
Watts is a highly resilient community filled with residents that are committed to their self-sustainability and advocacy. Community groups like the School Safety Collaborative, Watts Gang Task Force, and Community Safety Partnerships have actively contributed to enforcing and ensuring safety. Parents actively engage in the collaborative to support their child’s safety when walking to school. Residents attend meetings of the task force to hold law enforcement accountable and vice versa. Further, law enforcement has heard the requests of community members and established their CSP offices in Watts. These efforts serve to demonstrate that interpretations of Watts as a violent community are false and that residents are highly capable of ensuring their livelihood, when offered the opportunities.
Neighborhood Priority #5: Social and Cultural Activities
A history of Watts illuminates a diverse Watts. People from all parts of the world have lived in this vibrant community. The Watts Towers serve as an emblem of European history, the history of rising for the ashes of the Civil Rights Movement places Watts in the Black Power Movement, and the current demographic shifts of Latinos into Watts welcome the tasteful traditions with food and music. In honor of the shifts, the East Side Riders hosted a Dia de los Muertos event. Additionally, community came together across all races to celebrate the neighborhood in the Watts Summer Festival, Watts Towers Jazz and Drum Festival, and an event hosted by the Watts Fire Station. The holidays were very joyful, with the Watts Christmas Parade and Watts’ First Annual Winter Wonderland and Tree Lighting Ceremony that welcome over 300 residents.
In the qualitative analysis of the WCS report, residents highlighted the importance of investing in youth. Historically, during the Black Power Movement, youth demonstrated a desire to work in their community and disengage from “risky behaviors.” In 2014, programs from Operation Progress, Children’s Institute, and Watts Labor Community Action Committee re-ignited opportunities for youth. The Watts Gougars championed and many youth were certified in disaster preparedness. Mayor Garcetti recognized the value in opportunities and announced the additional job announcements for youth at the Yo!Watts. This opportunity would open 10,000 more jobs for youth in the Los Angeles area and Watts was highlighted. This is very relevant to the work of the WCS since we benefitted from such programs in engaging with local hired youth from the neighborhoods.
Business Development: In 2014, following the 2013 assessment report, the Watts Community Studio partnered with LA Mas for a small business corridor improvement collaborative. As the annual project for WCS, the partnership brought a beautification effort for a business corridor in Watts. Locally hired youth participated, the project requested community participation, and the project successfully completed its summer endeavor. Drive down Wilmington Avenue to witness the colorful efforts! This project has allowed for residents to walk more around their neighborhood by adding lighting to the businesses. The corridor, between 110 and 113th Streets, is definitely a sight to see. For more info on this project, please visit the following site: http://www.mas.la/work/cts/la-mas-watts-community-studio.proje
All of the events highlight and respond to more than one neighborhood priority, making them effective programming for the future of Watts. As we continue to develop Watts Community Studio as a single entity, the team commits to an annual summer event and in this overview, we include the 2014-Watts Community Studio annual summer partnership. We look forward to announcing our 2015 efforts remembering the 1965-Watts Revolt.