Friends and students rally for the DREAM Act

Listen to the audio story:


According to opinion polls, the DREAM Act may be one of the least controversial measures that has come before Congress in a very long time. A June Opinion Research poll found 70 percent of Americans are in favor of providing a path to citizenship for kids who grew up here.

And so is Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff. In fact, he is a co-sponsor of the bill. So why were Samantha Contreras and other DREAM Act supporters rallying in front of his Pasadena office?

“We’ve been working with him for many years, and he’s been on the fence,” Contreras said. “We want to make sure he keeps his word to us and votes yes.”

Schiff’s communications director, Maureen Shanahan, says he is not on the fence; he remains a co-sponsor of the bill. But activists are not taking any yes vote for granted. This will be the last chance to pass the DREAM Act before Republicans unfriendly to the bill take back the House in January.

The DREAM Act would affect up to 65,000 young men and women a year who graduate from American high schools after growing up in the here.

Those are young women and men like Felip Escobar. He is a student at Rio Hondo with a 3.0 grade point average; he is transferring to Cal State Northridge to study political science, and he was 12 years old when he came here illegally from Guatemala 10 years ago. He says he is a full citizen now. And he would like the same privileges for those who have come after him.

Escobar met with Schiff’s district director, while his fellow protesters held their banner for the few passing cars on Raymond Avenue. It was a much nicer reception than they got at Republican Congressman David Dreier’s San Dimas office just a couple of hours before.

“They told us they were too busy answering phone calls,” Contreras said.

Can you hear them now?

Compton ranks eighth most dangerous city in nation, residents disagree

Listen to the audio story:


CQ Press’s new rankings are out for the nation’s most dangerous cities. Compton ranks eighth in the nation, based on rates of murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary and motor vehicle theft.

But a lot of Compton residents disagree. Paula Parker was waiting for a bus. She has lived in Compton since 1968, and cites the toy drives and the turkey giveaways, the great churches, and a mayor and city council she heartily approves of.

“We just have a lot of good things people don’t come and see in Compton!” Parker said. “All they want to come see is the bad stuff!”

Compton City Manager Willie Norfleet noted the city’s high unemployment rate, at more than 20 percent, and he quoted Aristotle, saying when there is poverty, there will be crime or revolution. He also said new jobs provided by a Burlington Coat Factory might help, in addition to the new Gateway Plaza.

But while most people thought Compton was a fine city to buy a home and raise kids, Lisa in the Sheriff’s Department substation showed up to report a crime. She did not want to say what it was regarding, but she looked tired and sad. She worries every day about her kids, she said, and if she could, she would move out of Compton. She has family in Virginia.

Los Angeles houses the nation’s biggest Little Belize

Listen to the audio story:


The first Belizean restaurant on the block started 28 years ago in Nel and John Wells’ home, and now a half dozen Belizean restaurants have sprung up to join it in the country’s biggest Little Belize: Nel and John’s Belizean at 3567 S Western Ave, Los Angeles.

John has passed away, but Nel still does the cooking, and their daughter Dorothy manages the restaurant. Dorothy’s children do their homework at the counter just as she did when she was a little girl, and every Sunday the restaurant is closed for church services, held right there, after which they will feed the crowd.

Nel says it is more than just the immigrant experience that keeps their community so tight-knit; she says it is something that comes specifically from back home in Belize. Life was hard there, she says, and her mother would feed the even-poorer neighbors.

When the children complained that she was giving away their food, she would tell them, “Cast your bread upon the waters.”

Nel and John’s Belizean
3567 S Western Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90018

Union members convince South Los Angeles residents to vote


Listen to the audio story:


Union members looking to make a difference for the democrats have been working the voters of South Los Angeles for weeks. With Election Day here, Service Employees International Union members Yolanda Richard and Pamela Harris took to the streets of Inglewood, trying to wrestle last-minute voters to the polls.

By 10 a.m., only about 150 people had voted at La Salle Elementary School, the polling place where Richard and Harris were responsible. They made phone calls, often to disconnected numbers, and they knocked on doors where no one answered.

But even one voter who answered the door and showed off his or her “I Voted” sticker was enough to make Harris and Richard feel like Election Day would be a marvelous day. It was, they said, all about keeping positive and keeping the faith.

A South Los Angeles favorite starts from scratch

Listen to the audio story here:


Twenty-five years ago, Duane Earle was a teenage boy who wanted to be a rapper. He did some good work; he had a hit helping out on Ice Cube’s “Wicked.”

Now, he works six days a week at Earle’z Grille at Exposition and Crenshaw boulevards. Lining the walls are advertisements for local businesses, as you would see on a subway. There is a flat-screen television tuned to the game, and there are really nice women manning the register. These women serve cobblers, miniature sweet potato pies and cold drinks. Behind them, customers can wave at Earle and his fellow cooks, who are joking around and greeting at least half the customers by name.

“I know guys who went to jail, and they come out and say, ‘Oh my god, Earle, I remember when you had a hot dog cart, and now look at this place, it’s incredible!'” Earle said. “And they shed tears, I wouldn’t even lie.”

Earle and his brother started the South Los Angeles favorite in 1992, moving to the current Crenshaw Boulevard location three years ago. They employ eight or 10 people onsite now, with a dozen more people on call for catering gigs on the Westside. But first there was the cart.

“My brother built his first hot dog cart,” Earle said. “He was going down the beach on Venice Beach, saw a bunch of guys working on the beach, and said he can do that. Doing a hot dog cart was as much freedom as possible. So, I came out here when I was 17, partnered up, Batman and Robin, we were living in the Valley, and we set up in the parking lot at what was called the Crenshaw Swap Meet, one of the roughest neighborhoods in South Central Los Angeles. I left New York when I was 17, I dropped out of high school, but do you know I have served more than one million people? And I know close to half a million people personally?”

And now they are serving two or three hundred people a day.

The crowds are not at Earle’z Grille just because of the good food and the low prices; it is $1.25 for the chili dog of the day. Earle said the restaurant is one of the best places for vegetarian and vegan food for students and the large local Muslim population. And he also said the crowds come because of thoughtful touches he and his brother started to incorporate from the very beginning, including a butterflied hot dog that was easier on the teeth of the elderly.

But in 1992, when they were building their restaurant with proceeds from their cart, it was not so rosy.

“We had a cart, so it wasn’t like we went and got a bank loan,” Earle said. “It was a cash/cash only. And unfortunately for a lot of businesses, minority businesses in the community, it’s like that. Every day for two and a half years, my brother put that restaurant together. Once the riots hit, we watched them loot down the block, and the fire started coming toward us. In fact, the fire hit our building! We were in the building with firefighters, knocking the fire out. That’s the wildest thing! I remember being across the street with my brother, we’re both on the phone calling my mother and grandmother in New York, and we’re both crying, telling them the city is blazing, and we’re watching our hard-earned thing just go up in smoke, and we’re watching our own people burn it down. This is what we had to deal with. And then when they finally save it, the place is gutted, what insurance?”

And so they started from scratch.

But today, there are about 200 or 300 people waiting to buy a hot dog.

Speaker of the Assembly announces temporary childcare for the working poor

Listen to the audio story here:


Speaker of the Assembly John A. Perez showed up at downtown Los Angeles Tuesday with, for many, a very welcome announcement. Despite Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger having used his line-item veto to cut all daycare for children of the working poor, the Assembly had managed to find the funds to keep such programs going.

But there was a catch. The $6 million the Assembly was able to squeeze out of its operating budget, by reducing expenses down to 15 percent, will only last through the holiday season.

One parent spoke movingly of her worries about finding daycare for her child. In tears as she tried to catch her breath, she said she was no longer on welfare, and she was grateful to be able to work. She blessed the CalWORKS program for having made it possible.

Holly Mitchell is the Democratic nominee for the state Assembly in the 47th District. She is also president of the Crystal Stairs Foundation, a major provider of childcare and early childhood intervention. She had to notify 6,600 parents that their children would no longer be subsidized.

Perez’s announcement was welcome news.

“It’s had a major impact on us,” Mitchell said. She also noted that, even if further finding does not come, at least she will be able to give her family a better heads-up. In the past, she had less than two weeks notice.

Thousands of children, and thousands of providers, have respite from the worry, but only until after the holidays.

Judge sentences Tedi Snyder to 32 years in prison

imageListen to the audio story here:

The Youth Justice Coalition held a press conference outside the court building Tuesday. A judge sentenced Tedi Snyder, 20, to 32 years in prison. Snyder was 15 years old when he was involved in a gang shooting. No one was killed, but a jury convicted Snyder of attempted murder.

Kim McGill of the Youth Justice Coalition focused on what she called “outrageous” sentences for teens.

“Young people are getting 111 to life, 200 to 250 to life sentences at the ages of 14, 15, 16, 17 years old,” McGill said.

Some argue these types of teens, regardless of their age, should be held accountable for their actions.

“We’re not saying people shouldn’t be held accountable for their actions,” McGill said. “In fact, our membership has gone to way more funerals than graduations. And no one wants more death and destruction to stop in the streets more than black and brown people,” McGill said.

Snyder was facing 80 years to life. The judge reduced his sentence, but the Youth Justice Coalition, family and friends still do not think that was the justice they were looking for.