South LA residents are concerned about upcoming sequestration

By Katie Lyons

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The highly controversial sequestration has finally arrived and will go into effect starting tomorrow. Unless Congress passes a last-minute deal, $85 billion will be cut from the federal budget putting as many 750,000 federal jobs at risk.

South Los Angeles residents are worried about how the cuts will impact their lives. One resident in particular, Barry Brewer, is worried about crime. [Read more…]

Jazz day at 24th Street Elementary

By Lauren Jones

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imageThe Los Angeles Jazz Society is hosting concerts at three LAUSD elementary schools as part of the Black History Month celebration. These concerts are a part of a larger initiative to bring jazz programs to public schools.

The sounds of Louis Armstrong, Count Bassie, and Ella Fitzgerald filled the 24th Street Elementary School auditorium. Students received a unique crash course on the history of jazz in America.

Delbert Taylor is a piano player and a member of the Los Angeles Jazz Society. He performed this morning with a band that included people from all walks of life.

He emphasized the importance of jazz as a part of American culture, but he made sure to explain that this style of music is a melting pot much like his band members.

“Jazz doesn’t care what country or language you speak,” said Taylor. “It doesn’t care what your ethnicity is, it’s all playing the music from your heart.”

Taylor says artistic expression is an important part of the educational experience for students. Budget cuts have eliminated many public school’s music programs.

“With jazz and not only jazz, but with dance, acting, making paintings and things of that nature, these are all very important or a child to be able to get out there and express themselves,” said Taylor. “This is just one mode of expression that we’re championing at this point.”

Taylor explained the evolution of music and how jazz evolved as a product of African-American people’s struggle in the United States.

“A long time ago, a very bad thing happened here and that thing is slavery,” said Taylor. “Out of that bad thing something good came like songs, music, negro spirituals, then Gospel, then Swing, then Jazz, then Rock n’ Roll, R&B, Hip Hop and Rap.”

By the end of the performance, students were singing along, clapping, laughing and raising their hands to answer trivia questions. As the exited the auditorium many of them stopped to thank their teachers.

Renee Dolberry is the principal at 24th Street Elementary School. She says this program is one of the only times her students are exposed to music in school.

“This year our music teacher was cut, so we do not have a music program at 24th this school year,” said Dolberry. “This is such a great opportunity for our boys and girls to be exposed to the jazz music.”

Exposing kids to jazz is music to the ears of Robert Smith. He is a Jazz Studies professor at the University of Southern California and a recording artist.

“The more we can expose kids at an early age to music and particularly the music of our culture, the more it will become a component of substance in our culture,” said Smith. “It has to be bred, cultivated, and nurtured.”

Smith says college campuses are experiencing a wave of students interested in traditional American Jazz. It is an integral part of American history and is still weaving itself into contemporary culture.

Honoring South LA activists Alice Williams and Nola Carter

By Denise Guerra

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As some African Americans started to move out of South LA in the 1980s because of crime, violence and better economic opportunities, community advocates like Nola Carter and Alice Williams sounded the block club battle cry of “Don’t Move, Improve.”

Block Clubs are a coalition of homeowners who gather together to remove graffiti, provide local trash pick-up and keep their neighborhoods beautiful. Block Clubs are a precursor today’s neighborhood councils

William Allen from the Florence-Firestone Community Leaders and Antwerp Environmental Block Organization put together the event honoring the two women.

Carter is now 94 years old and Williams is 84.

“They helped to get the Sheriff’s station built here, they also were able to get Martin Luther King medical center research built here, and when there was gang violence, they made sure to get the deputy patrols over here,” said Allen.

“They are to be credited in every regard for working against the odds, to put the odds in favor of homeowners,” said Rev. Cecil B. Murray, former pastor of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles

On Tuesday night, the community of Florence-Firestone, a South LA community just north of Watts will have a dinner reception in honor of the two activists at the Angeles County Community Services Center in Compton.

Voters in Council District 9 weighing the field of candidates

By Emilie Mateu

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On March 5th, voters from the Ninth District will take to the polls in order to fill Councilwoman Jan Perry’s seat.

I spoke with residentsin the South Central LA area – or tried to. Out of over twenty people, only five spoke English. In my first successful English interview, I asked a resident if he knew who Jan Perry was.

He immediately responded with all of the confidence in the world.

image“Oh yeah! That guy cracks me up,” he said.

Nope. Wrong. First of all, Jan Perry is a woman. Second of all, maybe she has a good sense of humor but that’s not something for which she’s typically known. Clearly this resident doesn’t know who Jan Perry is, but many others do. Perry has represented the Ninth District for 12 years and she’s now running for mayor.

She is the third African American to hold the 9th District seat. Fifty years ago, Gilbert Lindsay was the first. Since then, the demographics have changed and the Ninth District is now almost 80 percent Latino. Many residents in the district do not speak English and many do not vote.

“Unfortunately in South LA we have very low voter turnout and we want to change that,” said Jose Lara, a member of the South Central Neighborhood Council. “Because of the way our electoral system is many people are disenfranchised, many people don’t know when to vote, how to vote, where to vote.”

In speaking with residents, a few of them said t their main issue with elected officials is how out of touch they really are.

“When they come in, they ask for your vote, you vote for them and then what happens? No, you need to come in and try to look around and see what needs to be done. Because if you don’t look around how are you going to know?” one resident said.

“Where are the necessities for the poor? Out of sight, out of mind, out of money, out of time. I’m not asking for a whole lot, just help me with the necessities,” another resident said.

Lara and his organization are working to raise awareness about some of the main issues in the Ninth District. “We’re hoping that whoever represents us next will focus back on the community, will focus back on cleaning up our streets. Getting rid of the graffiti, fighting against crimes in the community. Making sure youth have correct opportunities and making sure schools are fully supported,” Lara said.

Race and ethnic diversity are huge factors in this election. The candidates are Mexican, Central American, Asian and African American in a district that is predominantly Latino.

“Whoever represents the Ninth District has to represent those interests as well,” Lara said.

But at the end of the day, even though the Latino community’s interests need to be represented, Ramiro Delarajon, the manager at Family Farms Market on Central Avenue, said, “It doesn’t really matter the ethnicity or the race. As long as they are looking out for the community. Yes I know things have changed but still people are people and that’s what matters. That they look out for the people,” Ramiro said.

The main District Nine candidates are listed below.

Manny Aldana, Neighborhood Council member
Ana Cubas, Former chief of staff for City Council member Jose Huizar
Mike Davis, State Assembly member, 48th district
Ron Gochez, Schoolteacher
Terry Hara, LAPD Deputy Chief
Curren Price, State Senator, 26th District
David Roberts, Former redistricting commissioner

Dads read to kids at “Donuts with Dads” event

By Claire Pires

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About 150 dads, policemen, and mentors grabbed donuts and a book today to read to kids for the 5th Annual “Donuts with Dads” event at 99th Street Elementary School in South L.A.’s Watts neighborhood. image

“Almost 80% of the students at this school did not have a father or a father-figure in the homes or in their minds on a daily basis,” said Principal Courtney Sawyer of the school five years ago. “We came together to come up with a program to not only create parental involvement but to bring positive male role models into our children’s lives and that’s really where the idea of “Donuts with Dads” came from,” said Sawyer.

“Donuts with Dads” began five years ago and since this program and other family-included programs began, parent participation has grown from 20% five years ago to 90% currently.

“I talk to my kids about the urgency of education and hopefully they can continue on this path and go to college…maybe USC,” said father of two Noel Ramirez.

As student’s dads and other mentors read in both Spanish and English, students beamed in their colorful classrooms, and one student even claimed school is more fun than recess.

The school sits off of Century Blvd. in South L.A.’s Watts neighborhood, and they have struggled to improve their school, but the test scores show that events like “Donuts with Dads” provide a significant improvement.

“It’s a school we believe this year is gonna be above 800 in the API for the state,” said CEO of the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools Marshall Tuck as he referred to the Academic Performance Index, which refers to the growth of schools based on their academic performance and other academic measures.”To have this happen in a few years in the heart of Watts is a phenomenal thing,” said Tuck.

imageOn the first Friday of every month, parents come to the school from 8:00-8:30am to read to the kids and encourage literacy, and they have instilled other events such as “Muffins with Moms,” to increase parental involvement.

Muffled reading in various languages echoed from the classrooms of the elementary school as students and their dads took turns reading aloud amidst the waft of donuts and the sound of pages turning.

Pleitez hosts a hack-a-thon as latest effort to win voters

By Melissah Yang

Computers and coding was the theme of Sunday’s campaign event for mayoral candidate Emanuel Pleitez.

In an effort to bring technology to underserved communities like South L.A., the hack-a-thon – dubbed “Silicon-Alley” – brought together tech experts and local students to build a website that maps out the area’s resources and programs. image

Several laptop stations were set up in the backyard of a couple of apartments where Pleitez’s campaign team lives and works. Post-it notes on each laptop, all personal devices belonging to Pleitez’s campaign team members, signaled which topics would be covered in relation to South L.A.

Half a dozen students, who had little to no experience with web producing, typed quick blurbs, ranging from the history of South L.A. to local parks and after-school programs, and coded webpages with the help of a mentor.

Alejandro Bernal, a junior at 32nd Street/USC MaST High School, heard about the event through URBAN TxT, an organization teaching teens from South L.A. and Watts how to become leaders in technology. He said the website will be important for people who want to learn a little more about the history of South L.A.

“There’s enough about South L.A. on the Internet, but we want to incorporate more information including programs that will help people in this community,” Bernal said.

The hack-a-thon was one of many unconventional campaign events that Pleitez has hosted in preparing for the final days before the mayoral election. Pleitez, a former tech executive for social network aggregator Spokeo, said the event fit his campaign’s overall theme of community outreach.

“It’s youth-driven, it’s technology and it’s innovative,” Pleitez said. “And at the end of the day, it’s helping everyday people especially in the most underserved communities like South L.A.”

Juan Vasquez, Pleitez’s director of digital outreach, said the hack-a-thon and many of Pleitez’s campaign events defied the idea that “extravagant” events, backed with money and support from key sponsors, win elections.

“This type of event challenges the way traditional politics run in Los Angeles,” 24-year-old Vasquez said. “That’s something our campaign has been doing for months now, and we’re proud of it.”

Yet, the community events seem to have little effect on Pleitez’s standing in the mayoral race. The latest poll by SurveyUSA puts him in fifth place with 6 percent of the vote, well behind front-runner Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel by around 20 percentage points.

For students like Bernal, who wants to study computer engineering or software programming, the website is a project of pride that he hopes will help with his college applications.

“Now that I know more about technology…I’m actually excited because I didn’t know how to code before, but now I do,” Bernal said.

The website is set to go live later this week.

Pending sequestration may affect California’s Head Start program

By Sarah Politis

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Pending federal cuts as part of the March sequestration will affect many federal programs. Head Start, a federally-funded preschool for low-income families is one of those programs facing budget cuts.

While there are thousands of children who are part of the program, Philipa Johnson, Interim Director for the Head Start Program at USC said there are 577 children and families in the USC program alone. image

“We’re addressing a need in the community which is to provide quality services to families and high quality education to children from birth to age 5,” Johnson said.

While there is nothing on paper to confirm the sequestor, Johnson is preparing for a five percent cut in funding. Johnson said these cuts would result in personnel cuts and limit the budget for student field trips.

According to a press release from Rick Mockler, the Executive Director of Head Star, an estimated 27,000 children and their families will be dropped from the program in California and about 6,000 staff members will lose their jobs.

“I don’t see where it will impact the children because we will still provide the health services, the educational services, services to children with disabilities,” Johnson said, “We’ll still provide food, nutritional serevices, we will continue providing services, so I don’t really see that, that’s really the framework of the Head Start program.”

However, Head Start isn’t the only federal program on the chopping block. Defense workers and national parks also face cuts.

Fish shack in Crenshaw a hidden gem

By Tanaya Ghosh
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Some of the best hidden gems in L.A. are tiny, unassuming eateries — and Mel’s Fish Shack is a prime example. If you’re a fan of delicious Cajun-style seafood fried up in a “homey,” friendly atmosphere, Mel’s is the spot for you.

The best part? Mel’s won’t force you to break the bank. Nearly everything on the menu is under $12. image

Mel’s Fish Shack is located in the Crenshaw District of Los Angeles. The fish is served fresh from their market — which you can visit just a few blocks away.

Once the staff discovered we were first timers, we couldn’t stop the flow of free samples. “This is your first time here,” the cook insisted, “And we’re gonna take good care of you.”

One of the best samples? The creamy, dreamy crab soup. The soup is available only on Mondays when Mel’s gets their fresh crab. The shells are cooked right in the pot, infusing a richer taste into the soup.

I ordered the grilled red snapper with grilled vegetables. We also ordered a fillet of sole, fried in a light Southern-style cornmeal batter.

The warm side of hush puppies are crunchy, springy soft bites of heaven in a deep fried ball. Dip them into Mel’s signature garlic-dill tartar sauce or hot sauce and they’re even more delicious.

Now, I’m picky with seafood. But Mel’s totally won me over. The grilled fish is amazingly fresh, and has no fishy taste. Each cut is firm and subtly seasoned with Cajun spices that give it a slightly spicy kick. The flavor of the fish really shines through.

Mel’s Fish Shack is a hole-in-the-wall adventure that’s totally worth it. You might come for the fresh seafood, but you’ll keep coming back for the excellent hospitality.

If you want to check it out for yourself, visit

Black Women State of the Union takes flight at the Company of Angels

By Jillian Baker

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Black Women State of the Union is a “play within plays” — a series of stories that tackle the tough issues Black Women face in society. The all-African American, predominantly-female cast sheds light on Black women’s trials and tribulations through laughter, sorrow, joy and tears.

It’s not easy for the cast and crew of Black Women State of the Union to address these personal or often overlooked topics. But to many, like co-producer Michelle Flowers, that tricky subject matter can help spark bigger conversations in the Black community. “Historically, we are at a critical time in our history in terms of we see more black women in political leadership, in more creative and entrepreneurial black women doing exceptional things,” said Flowers. “But these are things we’ve worked so hard to achieve and we have to work hard to maintain.”

imageIt’s a point of view that co-producer and director Kila Kitu also shares. “It’s that state of potential. We aren’t flying, we aren’t on the ground, we are just taking flight and exploring where we are in that context, said Kitu.”

No topic is left ignored in Black Women State of the Union. Actresses wage war on everything from beauty and love, skin color and self-hatred. The actresses often find certain pieces within the play that speak to them in different ways. Sometimes this personal connection allows the actress to better portray certain emotions on stage.

But for actress Tamika Simpkins the personal connection goes even further. Her performances are not only powerful for the audience — they’re also powerful for her as an artist.

Simpkins said,“Art is supposed to take you on this journey, not only for the audience but as the artist and sometimes show you things that we can’t see in ourselves that God and the universe intends for us to see. “

Nearly every actress feels some sort of personal connection to the stories in Black Women State of the Union. For actress and co-producer Lony’e Perrine, that story is “I Don’t Wanna Be” — a story about a mother’s loss and suffering exacerbated by the murders of Emmett Till and Trayvon Martin. Perrine is a new mother, and thoughts of her child drive her performance. “My son is two and a half and every time I look at him I have those feelings like what if something happens to him or what if that situation that happened to Trayvon happens to him and it’s something that you can’t ignore. That piece for me resonates deeply.”

Messages of beauty and self-esteem appear throughout Black Women State of the Union. It’s a topic that, for many Black women, remains difficult to ignore in the 21st Century. Co-producer Lee Sherman believes that ignoring these issues of representation can cause more harm than good.

“I think because there is still the Eurocentric standard of beauty that Black women are still feeding into that standard of beauty and feeling that our natural beauty is not enough and doing whatever we can. But as long as those media images are out there, there are going to be some of us striving for that beauty.”

Black Women State of the Union inspires conversation on issues that would normally be left ignored. The portrayal of Black women breaks down stereotypes and promotes the beauty and strength of Black women. Director, Ayana Cahrr understands how Black women have the power to redefine and own their image. “I am so honored to work with these women because they redefine what Black beauty is and what Black women represent. And that is what we need to do and that is what we are in the process of doing is redefining. We set the tone for what we represent.”

You can catch Black Women State of the Union-Taking Flight at Company of Angels at The Alexandria, 501 S. Spring Street., 3rd Floor (Corner of 5th & Spring) from February 19 through February 24th.

Parents from 24th Street Elementary call for change

By Nick Berman
Annenberg Radio News

Update: The Los Angeles Board of Education on Tuesday voted to approve the use of the parent trigger law at 24th Street Elementary.

imageParents from 24th Street Elementary School in South LA are calling for action to improve the quality of education at their childrens’ school. The parents gathered Tuesday at 2nd Avenue Park to raise awareness about their school’s performance. They are supported by the education advocacy group Parent Revolution.

One parent, Amabilia Villeda, says her daughter’s reading skills were so poor she could not pass out Valentine’s day cards to her classmates because she couldn’t read the names.

“So now my daughter is in 8th grade and reads at a 3rd grade level. What an embarrassment to the administration of 24th Street that they let her go out that way,” Villeda said.

Villeda has been working for three years to change the structure of the school. 24th Street Elementary School ranks in the bottom 2% for academic performance in the LA Unified School District.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was at the event and spoke Tuesday in support of the parents and their efforts. “I want to thank you for coming. Because we should all be here,” Villaraigosa said. “We should acknowledge that too many of our schools are failing our kids. And when parents want to come together like this, what a beautiful thing.”

Parents have filed a petition under California’s Parent Empowerment Act. The law, known as the Parent Trigger, requires that at least 50 percent of the school’s parents sign the petition. It allows parents to demand changes for under-performing schools from the Board of Education.image

“And I expect this board to vote in favor of this petition, because its right. Because it’s time,” Villaraigosa said.

One of the parents’ options is to form a charter school. In the past the United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) union has opposed restructuring schools into charters. In an earlier statement, UTLA pledged to work with the parents at 24th Street to improve students’ education. But UTLA says the solution should not be to remove every teacher and administrator, which it says would disrupt the education process.

If the petition is approved, 24th Street would become the first LAUSD school to be restructured under the Parent Trigger Act.