First person: Caught in chaos at LAX shooting

Editor’s note: Intersections Reporter Corps member Shanice Joseph was at LAX the day Paul Ciancia, 23, opened fire in a shooting rampage that killed a TSA agent. Ciancia recently pled not guilty to 11 federal charges, and is slated for a Feb. 11 trial in Los Angeles.

Terminal 3 at LAX. Flickr/Mike Ambs

Terminal 3 at LAX. Flickr/Mike Ambs

The Los Angeles International Airport was the last place I wanted to be on Friday, Nov. 1, 2013.

It wasn’t like I was boarding a plane for a fabulous and much-needed vacation to the beaches of Jamaica. I was there at 11 a.m. to attend yet another long training for my new job.

I woke up early that day and quickly remembered why I needed a job in the first place: I needed money for the bus. I managed to collect $1.20 — 30 cents short — and hoped for a nice bus driver who would let it slide.

As I left, my grandmother asked where I was headed. When I said “LAX,” her usual smile thinned into an unhappy straight line. She is going through chemotherapy and has to see a doctor five days a week for 18 weeks. Since I’ve been busy with job training, I have yet to escort her. I can’t afford to miss my training and lose my job with G2 Secure Staff, a contracted company for American Airlines. As a “cabin agent” I’m responsible for basic cleaning — closing windows, organizing magazines, dusting off seats, picking up trash and sweeping.

My grandmother understands the predicament. She is pleased I found a job. But most importantly, she wants me to continue with college. One of her dreams is to see me graduate, and disappointing my grandmother is not an option. How can I balance work and school?

On the bus to LAX, I considered the bright side. No, I didn’t have a dime to my name, but I did get a nice bus driver, and for once I would arrive early. I had been looking for a job for some time now, and was lucky to find one that fits my schedule at Long Beach City College.

But I was still preoccupied. Although I would love to focus solely on school, my family and I need the money the new job would provide. Somehow, I would have to balance working full time with being a full time student.

While I racked my brain, a guy sat next to me in a uniform similar to mine — probably a coworker. I wanted to ask him about the job and the company, but he was busy on the phone, talking so loud I heard him over my earphones.

“Wow, really?” he said. “So I guess I don’t have to go to work today.”

Why? That just seemed so odd.

The LAX police department. | Flickr/

The LAX police department. | Flickr/yekefan1

I soon found out for myself. Around 10 a.m. my aunt texted me about a “shooting in progress at LAX.” I found it hard to believe, knowing that LAX is one of the safest places in Southern California. It wasn’t until I looked out the window and saw LAPD, LAXPD and FBI cars speeding by that I thought something must be terribly wrong.

Sure enough, as soon as I arrived at the LAX City Bus Center I got a call stating that job training was cancelled.

I stood beneath five whirring helicopters, surrounded by chaos and confusion. I was scared. I sat down to try to figure out what happened.

Supposedly, a 23-year-old man had opened fire in Terminal 3, killing a TSA agent, wounding several others and causing the widespread panic that I was witnessing.

For 17 years I have lived in Watts. The neighborhood is supposed to be one of the most dangerous in California, but it never fails: I see some of the craziest things once I leave Watts.

I wanted to cry because I have a low tolerance for more chaos than what is already on my plate. But on the bright side, I was okay. I felt confused but I was sympathetic for the victims, especially the family of the slain TSA agent.

Back on the bus headed home, I mulled over my morning.

On the way to LAX I was upset because my life appeared to be circling down the toilet. On my way back, I was relieved that I had survived a shooting rampage. I had seen a chaotic situation spiral out of control in a way that even LAX couldn’t control. And I realized the truth in what my mom had told me: “You’ll never experience a dull moment working there.”

I still had no answers about balancing work and school. But the LAX shooting reminded me that life throws us curveballs in the most unlikely of times and places. I would reschedule the job training, I would take care of my grandmother, and I would scrape up spare change for the bus. I would keep at school, and I would come back to LAX.

First person: Thanksgiving without turkey?

A turkey drumstick for Thanksgiving. | Flickr/ D. Sharon Pruitt

A turkey drumstick for Thanksgiving. | Flickr/ D. Sharon Pruitt

As our family ate tacos and cupcakes on the occasion of my grandmother’s 65th birthday last week, my four-year-old brother Bryce—the youngest of the seven of us, four of whom were present—asked her, “Nana, what are we doing for Thanksgiving?”

He had a huge smile on his face while he waited for an answer, but my grandmother, with whom I live in Watts, and my mother and I all looked down in shame. No one wanted to be the one to tell him that we didn’t have anything planned for Thanksgiving. Or that we weren’t certain whether we would be able to come up with something.

Thanksgiving is supposed to be a day of appreciation and celebration. If nothing else, it’s the one day out of the year when my entire family gets together at my grandmother’s house.  Normally, I work nights at LAX and go to school during the day at Long Beach City College, where I study sociology. Thanksgiving is a day off. My six siblings come over from my mom’s place in Lomita. Other relatives from far and wide make a point of getting back, despite how busy they are. [Read more…]

Sonic City: Watts

The iconic Watts Towers. | Willa Seidenberg

The iconic Watts Towers, July 2013. | Willa Seidenberg

Hit play for an audio snippet from Watts from Annenberg Radio News‘ “Sonic City” series: 

Also check out a slideshow of the Watts Towers by Willa Seidenberg.


Memorial service for Emily Mason Ware

Memorial for Emily Mason Ware.  November 5, 2013.  Photo credit:  Karen Lin

Memorial for Emily Mason Ware. November 5, 2013. Photo credit: Karen Lin

A memorial service was held Tuesday for Emily Mason Ware at Grant AME Church. Ware was the second African-American woman deputy sheriff in Los Angeles County. After she retired, she got her degree in education and entered the teaching profession. Ware was 97.

When Ware was teaching at Jordan High School in Watts, she helped set up Project Jordan to help high school graduates who cannot afford to go to college. Wini Jackson worked with Ware for decades, and said Project Jordan offers more than financial assistance to recipients. [Read more…]

Q&A: Donald Jolly on ‘Riot/Rebellion’

Playwright Donald Jolly has written a new play about the 1965 Watts Riots.

Playwright Donald Jolly has written a new play about the 1965 Watts Riots. Photo credit: Katherine Davis

Donald Jolly is the 30-year-old playwright behind Watts Village Theater Company’s world premiere play, ‘Riot/Rebellion.’ The play, which opens on Nov. 1 and runs through Nov. 24, reflects on the August 1965 Watts Riots. We sat down with Jolly to find out about the inspiration for the show, the writing process, and what progress—or lack of progress—has been made in the past 48 years in Watts. [Read more…]

Growing up queer in Watts: What happens when school is still not a safe place


Watts Towers | Photo taken by Xochil Frausto

Watts Towers | Photo taken by Xochil Frausto

Discovering my sexual orientation in a violent, poverty-stricken environment was not easy. I remember the first time someone called me a “dyke” at Markham Middle School.  At that time I was a punk rocker, wearing ripped jeans and men’s shirts. I didn’t yet consider myself queer — or even really know what that meant — but I was already aware of homophobia. Not until junior year of high school did I begin to explore my identity. Jordan High was reflective of the area that I lived: It was dangerous. Race riots broke out between Latinos and Black students, and students were not welcoming of gays. I did not feel that teachers, administrators or counselors could support me. [Read more…]

My Neighborhood: Watts

Participants in Reporter Corps, a USC Annenberg program to train young adults from South LA to report on their own communities, created audiovisual introductions to their neighborhoods this summer. Xochil Frausto and Shanice Joseph take us on a trip through Watts and speak with residents about safety, pride, and history. 

Xochil Frausto, 23, Jordan High School graduate

My parents emigrated from Baja, Mexico to Watts in the mid-1970s to realize the “American Dream.” But Watts was not how they had imagined America. Growing up I saw the cyclical reality of poverty, drug abuse and gang warfare. Walking to school I would see bodies, blood and altars. Although these circumstances brought many hardships in my life, I also feel fortunate to have grown up in a place that is so unique — from its historical role in the Black power movement, to the arts, to the cultural mixture of Blacks and Latinos. But Watts is too often voiceless. I want to share the stories of my neighborhood and bring forward a renewed perspective of South Los Angeles — issues that pertain to the immigrant community, gentrification, foreclosures and the Black community, and LGBT issues. I actively try to contribute to Watts whether through community organizing or through sharing my story of growing up in South L.A. I am also working to earn my degree in photography, and I write fiction and poetry about growing up Chicana.

Read about Xochil’s experience growing up Queer in Watts here.


Profesor Galactico’s ska-alternative ‘Pit Stop at the Moon’

Profesor GalacticoProfesor Galactico’s upcoming EP, “Pit Stop At The Moon,” will feature the sounds of ska, Motown, and R&B. But the South Central native and “ska-alternative” artist names a far different style — the ranchera ballads of Mexican singer Vicente Fernandez — as one of his earliest musical influences.

Learn more about Profesor Galactico’s inspirations in an audio story from Annenberg Radio News — and hear his sounds for yourself.