South LA Democratic Space: Community Coalition

Aurea Montes-Rodriguez, Vice President for Organizational Growth of Community Coalition.

Community Coalition works to help transform the social and economic conditions in South LA that foster addiction, crime, violence and poverty by building a community institution that involves thousands in creating, influencing and changing public policy.

U.S. Congresswoman Karen Bass founded Community Coalition as a non-profit organization in 1990 in response to the 1980’s crack cocaine epidemic that devastated South LA. Community Coalition works with African American and Latino residents to build a prosperous and healthy South LA through campaigns that create safe neighborhoods, quality schools, a strong social safety net and positive economic development in order to reduce crime, poverty and substance abuse in the community.

Aurea, who has worked in South LA for 20 years, chose CoCo as a democratic space “because I came here in 1997 and for the first time I was exposed to community organizing. I haven’t left because the founders had a vision that CoCo could serve as a vehicle for everyday residents so they could come together and talk about the most pressing issues in this community and develop their own proposals to address those conditions through action campaigns that result in concrete public policies or tangible changes.”

Community Coalition se dedica a cambiar las condiciones sociales y económicas que dan lugar a la adicción, crimen, violencia y la pobreza en el Sur de Los Ángeles. La organización trabaja con residentes Afroamericanos y Latinos para crear comunidades seguras, escuelas de calidad, y el desarrollo económico.

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Student credits community activism for high graduation rate

By Lizette Tejeda, Fremont Graduating Senior

South Los Angeles is a community that was once associated with poverty and despair, pain and suffering and even hate and crime. All of the negativity isn’t gone just yet, however the community is slowly but surely getting rid of its bad reputation and creating a new and more positive name for itself.

imageI attended John C. Fremont High School in South Los Angeles, and I have been part of an organization called Community Coalition, which strives for change in South LA since my sophomore year in high school.

Thanks to this organization I was able to be part of the restructuring process that Fremont went through. I voiced my concerns as not only a student but as a resident of my community.

We had three main goals that we wanted the school administration to adopt: comprehensive mental wellness programs, a health career academy, and a dropout prevention and intervention program. We set high expectations for not only the school but for ourselves.

The students and staff at Community Coalition got organized and we set out to make classroom presentations, handed out surveys to students, made several speeches and gave it our all to make the most out of the opportunity that the restructuring process presented for our community.

We worked hard to turn Fremont around and make it a model for the rest of the high schools in South LA. The restructuring process seems to have been a success, but Fremont has yet to build a health career academy, which means our work is still not done. However, I am proud of the achievements we have made over the past two years and the results that we have had.

Along with over 750 of my peers, Fremont High School’s class of 2012 made our families, the school and us proud for graduating the biggest class in its history. This is just one of the many accomplishments we have made thanks to all the hard work and effort that was put into the restructuring process.

I graduated Fremont with high honors and it felt great to make my single mother proud. I am an only child and my mother’s biggest treasure. She has always told me “tu eres mi orgullo, mi razón de vivir, mi todo! Tu tienes que estudiar muy duro para salir adelante con una carrera y no tener que trabajar tan duro igual que yo.” In English this translates into, “You are my greatest pride, my reason for being, you are my everything. You have to work very hard to get ahead with a career so you don’t have to work as hard as I do.”

These are the words that have filled my earliest memories. I can still hear these exact words being spoken in my subconscious. My mother is my hero and the reason why I never give up on anything. I will be attending UC Santa Cruz this fall in hopes of returning to my community with a degree in hand and ready to work on the next South LA campaign.
I am an activist that wants nothing but peace and love in this world; however, I understand that it will be very difficult to achieve it. I am proud to be a part of a community that has gone through so much, from riots to everyday gang banging, and yet ,still has the ability to unite as one when the occasion calls for it.

I see the world in a different way than someone who lives in the suburbs. I know how cruel violence and poverty can be. The simple fact that I live here makes me so much stronger and makes me appreciate everything so much more.

I am proud to say that I am an activist for my community and the people who live in it. There has always been and will always be injustice everywhere as long as people allow it, but I will always fight for justice because of the people in my community have strived for so much and ahve yet to see the day when their hard work pays off.

Anything and everything that’s worth doing in life has its struggle and activism is one of those things that requires a lot of hard work and perseverance for any change to occur. Activism is more than a passion to me, it is the need to not only create, but to maintain a much-needed social change in a poverty-stricken community like mine.

Fremont High School graduates record number of students

imageOver 750 students are graduating from Fremont High School on Wednesday. That’s the largest number of graduates since the school opened its doors in 1924. It’s also a 36 percent increase over the 553 graduates who graduated in 2010.

“This remarkable improvement demonstrates that when you get strong leadership, committed students and teachers, and involve parents and community, you can turnaround a failing school,” said Marqueece Harris-Dawson, President and CEO of Community Coalition. “At Fremont we are showing that real public education reform is possible and within our reach.”

Just two years ago, Ramon Cortines, then Superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), spearheaded a restructuring plan that included the removal of teachers and staff at the school to make them to reapply for their positions. That caused an uproar within the teachers union and the community.

Local community organizing organization Community Coalition helped parents and students come together to insure that they played a role in the school reform. They held a townhall with Superintendent Cortines, who listened to the concerns of students and parents.

The school’s restructuring brought in a new wave of resources and programming designed to transform what at the time was considered to be a failing urban school.

Graduation ceremonies for Fremont will take place on Wednesday, June 27, 5:00pm, at Home Depot Tennis Stadium, 18400 Avalon Boulevard, Carson CA 90746.

People Power Assembly sets out to organize South LA community

imageAlberto Retana listens to ideas from community members.

Over 60 people met last night at the Community Coalition’s headquarters in South LA for a People Power Assembly. African-Americans and Latinos from the area were there to learn how they could mobilize to gain more political power and promote positive change in their community.

“We were inspired by the Occupy movement and their message of holding the one percent accountable,” explains Alberto Retana, Community Coalition’s Executive Vice President as to why they decided to start the People Power Assembly. “We didn’t see African-Americans and Latinos from South LA participating in the movement and we wanted to create a space for people to feel motivated and to empower themselves.”

The non-profit group organized the first assembly in November of last year. Thursday night’s meeting is the first one of 2012. The People Power Assembly will be meeting on the first Thursday in March, and will then move to the first Wednesday of every month starting in April.

People were pumped up during the two-hour meeting, participating and offering ideas, as organizers asked community members what they wanted to see change in South LA.

“More jobs,” some people exclaimed.

image Carla Vega, a dedicated volunteer, signed up to be in the People Power Assembly Committee.

More than 20 people signed up to be part of the People Power Assembly Committee, that will also meet once a month to come up with specific projects the group should tackle. Carla Vega is one of the committee volunteers.

“You have to become involved in order to make things happen,” says Vega, who also volunteers as a parent coordinator at John C. Fremont High School. “It’s my community. How are we going to be recognized if we don’t support each other. I’ve been involved with Community Coalition for two years. They have many goals, but they need our help.”

As part of their civic engagement efforts, the first order of the group is to get people registered to vote. They’re organizing a door-to-door campaign during the next two months to get South LA voters registered.

In April, they plan a week of activities to commemorate the 1992 civil unrest, which will include a vigil. A few months later, volunteers will be knocking on doors again to encourage people to go out and vote in the November elections.

“This is about civic engagement,” Retana says. “It’s about people power.”

“Don’t Hold Us Back” Movement Rallies at LAUSD Meeting

Listen to an audio story by Annenberg Radio News

image “Don’t Hold Us Back” is a coalition of parents, civil rights groups and community organizations that is calling for involvement in contract negotiations. At a rally this morning, the group spoke out to insure that the agreements provide students with quality education.

Marqueece Harris-Dawson is the president of community coalition.

“Typically community members are left out of this process. We are trying to insert ourselves and make it clear that we have opinions about it. We want to and expect to be heard…our kids only get one shot at this education to that’s important to us.”

Parents at the rally said they want to have a bigger role in the process. Felicia Jones is a parent of a LAUSD graduate.

“Parents need to be heard in this matter. For so long this has been a union and district issue but really parents are the ones who are ultimately impacted, students are impacted. And we want our voice heard. We want them to know what we care about as they negotiate.”

Jones says the campaign wants the contract to provide educators and administrators with more flexibility. She believes this will allow teachers to reach their full potential and offer better education.

The United Teachers of L.A. says it welcomes parent’s involvement. However, one point of contention with “Don’t Hold Us Back” is teacher seniority. The campaign calls for an end to the “last hired, first fired” rule. Harris-Dawson says it forces schools that frequently hire inexperienced teachers to bear the brunt of lay offs. The union firmly stands behind the policy and supports tenure for educators.

“Don’t Hold Us Back” also wants to include an objective, fair teacher evaluation system to reward teachers doing well and help those who aren’t.

Community Coalition partners with Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution to fight childhood obesity


WHAT: Community Coalition is one of several local organizations partnering with Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution to teach African American and Latino youth how to cook and eat healthy this summer.

WHEN: The next class is this Friday from 12 to 2 p.m. at Challengers Boys and Girls Club [5029 S. Vermont Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90037]. The sessions will last for five weeks.

WHY: The goal of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution is to fight childhood obesity and help make communities healthier by teaching people – both kids and adults – how to cook and prepare healthy food. A mobile truck kitchen is stationed at the Challenger Boys and Girls Club where youth from various South LA organizations, including Community Coalition, L.A. Urban League, the Brotherhood Crusade, West Angeles Community Development Corporation and the Challenger Boys and Girls Club Summer Camp, are participating in classes and demonstrations on healthy cooking and living

“I like the classes because it’s really fun eating. We made pancakes – but we learned the good way to make pancakes,” said Joshua Ham, 16, a junior at Manual Arts Senior High School. Joshua is one of 10 members from Community Coalition’s youth program South Central Youth Empowered Through Action, participating in the Food Revolution program. “If you don’t know how to cook it’s good to learn – to know what you’re putting into your body. And it’s good to have homemade food so you know exactly what you’re eating and how much you’re eating.”

“This program shows that South LA parents, youth and residents in general want to be healthier and that in fact that there is great demand for healthier food options in South LA,” says Coalition President and CEO, Marqueece Harris-Dawson. “As an organization that has been working to improve the overall health and safety in South LA for the past 20 years, we want to support every opportunity to make it easier for people to live healthier lives – whether its through individual education such as programs like this or changing public policy and environmental conditions, such as reducing the overconcentration of liquor stores and increasing access to grocery markets in our community.”

So far, they’ve learned how to read nutrition facts found on labels of boxes like cereal to know how many calories and fat they consume and how many servings they should have a day. The cooking classes are led by chef-instructors that focus on hands-on, step-by-step cooking.  “They’re really patient with you and teach you steps to make healthy and good food,” said Ham.

South LA coalition pushes for foster care improvements

imageThere 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, According 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.

Young said Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) doesn’t give enough financial support to relative caregivers, even though they take on a large part of the foster care system’s burden and are instrumental in providing the best care for the children.

Read more…

Relative caregivers demand better care from county agencies

On Thursday, June 3, 100 South Los Angeles relative caregivers, including grandmothers, aunts and uncles, will protest Los Angeles County’s Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and Department of Mental Health (DMH). They will demand that these departments increase mental health resources in out-of-home placements.

“With all the recent attention on the deaths and failures in the foster care system, DCFS should be throwing relative caregivers a parade right now,” Marqueece Harris-Dawson, president and CEO of Community Coalition, said. “DCFS has been relying on these [relative caregivers] to reduce its foster care roles, and to provide safe and stable alternatives to placing children in the care of strangers.”

Los Angeles County is trying to reduce the number of children in foster care. In the past 10 years, the number of children in out-of-home placement in Los Angeles County has dropped dramatically. What started out as 50,000 cases has dropped to less than 20,000 today.

Some research shows that children are less likely to end up homeless or in jail, and more likely to finish school, when they are cared for by relatives.

“Many people don’t realize the challenges that relative caregivers face,” Deanne D’Antignac, a relative caregiver, said. “Fifteen years ago, I gave up my 401K, my benefits and my career as a physician assistant to care for my three nieces, and to keep them from being moved from home to home. The children arrived in my care and needed mental health services, yet the level of support I received from the county was appalling.”

Relative caregivers brought these issues to the attention of DCFS and DMH in the past, Harris-Dawson said.

“We’ve held [meetings] with DCFS…participated in DMH community forums, yet no relief has arrived for relative caregivers and their families,” Harris-Dawson said. “It is time for these departments to step up and provide the mental health support necessary to create healthy minds and families.”

The rally and program will begin at 4:30 p.m. in front of DCFS headquarters, which is located at 425 Shatto Place, Los Angeles, 90020.

BLOG: Community Coalition turns 20

The 1980s were a turning point in South Los Angeles. It was a time of Reaganomics which brought the disappearance of jobs in urban communities like South LA. And while residents were sinking deeper into poverty, the crack cocaine epidemic was further devastating the neighborhood. Enter the Community Coalition, which was founded in 1990 by a group of community activitists, including Karen Bass who recently stepped down as the California Assembly Speaker.

Twenty years later, CoCo, as it’s affectionately known, is still going strong and beginning a year-long celebration of its anniversary. The kick-off event is scheduled for Saturday, March 20, 2010 at 10 am. Founder Karen Bass will be on hand to help celebrate.

Community Coalition organizes among African American and Latino residents “to build a prosperous and healthy South LA with safe neighborhoods, quality schools, a strong social safety net and positive economic development in order to reduce crime, poverty and substance abuse in our community.”

The organization has grown over the years to a staff of some 25 people with dozens of members and community residents that work on its campaigns. CoCo receives funding from major foundations such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the James Irvine Foundation and the Sterling Foundation, to name a few. image

One of CoCo’s campaigns has centered on improving neighborhoods by cracking down on so-called nuisance businesses, such as liquor stores, hourly motels and recycling centers. CoCo has spearheaded protests against Governor Schwarzenegger’s budget cuts, and it’s also organizing among young people with its South Central Youth Empowered through Action and its High School Organizing Committees.

CoCo is urging people who worked on its campaigns over the last 20 years to share their stories. The organization is putting together a list of its top 20 victories and contributions to the South L.A. community. You can email your story about your participation or most memorable experience, or share it on CoCo’s website.

To RSVP to the March 20th event, visit their website and RSVP online or contact Kusema Thomas at [email protected].

Veteran South LA organizer joins Obama Administration

Alberto Retana, Vice President of Program Development for the Community Coalition will be joining President Barack Obama’s administration as the new Director of Community Outreach for the Department of Education on Nov. 16. Annenberg Radio News host Pete Griffin interviewed Retana about his new position.