A piece of wisdom off Slauson Avenue

By Daniella Segura

“Greetings friend,” said Mr. Wisdom, as a customer came through the door.

“Hey Mr. Wisdom, my brother! How are you today?,” said Perry Payton.

“Oh, I’m just trying to be as good as you,” said Mr. Wisdom, with a broad smile.

imageMr. Wisdom

For the past 25 years, the Jamaican native, who goes by the name Mr. Wisdom, has been serving specialty vegan food in South Los Angeles within the Hyde Park community, urging native residents to eat health and try his diet and cleanses.

“Some people, they call me Doctor Wisdom after I help them get healthier, and I have to correct them,” said Mr. Wisdom. “I am not a medicinal doctor. I am more like a nutritionist.”

The man who runs Mr. Wisdom’s Specialty Health Food Store refuses to reveal his real name, and is known to his customers by the shop’s moniker.

He started his business to promote, Hare Krishna, the common name for the International Society of Krishna Consciousness movement that is based in Hinduism.

He calls his business “Mr. Wisdom” in reference to Krishna, the god of the Hare Krishna religion, and said that Krishna is the real “Mr. Wisdom.”

Those who follow the Hare Krishna religion are strict vegans who do not eat meat or dairy products.

“In Hare Krishna, you realize animals are conscious,” said Mr. Wisdom. “They feel pain like you and I. In my religion, it is against the law of nature to cause pain or suffering to any living creature.”

Raised in Jamaica, Mr. Wisdom joined the British Army when he was 18. At the time, Jamaica was still an English colony.

“I wanted to find out what made the world tick,” he said.

After spending six years in the British Army, Mr. Wisdom stayed in England to get into the entertainment business because he wanted to “sing, dance and perform.”

In spite of his efforts, he never reached his dream, saying that the business was too competitive. So, he moved back to Jamaica and lived there for the next three years.

Still on the quest for success and adventure, Mr. Wisdom moved to the U.S. in the 1970s. After struggling to manage a gas station for a few years, he began searching for answers.

“I wanted to know why some people were so successful and other people, who were as equally talented, were not successful,” he said.

He looked to self-help books and different religions, but eventually found his answer in Hare Krishna, which he has followed for over the past 40 years.

Mr. Wisdom explained that after finding Hare Krishna, he wanted to do something for the community by selling healthier food and spreading the word about his religion. Yet, he did not have a place to do it. Instead, he sold items like wheatgrass from the back of a travel trailer, which also served as his home.

imageOne day a sick woman came to him for help, Mr. Wisdom said. He helped her improve her diet, which then improved her health. Once she recovered, she came back to Mr. Wisdom to ask what she could to do repay him.

“I said, ‘If you know how to buy real estate you can help me,'” he said, as he was preparing food. “She helped me get my own place. That’s why I always say the location chose me.”

Michael, who did not want to give his last name, helps Mr. Wisdom with his office work and has known him for the past ten years. He said that Mr. Wisdom’s work inspires him.

“Krishna and Krishna consciousness are why he does the work he does,” Michael said.

“That’s his motivation to go in and do his work every morning,” he added, while finishing a plate of Mr. Wisdom’s curry vegetable.

As he scurries around his store preparing meals for customers, Mr. Wisdom appears much younger than his age.

“I forgot to make more rice,” Mr. Wisdom said to one of his customers. “But it’s okay. You know why? I always got a back up.”

The store’s quaint interior contrasts with the congested Slauson Avenue outside.

The room is filled by Hare Krishna music coming from his TV, which sounds like faint chants of “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna.” Meanwhile, the humming of his wheatgrass juicer also plays in the background as he makes a smoothie for one of his customers.

The aroma of Indian curry and spices can be smelled throughout the store.

Many regular customers have grown close to Mr. Wisdom. Payton, who works nearby, comes to Mr. Wisdom’s store every day, since January.

“[He’s] a very warm person with a caring heart and has the time to talk with you if you need help,” said Payton. “We need more places like this out here.”

Laron Maull, who has been a customer for the past six years, said he thinks Mr. Wisdom is doing the community a favor by offering them healthier eating options.

“[Mr. Wisdom’s] a cool guy,” Maull said. “When you find something like this, you continue to come.”

Maull currently works as a high school counselor, and said he stops by the store whenever he gets the chance.

Mr. Wisdom said he plans to expand his store by adding another building next door.

“I’m hoping the expansion will help my store take off,” said Mr. Wilson. “After that, I want to go back to Jamaica and start another store there.”

Slauson Stroll—Looking for Main Street in South LA

The stretch of Slauson Avenue between Angeles Vista and La Brea used to be the thriving economic heart of the surrounding middle-class neighborhood. Over time, the bank, grocery store, and many other businesses dwindled, causing residents to travel over the hills to Crenshaw and other neighborhoods for many of its services. On a recent wintry Saturday, LA Commons worked with local merchants and County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas to kick off a re-branding and revitalization of the former “Main Street” with a holiday block party—the Slauson Stroll.

New vision of Slauson Avenue in South Los Angeles

Residents in South Los Angeles gathered together Monday evening to share their fondest memories of being on Slauson Avenue, while proposing a vision of what they see Slauson becoming, at Junior Blind of America’s center.

The meeting, held in partnership with LA Commons and the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, was to help shape the development of the Slauson Corridor Revitalization Project, spearheaded by the Office of Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. image

“I don’t want to go to Culver City to get a nice sandwich. I want to go right here, where we are and have a sense of pride in it,” said resident Roy Wheatle.

Everyone at the meeting agreed that they wanted the new Slauson Corridor, between Overhill Drive and Angeles Vista Boulevard, to offer more shopping and outdoor dining experiences, along with a pedestrian friendly atmosphere.

Karly Katona, deputy for sustainability for the office of Mark Ridley-Thomas, said making a livable, walkable community requires the input of its residents.

She said it was essential for those involved in the planning process to receive feedback from residents and local business owners to understand their needs and wants.

Erin Stennis, deputy to Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, added that it would have been impossible for the district to implement changes without feedback from the community. image

“This is a community that has traditionally been engaged,” said Stennis.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said the revitalization is also an effort to “bring value to the land use and space.”

“My role is essentially one to catalyze the process, to attract attention to it and make investments into it with the resources of Los Angeles County,” said Ridley-Thomas.

He added that the project was not a publicly funded project, but one that uses the public’s input to help attract private investors.

“We are teeing this up in a way that is worthy of this environment…I don’t see that to be a pipe dream,” said Ridley-Thomas. “This is going to be an emerging market that will not be ignored.”

A portion of the meeting was dedicated to hearing development plans from student-led teams at USC and UCLA, as part of a real estate challenge organized by the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties (NAIOP) and sponsored by Ridley-Thomas.

The challenge is a 6-week case competition where students from both schools are tasked with solving a development issue, such as the Slauson Corridor.

This is the 15th year the challenge has taken place between UCLA and USC tied with 7 wins each, which makes the Slauson project a tie-breaker competition, according to Ridley-Thomas.

The winning team has not been announced, but residents applauded both schools for the research put into their presentation.

Both teams proposed a space that would seamlessly mix dining and retail shops with senior independent living.

USC proposed a two-story parking structure with multiple entrances for residents and visitors.

UCLA had surface level parking citing that many grocery stores preferred it to structured parking due to safety and its ease of access. image

For residents, the most anticipated portion of both presentations was hearing the possibility of specialty retail grocery store, Trader Joe’s, making its home inside the renovated corridor.

USC believed the area had the potential to attract Trader Joe’s.

While UCLA said based on their meetings with the company, it would be difficult and proposed building a Lazy Acres Market, an upscale grocery store chain operated by Bristol Farms, which caused some in the crowd to become upset.

Ridley-Thomas pointed out that it was important for residents to have not one but several choices in where they would like to shop.

The next meeting, discussing the environmental impact report for the Slauson Avenue streetscape, is scheduled to take place on Monday, Dec. 3 at 7 p.m. at Junior Blind of America.