Parents and teachers vent frustration at Head Start schools in South LA and Compton

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“Can you tell me your name?”
“Ke-lonze James.”
“How old are you Ke-Lonze?”
“And what do you like better: going to school or going to work with your mom?”
“Going to work.”

imageKe-Lonze used to be a student at a Head Start preschool in Compton. But this year, things are a little different. His school is one of 21 schools in South LA that are under new management this year.

Head Start is a federal program, but at the local level it is run by other agencies. In June two organizations, Crystal Stairs and Volunteers of America took over South LA’s Head Start programs.

Parents expected their kids to start school in late August, but weeks later, a lot of schools still haven’t opened. Ke-Lonze’s school is open, but his mom, Takisha Collins says that because of limited staff and regulation changes at her son’s school, she now has to take him to work with her instead of leaving him there.

“I have no other options,” she says. He likes it, but Collins, a single mom with a full-time job, feels differently, “He bugs me the whole time, the whole eight hours he bugs me, so it’s hard.”

Today, Collins and her son weren’t at school or work, they were riding a bus around Compton with several other community members protesting the changes to the Head Start program.

The delayed start to the school year and sudden change in policies are not the only complaints the group has. For many, the biggest issue is that most of the teachers have been fired or replaced.

Pastora Alvarez-Munroa, who worked at Willowbrook Head Start in Compton until last year, said, “I received a letter through the mail after 29 years of service. It’s a slap in the face. We want our jobs back. We want to go back and work with the family and the community.”

Alvarez-Monroa came out today with other teachers, union organizers, parents, and community leaders to show her frustration with Head Start.

Volunteers of America in LA did not return our call, but the group’s organizer, Orlando Ward, told KPCC that his organization is asking parents to be patient while the schools transition to new management.

But the parents and community members at today’s event want Head Start to know that they’re not happy. Ke-Lonze’s mom, Takisha Collins said, “I just hope everything can go back to normal.”

Collins’ employer has told her she can’t keep bringing Ke-Lonze with her to work. So like many parents in the community, she hopes he can get back to school soon.

Compton business owner sets up a shop with style

When you think about all the possible places to find fun fashion around Los Angeles, the city of Compton may not be the first place that comes to mind. But one young entrepreneur is trying to change that.

Jai Hawkins, 24, is the owner of Zazz Boutique, a women’s clothing store on Compton Boulevard. Hawkins got her business license and officially opened last April, but her store really picked up momentum over the summer. She prides herself on offering something she always felt was lacking in Compton: a place to find unique, stylish clothes at affordable prices.

Jai Hawkins

Jai Hawkins shows off her wares at Zazz Boutique. She makes it a goal to have new items in every week.

Hawkins went to school at LA Trade Tech for fashion design and then worked as a buyer at Nordstrom. When it comes to clothes, she knows her stuff. But she was sick of having to drive far away from Compton to work in the fashion industry or to buy exciting outfits.

While she always thought she might own her own business one day, Hawkins never imagined it happening so soon. But she felt like the opportunity to be the first one on the fashion scene in Compton was too good to pass up.

“I think it’s going to work,” Hawkins said. “Because there’s not too many places like Zazz Boutique in this area, so I feel like it stands out, it’s unique, and the people around here need something like this.”

And Hawkins’ store does her store stand out. She set up elaborate displays with manikins wearing bright colors and tons of accessories in her front window. She got the word out about her grand opening through friends and family and handing out flyers on the street.

Hawkins describes her items as “eccentric.” And she’s got quite the variety too. “Very cute rings, chandelier earrings, really cute shoes, handbags, scarves, accessories, you name it, I’m gonna have it,” she said.

Since her store has opened, Hawkins has seen a lot of support from the surrounding community, including from her landlord, Luz Herrera. Herrera owns the building where Zazz Boutique is located, and she’s also a lawyer and big advocate for the city of Compton.

“[Compton’s] not perfect and there are things in terms of infrastructure that need to be, I think, worked on,” Herrera said. “But there’s also a lot happening. If you go up and down the streets, this place looks very different than when I came here in 2002.”

Hawkins and Herrera do not have the typical strictly business landlord-tenant relationship. In the process of Hawkins opening her store next to Herrera’s nonprofit, the two women have become friends. When she first advertised the empty space, Herrera was approached by a lot of churches and AA groups. But she decided Compton already had enough of those. She wanted to find someone offering something the city hadn’t seen in years.

“There are a lot of new stores and shops and some of it has been brought in by city council because of these big developments, but then you also have the mom and the pops that are fixing their own facades and providing services that community members need here instead of going outside to other parts,” Herrera said.

In Herrera, Hawkins has found a kind of mentor. Herrera helped Hawkins get her store started, but said it’s been Hawkins hard work that has kept it going.

Six months since her store’s official opening, Hawkins has found her rhythm. Her store is still open, but she noticed business slowing down this fall. In October of this year, the national Consumer Confidence Index fell back to levels last seen during the 2008 recession. But she doesn’t let the national trends get her down.

“I can’t worry about what the big companies are doing,” Hawkins said. “I just have to worry about Zazz Boutique. That’s my main focus.”

Jai Hawkins

Hawkins never thought she’d be running a business at age 24, but now that her store is up and running, she can’t imagine doing anything else.

Her plan? Get on the phone and start calling up customers. In an age where much shopping is driven by huge holiday sales or online coupons like LivingSocial or Groupon, Hawkins offers something different: a store where the people running it actually know your name.

Hawkins grew up listening to people like her mother, Vanessa Scott, tell stories about a different kind of Compton, and their stories have served as an inspiration as she’s worked to distinguish her store in the community.

Scott remembers making weekend outings to go shopping with her entire family. “There was a downtown Compton during the time I was growing up, so we got a chance to just walk out of our homes and walk downtown to all the little local stores,” she said.

And while Scott gets just as excited about fashion as her daughter, she thinks Zazz Boutique can be part of a bigger movement. “We would like to see more people out, walking the streets, rather than people on the outside saying they’re afraid to be in the city of Compton,” Scott said.

Hawkins agrees. And she’s hoping her store can become the gathering place she never had growing up.

“I want Zazz Boutique to be the go-to store for all ladies, teenagers, all the young girls,” Hawkins said. “I want it to be that store.”

All over the city, there are signs that say “Birthing a new Compton!” And in a way, Hawkins could be considered a part of this movement. But she doesn’t see herself as doing something novel. She views it as a way to take Compton back to its roots.

Zazz Boutique is located at 1214 East Compton Boulevard, Compton, CA 90221. (310) 608-5767

Listen to an audio version of this story:

Jai Hawkins brings style to Compton by Kaitlin Parker

L.A. Black Porsche Club hosts 16th annual toy run in Compton

On Saturday, December 11, 2011, the Los Angeles Black Porsche Club hosted its 16th Annual Toy Run to benefit underprivileged and homeless children. With an escort from the Rare Breed Motorcycle Club of Los Angeles, members of Los Angeles’ oldest African-American Porsche driver’s club pulled up to Compton’s Shields for Families center located at 1315 North Bullis Road with hundreds of gifts. Members from both clubs helped to distribute the gifts.image

The Los Angeles Black Porsche Club was founded by ten Black Porsche owners who, in September 1968, were denied membership into a local Porsche club because of their race. As the group grew, so did their social and humanitarian activities. Today the group is several hundred members large. image
Photos courtesy of L.A. Black Porsche Club

Richland Farms community proves there’s more to Compton than gangs

There are no gunshots to be heard or gangster rap music blaring from low-riding Chevys. Instead, roosters crowing and horses’ hooves going click-clack click-clack are heard throughout the paved streets. It’s a different world in the tight knit-community of Richland Farms inside the city of Compton.

The single-story homes are painted in bright colors. There are no bars on the windows. Some lawns are manicured and cut to perfection where others have slightly out grown grass. It’s what’s in the backyards of most of the homes in the neighborhood that may surprise outsiders. Homeowners in this 10-block enclave own livestock such as horses, chickens, ducks, goats, cows and other animals.

Retired school teacher Lloyd Bertrand Wilkins has lived in Compton for 61 years. He loves living in Richland Farms.

Lloyd Bertrand Wilkins, a 73-year old retired school teacher and Compton resident for 61 years, for example, owns two properties in Richland Farms where he keeps 10 horses and two hybrid wolves. “You would never know what’s in the backs of these houses,” Wilkins says with a grin. “Richland Farms should be in the forefront of Compton’s image and it would change the public façade of the city dramatically.” He points out Richland Farms is one of the few places in the country that still looks like farmland and allows residents to keep animals freely.

The largest urban agricultural zone in Los Angeles County, Richland Farms is home to 435 families and hundreds of farm animals. The community is located between Wilmington Avenue and South Alameda Street and West Greenleaf Boulevard and West Alondra Boulevard. Each house sits on at least half an acre of land, where homeowners are free to own a livestock based on the size of their land.

Community members like 47-year old Priscilla Hoskinds ride pristine horses through the streets freely.

imageRichland Farms resident Priscilla Hoskinds tends to her horses.

For the last six years, Hoskinds has been taking care of four horses that had been abused by previous owners. Her love for the animals is even embedded on her skin – horse tattoos are branded on her arm and chest. “I do a lot of farm stuff everyday,” Hoskinds says. “ It’s a daily thing to take care of these animals, but I love nature and love these animals.”

Unlike the changing faces of many areas in Los Angeles, Richland Farms has stayed the same over the years. Griffith Compton, founder of the city, donated the land that now carries his name in 1888. Richland Farms has been zoned specifically for agricultural use.

Business owner Mayisha Akbar said she was blown away when she first learned the area was zoned specifically for agricultural uses. Akbar, who is a Harbor City, CA native and was raised around animals, operates the Compton Jr. Posse, an afterschool equestrian program for the inner-city youth.

She wanted to raise her children in an environment similar to the one she was raised in and Richland Farms was the perfect fit, so she moved to the area in 1988. After buying the land and a few horses, soon neighborhood children came to play. She insisted the children needed to go to school in order for them to spend time on her ranch. That’s how the Compton Jr. Posse was born.

“The Compton Jr. Posse grew out of a need for the community,” Akbar said. “We are an oasis and safe haven for kids and this program is a world of opportunity for them.”

Akbar’s family owns three houses in a row in Richland Farms, so they combined the land in the backyards to create the ranch where children in the community can come afterschool and weekends to enjoy a safe environment.

“I believe that the reason there are few racial barriers in Richland Farms is because of the commonality of the soil and the animals that give human beings a new respect for life, which makes it less likely for there to be violence and aggressiveness in this area,” Akbar says.

Wilkins agrees. “Richland Farms is an area where you have a group – two minority groups – that have been generally disenfranchised who are now trying to work together to make changes.”

In recent years, the racial demographics of Compton have changed dramatically. African-Americans, who were once the majority of the city, have become a minority. Now, Hispanics inhabit the 10 square miles of land with over 56 percent occupying the “Hub City” – Compton’s nickname due to its central location in Los Angeles. Tension between the two ethnicities can sometimes be felt within the community, especially when the economy is down and jobs are scarce. But Richland Farms is an area where Hispanics and Blacks comingle without any drama.

“Blacks and Mexicans have always been in competition with each other for jobs and recognition,” Wilkins says. “That’s why they don’t like each other. We are consolidating and bringing together the Blacks and Mexicans so they can work and live together.”

Compton is constantly battling its negative image in the media, which tends to see it only as a place where gang members are at war. But thanks to programs like Akbar’s and Wilkins’ community activism, Richland Farms is an area that is truly rich with cultural and pride within Compton.

That’s why, Akbar says, it’s important to keep in mind that “there is a lot of good stuff going on in Compton.”

YESS they can: Compton foster students strive for success

An old apartment complex with barred windows is the headquarters of El Camino College Compton Center’s Foster Care Education Building, a place that provides resources and support to help foster students succeed. There are a variety of adult and youth programs offered by their Foster & Kinship Education, but one in particular seeks to improve all aspects of foster students’ lives: the Youth Empowerment Strategies for Success program (YESS).

On Tuesday evening, YESS coordinator Shateo Griffin and instructor Johnny Conley invited potential students to learn more about the program. The one-hour meeting was part informational session, part support group for the foster students who simply want to graduate high school or further their college education. Over a dinner, Griffin and Conley explained the basics of the YESS program to a room of about 15 interested students.

imageIn order to participate in the YESS program, students must enroll in two El Camino College classes: Introduction to College Planning and Career Planning. Although all El Camino college students can enroll in these classes, priority is given to foster students. The state-funded program is geared towards students ages 16 to 21 and meets twice a week for 12 weeks. Four modules covering education, employment, life skills, and financial responsibility are taught through a series of workshops and in-class speakers. Once the 12-week program is complete, students are guaranteed a job in the summer, as long as they enroll as a full-time college student during the school year and graduate high school or earn their GED.

During the informational session, program coordinators stressed that they wanted to cater to students’ specific needs. Griffin said if students had questions for probation officers or Planned Parenthood services, they had speakers lined up to answer their questions. She also offered to find representatives for each students’ individual educational and career interest. Some subjects covered in class are how to obtain a social security card, writing a resume, practicing for a job interview, and opening a bank account. Students will learn about managing money and applying for financial aid and scholarships.

Some students participate in the YESS program because they need help passing the California High School Exit Exam. One Compton student said “I’m trying to make up some [high school] credits to get back on track. I got knocked off… but I got my head right.” Others simply want to ensure they stay on the right track to graduate college. One student interested in the program already completed coursework to become a pharmacy technician but was returning to school to become a probation officer.

Conley, the only YESS instructor and a USC Masters of Education PASA alum, said: “You can benefit from [this program] if you’re trying to get ahead or catch up.” YESS has a 100% success rate, where every student completes the program and goes on to secure a summer job. According to Conley, the YESS program is ultimately “designed to have a higher college going culture in Compton and the SPA-6 area.” That area covers Lynwood, Compton, Paramount, North Long Beach, and Carson.

When the coordinators weren’t providing information about the program, they were providing encouraging words of support and advice to the students. Pamela Godfrey, one of the program’s coordinators, offered an impromptu inspirational pep talk to the foster students. “Take advantage of everything. Don’t feel bad because you’ve come from this kind of background,” she said. “Everybody comes from somewhere. But you have to put it in yourself to make your life better, and break the chain. Go to college. Get the education. Tell your friends that this is the place to be.”

Compton Community College District Track and Football Field Reopen

imageThe Compton community can now benefit from the recent reopening of the Compton Community College District track and football field.

The track was temporarily closed last month to allow staff to make much needed improvements and upgrades to ready the football field for the Tartar football season.

Work completed includes turf maintenance and leveling, watering, irrigation system repair, outdoor lighting replacement and refurbishment near the restrooms.

Cricket team teaches sportsmanship in Compton

What looks like a weird game of baseball is really the game of cricket and its being played in Compton. The Homies & POPz, a local Compton team, has traveled around the world competing against more experienced players. Their matches can be challenging, but so is their bigger goal: giving young people a positive alternative to gangs and violence in Compton and South Los Angeles.

Cricket, formally nicknamed “the gentleman’s game”, is a bat and ball sport that originated in England in the early 16th century.

The Homies & POPz have received funding through sponsorships from various companies including Prudential Life Insurance, BUM Equipment, Tommy Boy Records and more.

In 1995, The Homies & POPz, originally called the LA Krickets, began to play at the Dome Village community for the homeless in Downtown Los Angeles. When the team was created by Ted Hayes, a homeless activist, and Katy Haber, a film producer, neither of them knew that it would grow into what it has become today.

imageHaber, who enjoyed the game of cricket, needed an extra player for a random weekend game and called upon Hayes, a fellow volunteer at the Dome Village. A newcomer to the game, Hayes stepped onto the field for his first time and began a love affair with cricket.

“I went out and played with the team and liked what I saw,” said Hayes. “But more importantly I liked the etiquette of the game and saw it as a tool to help change peoples lives.”

He came up with the idea to bring the game to the homeless community to teach the its members sportsmanship.

Shortly there after, the first all homeless and all-American cricket team was born and they began touring the world beginning with England.

In 1996, Haber and Hayes decided to expand their horizons and bring the game to Compton where they thought young people could benefit from the game that teaches proper etiquette and sportsmanship. They began by teaching a workshop on how to play the game at Willowbrooke Middle School. Some of those students grew up on the team and are still active on the green grassy fields. They love to play, but they also enjoy helping change the city’s negative reputation.

“We have given Compton in the last 15 years very good publicity,” said Hayes.

Team member Sergio Pinales has been playing the sport since 1997 and said that at first , he had never seen anything like it before.

“I like how they catch with their bare hands and not use gloves,” said Pinales, while taking a break during the game. “It was one of those things that caught my eye.”

Pinales, who grew up playing baseball in his front yard with his bare hands, says that cricket quickly became second nature.

“The thing that took the cake was that they told me that I could hit the ball in a 360 degree angle anywhere you want,” said Pinales. “That’s what sold me right there; I could hit anywhere on the field.”

Today the diverse group of men plays together in weekly Sunday matches at Woodley Park in Burbank.

The team has won the British Cup twice and a trophy from The LA Social Cricket League. In addition to this, the hub city team toured the United Kingdom in 1997, 1999 and 2001 sponsored by organizations such as British Petroleum, Channel 4,, Lashings and Maxim Magazine.

The Homies & POPz just recently traveled in February to play down under in Australia against local and university teams in Melbourne and Sydney.

“It was a great thing to go to Australia,” said Hayes. “But it has to happen more. It has to expand more and we need to get more of these young men involved and that is going to take funds.”

Haber says the Los Angeles Police Department has reached out to the team and wants them to teach them how to play the game in hopes to assist in their counter-terrorism program within the Muslim communities.

“We are just trying to open the eyes of people and tell them look there’s more to life than just gangsters out here,” said Pinales. “What we are trying to do is something for the future. Anything to make a positive step for anybody and that’s what I’m looking forward to.”

Injured dog found in Compton

imageThis dog was hit by a car around 12:30 this afternoon at the intersection of Long Beach Blvd and Orchard Ave in Compton. He sustained some minor injuries, but it looks like he’s going to pull through.

He’s currently at North Central Animal Services. After their medical team looks at him, they will keep him until the end of the week, then he will be put up for adoption.

If this dog looks familiar, please pass the word along to his (or her!) family. He wasn’t wearing a collar or tags, but appeared to be well-fed, recently groomed and had a very sweet disposition.

Historian reflects on a changed Compton

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image When Stanford Professor Al Camarillo asks people if they know about Compton, he usually gets a response filled with stereotypes.

“Everybody knows about Compton,” Camarillo said. “I say, ‘What do you know about Compton?’ It’s a black ghetto. Gangsta Rap. The Crips and the Bloods. Alright, those are realities, but they are not the reality.”

For the past few years, Camarillo has been writing a book about the city to reveal a more nuanced picture — one that shows the city grapples with racial divides but also has very real hopes.

He’s starting his journey by taking a look at his own family’s experience in the city. His father moved to Compton in 1914, and Camarillo grew up in a Mexican-American barrio in the city in the 50s and 60s. He says his life growing up was intertwined with Compton becoming black.

“By the time I’m in middle school…realtors are trying to make their last stand, saying African Americans are not going to be allowed to cross the Alameda corridor, and of course that didn’t work after 1965 when the Watts riots blew the lid off,” Camarillo said.

When integration hit his high school, he found himself in a unique position. He went to school and was friends with the black student being bused to his white high school. Because he knew both the black and white students, administrators asked Camarillo to help mediate racial tensions. But, he says, the meetings over cookies didn’t help ease the divide.

“There was enormous reaction to the black kids coming to campus,” Camarillo said. “There were fights and graffiti, saying go back to the west. I mean, it was really bad,” he said.

In today’s Compton, the white community virtually doesn’t exist. While blacks are still heavily influential in the community, the majority ethnic group is now Latino. In 2000, Latinos outnumbered blacks in the community, and the 2011 census shows an even greater number of Latinos.

For his book, Camarillo gathered about 100 oral histories from residents in different ethnic groups and generations. He said the interviews with older black residents show that their perception of the community doesn’t mirror the stereotype embedded in popular culture.

“[For blacks] to break into a white community was an enormous achievement,” Camarillo said. “They speak of it like Nirvana. Compton is nirvana. You have to appreciate the nature of the oppression that blacks suffered to understand those comments.”

When he interviewed immigrant Latinos, Camarillo found they also moved to the city for a chance to buy an affordable home and build a family. Those are goals that transcend race or generation, says Camarillo.

“The reality of Compton is it’s populated by African American and Latino families that are trying to make the best of what they have…they are trying to make life livable amid a poor population…so that’s a fundamental human experience for people in Compton, whether it’s 60 years ago, 100 years ago or today,” Camarillo said.

Camarillo’s book is tentatively titled, “Going Back to Compton: Reflections of a native son on an infamous American city.” He says it should be done in about two years.

For one long-time resident, Compton offers the best of both worlds

Cleo Turner has lived in Compton for more than 50 years and has seen the drastic changes that The Hub City has gone through. He shares with us the inside of his home and what it is really like to live in Compton.