South LA residents collaborate at Building Healthy Communities celebration

More than 200 people and 30 South LA community organizations gathered at Bethune Middle School this morning to discuss aspects of healthy living and the needs of their neighborhoods.

The event, Building Health Communities, was a celebration of sorts, an opportunity for nonprofits and active residents to come together and meet face to face. The California Endowment and Social Action Partners sponsored the event, which included drumming, dancing, poetry readings, and a resource fair. South LA is one of the 14 communities statewide the California Endowment selected to be a part of its Building Health Communities program.

After breakfast and some performance art, Dr. Sandra Villanueva, Ph.D., led the crowd through a collaborative exercise in asset mapping. Traditional research like surveys and polls tend to show the issues and problems with an area, Villanueva explained. But asset mapping takes a different approach–it shows the strengths of an area and looks at the gifts and talents the residents, associations, and institutions of an area have to offer. Business owners, grant writers, artists, and musicians all took turns standing up, demonstrating some of the abilities and skills community members possessed.

Asset mapping, Villanueva said, is all about “making the invisible visible.” The motto seemed to apply to the entire event–people were happy to have their voices heard. Even when addressing tough issues, as people chatted, swapped business cards and exchanged ideas, a feeling of hope and enthusiasm prevailed.

Basketball players teach healthy living at local elementary school

Listen to the audio story from Annenberg Radio News:


The schoolyard of Para Los Ninos Charter School in East Los Angeles transformed into a stage for two very bubbly, very tall Harlem Globetrotters. “Special K” and “The Shot” were there to show off their basketball tricks, but they were also there to spread the gospel of healthy living to a crowd of low-income, mostly Latino students.

I went to cover the show, but I had some competition.

A group of four girls surrounded me, notebooks in hand.

“I’m wearing a press pass. It’s so they can know we’re on the newspaper team,” said one.

The third and fourth graders sitting atop bleachers in the noonday sun, could hardly contain their excitement when the players’ coaching session was over and the real show began. The Globetrotters spun balls on their heads, fingers and even shoulders.

Health is a major priority at the school. Nearly all of the students qualify for free or reduced lunches. They’re catered by Unified Nutrimeals. Principal Judy Perlmutter describes the lunches as “low sodium, no high fructose corn syrup, fresh fruit and vegetables every day.”

Still, it’s a hard battle with a McDonald’s literally next door to the school. The students’ parents work in the factories near the school, some are living in temporary hotels downtown or shuttle from far away – they’re working class families.

And so complete chaos broke out when each student was given two tickets to a Globetrotters show. Kids leapt from the bleachers and started swarming and tackling the two Globetrotters with such sheer excitement that they knocked one of them to the ground.

The coolest trick of the day: “He passed the basketball onto her finger. It was so crazy,” reported an excited student. Crazy indeed.