Footnotes from South LA schoolday walks

By Randal Henry and Manal Aboelata-Henry

As parents guide their kids to school on foot, the family experiences the joys of living in a walkable neighborhood. They soon launch Crenshaw Walks to encourage others to join.

The Henry family proudly wears Crenshaw Walks t-shirts at the 2014 Taste of Soul. | Randal Henry

The Henry family proudly wears Crenshaw Walks t-shirts at the 2014 Taste of Soul. | Randal Henry

It’s 7:20 AM on a brisk, sunny Monday in South L.A. Brothers Taj and Sadiq check the ‘‘velcro’’ on their hushpuppies and take one last look to make sure lunch pails and homework folders are tucked into their backpacks. Check. Off they go to the nearest Metro Station, about a 12 minute walk. Many people walk in our neighborhood, so most days, Taj and Sadiq say hello to other Crenshaw Manor walkers or talk to their parents along the way.

If the car traffic on Coliseum St. isn’t too heavy and the lights at Crenshaw and Rodeo are just right, they’ll stroll up the platform just in time for the 7:40 train. They might even have an extra moment to find a penny someone’s left behind at the TAP machine. Some days they get stuck waiting for a lull in the steady stream of cars at an unmarked crosswalk at Coliseum or the light at Crenshaw won’t turn until they’ve seen the eastbound train bolt through the intersection. In that case, they wait for the 7:52 train. But, either way, the 7 minute train ride will get them to school well in time for their 8:05 bell.  [Read more…]

First-person: “Dreaming Sin Fronteras” showcases search for identity


Certain themes struck a chord for me in “Dreaming Sin Fronteras” (Dreaming Without Borders), a performance last week at the University of Southern California’s Bovard Auditorium. These stories conjured the struggles and complexity of being an undocumented immigrant growing up in the United States, and the search for identity in an adopted country that rejects us because of our status. Some of the individual stories resonated more than others, but I made a rooted connection with the idea of having to assimilate, being uncertain about whether I could attend college and the transformation from powerlessness to empowerment when I went from being a member of a disenfranchised group to becoming an activist on behalf of immigrants.

The character named Gabe, played by local actor Jose Julian, reminded me of my privilege benefiting from policies like AB-540, a law that has helped me pay in-state tuition; Deferred Action for Early Childhood Arrival (DACA), which grants me temporary legal status; and the California DREAM Act, a law that is helping me pay for college. Because he is from a different generation, Gabe did not grow up with all these benefits and a college education to him seems like an impossible dream. But these limitations do not define Gabe. [Read more…]

College journal: Swapping cardinal and gold for orange

Jesus Vargas and Luis Moctezuma recently said goodbye to South Los Angeles and hello to college — far off at Syracuse University in New York. Both had learned digital skills through classes at South L.A.’s TxT (formerly URBAN TxT), a nonprofit that works with inner-city boys to develop tomorrow’s technology leaders, and hope to one day bring change to their communities. To do that, they’re first going across the country. (And now rooting for the Syracuse Orange football team instead of cardinal-and-gold USC Trojans.)  Check back for updates from Vargas and Moctezuma’s journal chronicling the challenges and rewards of attending college far from home.


Oscar Menjivar, in orange, accompanied Jesus and Luis to get settled at Syracuse.

Thoughts before arrival

Jesus: The closer I got to college, the more people wanted to talk about it. Everyone wanted to know if I was ready, excited or nervous. My generic response was, “Yes, I’m excited.” But the truth is that I wasn’t really thinking about school. When I graduated from high school I felt as if I had just taken a deep breath after completing a tedious task; the last thing I wanted to think about was the next step of my educational journey. [Read more…]

Redefining environmentalism in South LA 

By gardening and keeping lights low, a family in Watts

challenges mainstream notions of “environmentalism.”


Ashley and her mother in the garden at their Watts home. | Ashley Hansack

“Turn off the damn lights! You act like I have money coming out of my ass,” yells my mom.

It’s not: “turn off the lights because you waste energy,” “turn off the lights because we need to reduce fossil fuels,” or “turn off the lights because we need to conserve resources.”

It’s: “Turn off the lights because I cannot afford to give up an extra ten dollars to pay the bill. I told you once and I don’t want to have to tell you again: turn off the damn lights.”

There are 13 light switches controlling the visibility and the mood lighting throughout my family’s house in Watts. In every bedroom, hallway and common living space, there is a light switch waiting to come to life and shine.

Enter the bathroom. Light on. Exit the bathroom. Light off. Enter the bedroom. Light on. Exit the bedroom. Light off.

Again and again, I turn the lights on and off without ever stopping to think about where this light comes from and how I have the great magical power to bring light into a room with the effortless flick of my wrist. [Read more…]

From Watts to Walla Walla: The burdens and the blessings of my college education

Alisha Agarde (l) and author Ashley Hansack (r) at a First Generation Mentorship Program Dinner at Whitman College in 2013

Ashley Hansack (right) with a fellow student at a First Generation Mentorship Program Dinner at Whitman College in 2013. | Ashley Hansack

During the fall of 2010, I applied to eighteen colleges and universities across the United States. As a first-generation, working-class, Latina applicant, college counselors prompted me to highlight my diversity in my college essays.

“You are different,” they would say. “Use that to your advantage,” their smiles would imply. Essay upon essay, I would highlight characteristics about my family, my school, and my community that seemed trivial and unimportant to my identity. Yes, my blood runs with 100% Mexican heritage. Yes, my mom raised my four sisters and me on her own under a housekeeper’s salary. Yes, I grew up living in the ghetto streets of communities like Watts and Compton. Yes, unemployment and food security were at the forefront of many family discussions. I would be praised by my mentors and counselors, who urged, add more details here, a little more pity there, and girl, you have yourself an award-winning essay. [Read more…]

First person: College isn’t for us?


Skylar and Randall playing in her backyard | 1998

This Reporter Corps story published Oct. 13, 2013 recently aired on KCRW as a radio piece produced by Kerstin Kilm and Skylar Endsley Myers. Fast forward to 8:10 to hear Myers talk with her childhood friend Randall about why the two pals ended up taking different paths. 

I opened the door to see my best friend from childhood, Randall, chewing on a pen top, facing me in his baggy jeans. We hadn’t seen each other for nearly a decade. As kids our lives seemed like mirror images and we were inseparable skateboarding, biking and playing basketball on our block of South Central Los Angeles. But something changed in middle school. In eighth grade, while I was worrying about which private high school would give me a scholarship, he was getting arrested for the first time.

How was it that my ace homie growing up–the one who I would run the streets with for hours–ended up on the fast track to prison while I sped toward opportunities? [Read more…]

First person: City Year tutor in Watts encourages others to mentor

Vanessa Gonzalez with Superintendent John Deasy and Allison Graff-Weisner | City Year LA

Vanessa Gonzalez with LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy and Allison Graff-Weisner, executive director of City Year LA | City Year LA

By Vanessa Gonzalez

Growing up, I was a shy, self-conscious, but studious girl. I was afraid that I might become involved in gangs—a common occurrence in my neighborhood. My parents tried their best to help with schoolwork, but their limited education and language barriers were challenging for all of us. The lack of books and computers also made it difficult for me to learn.

I struggled with my self-confidence and circumstances, until one person changed my whole perspective. My amazing high school science teacher, Ms. Tam, told me that she genuinely believed in me and that I was capable of accomplishing anything I put my mind to. From that moment on, I was excited about the future and ready to show the world all that I could offer. [Read more…]

OPINION: South LA gentrification blues

Let me tell you a little something about South L.A. 


A response to the L.A. Times article: “Soaring home prices spur a resurgence near USC.”

A South LA mural depicts the neighborhood's mixing of cultures. | Foshay School 7th Grade Photo Project

A South LA mural depicts the neighborhood’s mixing of cultures. | Foshay School 7th Grade Photo Project / Intersections

As I read the article mentioned above, I couldn’t help but picture “South Los Angeles” as a meaningless, desolate neighborhood infested with drugs, abandoned houses and cars, and weird and scary “ethnic” people. Thank goodness for gentrification, coming to save the day! (Note: sarcasm.)

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not against diversified communities—racially, ethnically or socio-economically. In fact, I am completely in favor of mixed-income neighborhoods that promote the well-being of all residents, and enrich all of our lives, regardless of color, culture and economic status. I genuinely believe and embrace the richness of a multi-cultural, diverse world. [Read more…]

South LA tribute to Gabriel García Márquez

El coronel necesitó setenta y cinco años — los setenta y cinco años de su vida, minuto a minuto –para llegar a ese instante. Se sintió puro, explicito, invencible, en el momento de responder.


Gabriel Garcia Marquez at | Festival Internacional de Cine en Guadalajara

Gabriel Garcia Marquez in 2009 | Festival Internacional de Cine en Guadalajara

I laughed out loud to myself as I finished reading “El coronel no tiene quien le escriba.”


This is the answer that took the colonel seventy-five years of his life to provide in response to his wife as she pestered him about what they were going to eat.

“No One Writes to the Colonel” is the second novel I read by Gabriel García Márquez. It is one of my favorite books written by him, with one of the best endings that I have ever read. It is sad that Latin America has lost one of its most prized writers. But to me, he lives on in his stories and in the love of people who want change.

I discovered Márquez — also called El Gabo, a diminutive of affection among his friends and fans — in my first English class in community college two years ago when I read the “The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World.” In this short story Márquez transforms the life of an isolated village when its residents become enamored of a dead man who washes up on their shore. Gabo gives life to a drowned man with his magical realism in stunning, straightforward prose. Instantly, I added him to my list of must-read authors, venturing to learn still more about El Gabo and his art. [Read more…]

Aun vive el Gabo: Tribute poem to Gabriel García Márquez

Editor’s Note: Gabriel García Márquez died April 17 leaving behind dozens of writings and a legacy that touches young writers around the world. Miguel Molina of Reporter Corps South L.A. is one of them. To pay homage to “El Gabo,” Molina penned the poem below (in Spanish and English) and a first-person piece titled, “He wrote for us all: A South LA tribute to Gabriel Garcia Marquez.”

One of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's famed novels, "Love in the Time of Cholera" | Ross Angus

One of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s famed novels, “Love in the Time of Cholera” | Ross Angus

[Read more…]