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Democracy is Much More than Voting. Sometimes it Involves Bikes. And Gardening.

Voting is great and all, but it is only one part of democracy.

Democracy works better when people take an active role in making their communities better year round. That theme of service was more actively promoted after the election in 2008, when Obama asked people to channel their enthusiasm and energy into community service. But, somewhere in the wake of the financial meltdown, that national spirit of commitment seemed to lose some momentum and fizzle out of the spotlight.

That’s certainly much less true among our readership, but I’m guessing you all know neighbors and friends who could use a little community engagement in their lives. If you’d like to capitalize on the excitement generated by the election and turn that into action, this is your week. Grab an apathetic friend or neighbor and teach them the wise ways of community engagement by dragging them to one or more of these South LA events:

SEED: A Weird Act of Faith (ongoing)

Experience the second play in Cornerstone Theater Company’s Hunger Cycle. The play weaves a fantastical tale that travels between an urban farm, a rural haven, and the contested space of agribusiness. SEED takes its inspiration from activists within South Los Angeles who have been fighting for sustainable and healthful food choices for their communities. SEED follows a neighborhood whose struggle for survival depends upon the success of their urban farm. Many of the shows are linked to opportunities for engagement or discussion with community members about the issues raised in the play, so please check the schedule.

If you aren’t familiar with Cornerstone Theater Company, they are a multi-ethnic, ensemble-based theater company that commissions and produces plays that are the result of intense collaborations between artists and community members. Their approach has generated unique and memorable works, such as Day Laborer Theater Without Borders, that not only educate audiences about challenges faced by those on the margins, but empowers the subjects of the work to tell and use their own stories for catharsis. The Hunger Cycle will be comprised of nine world premiere plays exploring people’s relationship to the most elemental of needs – hunger — through the lenses of food equity, urban and rural farming, food addiction, and community gardens. Read more…

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This Saturday: Do Good in Crenshaw and Learn About the Transformative Power of Art for Those Who Have Been Incarcerated in West Adams

When neighborhoods suffer foreclosures, everyone on the block gets hurt. The abandoned buildings can quickly become blight and attract criminal activity. The decline of a block can hurt the self-esteem of a community. It is also hard to bring communities together through block clubs and neighborhood councils when people are struggling to stay afloat and the neighborhood is in constant flux. At the very time neighbors most need to come together to support each other, their own struggles may leave them little time or energy to do.

For this reason, the Neighborhood Housing Services of Los Angeles County (NHS) regularly joins forces
with families and volunteers to hold Neighborhood Pride Days in areas hit hard by foreclosures. By encouraging neighbors to participate in beautifying their block, the NHS seeks to help residents find a renewed sense of pride in and commitment to their community. Although NHS’ own day-to-day operations focus more on financial literacy and educational services, they believe that Pride Days can leave communities stronger and more able to assist each other in weathering financial hardships.

This weekend’s event will take place in South L.A., the area with the largest number of overall foreclosures. Volunteers will help families in Crenshaw with house painting, planting, graffiti clean-up, garbage removal, and minor home repairs. In partnership with in-house construction specialists and local business sponsors, NHS will supply the paint, materials, and meals for volunteers.

The meet-up site for the event is 2628 W. 73rd St. (just south of Florence and east of Crenshaw) between the hours of 8 a.m. and 12 p.m. If you are interested in volunteering, please contact Nyasha Buchongo at or (213) 381-2862, ext 253 for more information.

After spending your morning do-gooding, head over to the William Grant Still Arts Center for a community arts festival and concert marking the launch of the exhibit, Dragon’s Flight, in historic West Adams. Dragon’s Flight is a six-week exhibition running from October 6 through November 24 that celebrates the transformative power of creating art, and its ability to help artists reclaim and rebuild their personal identity in the face of negative trauma. The participating artists are currently or have been incarcerated, or are working in collaboration with incarcerated artists. The work exhibited is drawn from pieces created both inside prison and on the outside. Grassroots organizations will be on hand to educate participants about issues surrounding incarceration and their effects on communities in the area. And, of course, there will be music. The event will be hosted by Bananas‘ own MC VerBS.

The festivities run from 12 to 6 p.m. The Arts Center is located at 2520 W. View St. (near La Brea and Adams).


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“South L.A. Democratic Spaces” Exhibit Launches Tonight at USC

When people look at questions of transportation, livable streets, or complete streets, they sometimes look at them in isolation, as if they stood alone from socio-economic issues. Slate’s recent touting of LA’s transit system as the next big thing, for example, never addresses questions of who is riding, how, and why. Or, why not, in the case of many Angelenos, who may find public transit cumbersome and/or have less than favorable opinions of the “public” that rides it or the neighborhoods it passes through.

Over the past nine months, I’ve been speaking with a number of South L.A.-based organizations who understand that making streets more livable begins with making them more accessible and democratic for all members of a community.

The stories of many of those organizations and their staff will be on display this evening at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. The South L.A. Democratic Spaces exhibit launches tonight, from 6:30 to 9 p.m.

According to organizers, the collaborative storytelling project will offer the stories of “15 unique public spaces that embody the community’s push for social change.”

Portraits and videos will offer viewers a glimpse into community organizers’ favorite physical spaces from which to promote advocacy, positive social change, and community-based social movements. Far from traditional meeting rooms, some of  the spaces chosen include a food truck, a marketplace, and public art sites.

The event will be interactive — the public will have an opportunity to meet and speak with the community organizers and participate in a brief panel discussion (beginning at 7:30 p.m.) about the significance of the highlighted spaces. They hope to help participants understand that, contrary to many of the stereotypes about South L.A., there is a vibrant and active community of activists and ordinary people who work hard to make their neighborhoods more livable for all.

The Annenberg School is located at 3502 Watt Way, Los Angeles, CA  90089, on the USC campus.


Endeavouring to Find Opportunities for Communities in the Wake of the Shuttle’s Passage

"My Lungs Matter More Than Tiles" reads a sign on one of the doomed trees along Crenshaw Blvd.

“That’s a lot of wood,” mused Ben Caldwell of the 400 trees on the chopping block along the Space Shuttle Endeavour’s route to the Science Center.

I could almost see the wheels turning in his brain.

Founder of the Kaos Network in Leimert Park, life-long artist, and community activist, Caldwell had moved past the gloom-and-doom lamentations over the loss of the trees and had begun thinking about the opportunities that the moment presented.

Amazingly, there hadn’t been much in the way of planning with regard to what would happen to the wood, he told me. Apparently, the only plan in place is to turn it into compost.

What if it could be salvaged, he wanted to know.

Finding alternative uses for the wood would help to diminish the pain of the loss of the trees while providing the community with valuable materials that could be used to enhance their already vibrant celebrations. Tree trunks could be made into drums. Eucalyptus trees could be made into didgeridoos. Pine and other white wood trees could become cajones. Caldwell pointed to some of the paintings on the walls around his studio. What about creating other art materials out of the wood?

It could even be turned into mulch for gardens and to be placed around new trees, he suggested. Letting the wood go to waste would just add insult to injury. Read more…


Science Center Given Approval to Remove Nearly 400 Trees to Make Way for Shuttle

Flyers mark trees for removal along Crenshaw Blvd. (photo: sahra)

When I first reported on the notices posted on trees along Crenshaw Blvd. back in July, I did not realize that those notices were more or less the extent of the outreach the Science Center had done with the communities that the Space Shuttle Endeavour would be traveling through.

Speaking with KCRW’s Saul Gonzalez last week, Leimert Park neighborhood council member Lark Galloway-Gilliam said that she had only found out about the planned cutting of the trees by accident. The Science Center, where the Shuttle will be housed, never contacted the communities directly to let them know or discuss their plans.

The oversight was disrespectful, many felt, not only given the detrimental impact to the property values that the loss of old trees would have, but also because of the emotional value of the trees for the community. Fourteen of those originally slated for removal had been planted in January of 1990 by community members as part of a memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King. Twenty-two years later, they now stand over forty feet high, in large part because of the care that community members dedicated to them every month.

Moreover, there was no study of the environmental impact, noted Galloway-Gilliam, despite the fact that 400 trees were on the chopping block in park-poor communities with high asthma rates. Something cyclists will no doubt find ironic, given that the striping of bike lanes — a benefit to the environment — can be held up because of environmental impact concerns.

The L.A. Times reports that the Science Center was finally given the green light to remove the nearly 400 trees (119 of which are in South Los Angeles) after a three-hour Public Works meeting yesterday at City Hall.

The advocacy efforts of the affected communities pushed the Science Center to promise more benefits to residents. Read more…


Healthy Food Walk Around USC Neighborhood Unearths Tensions Between the University and the Community

Tafarai Bayne of TRUST South L.A. and RideSouthLA explains the goals of the day. (c) sahra

If you were one of the participants in the South L.A. Healthy Food Ride/Walk this past weekend, you could be forgiven if you walked away a little confused about the purpose of the walk.

It started out simple enough.

The group – largely comprised of super-motivated teens from South L.A. vying for a spot on the Youth Action Coalition run by Building Healthy Communities South L.A. — met at Mercado La Paloma, the new home of Community Services Unlimited’s (CSU) Village Market Place.

Tafarai Bayne, of TRUST South L.A. and RideSouthLA (a partnership between the Mobile Urban Mapping project at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and TRUST South L.A.), laid out the plan for the day.

Participants were being tasked with helping the RideSouthLA team collect data and map the neighborhood. Specifically, they were asked to “take pictures of things that are healthy and unhealthy” (with regard to food choices) and “things that are safe or unsafe” (with regard to walking or biking conditions). The cellphone photos were to be sent in to the event site, to help compile a visual record of the walk. Read more…

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A Party and Ride/Walk Linked to Fresh Food Opportunities Just South of USC this Weekend

Ali helps a neighbor at CSU's produce stand at King Blvd. and Bill Robertson Ave. (c) sahra

If you’ve been paying attention to our calendar, you already know that RideSouthLA and Community Services Unlimited, Inc. (CSU) are holding a Healthy Food Ride this Sunday, Sept 9. The ride/walk event is designed to take participants on a tour through the neighborhood and show them the fresh food opportunities that do exist in the area. The ride/walk meet-up site is Mercado La Paloma (3655 S Grand Ave), and the event runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

What you may not know is that CSU has only recently moved its offices into Mercado La Paloma in order to be able to provide neighbors with easily accessible, fresh, and sustainable produce. The 1,300 lbs of produce they handle in any given week are grown in their own set of urban farms and sourced from local farmers. They hope that the new space will move them towards their goal of helping 1,000 local families access high-quality organic foods on a weekly basis.

On Saturday, Sept. 8, they will be celebrating this expansion of their Village Market Place program. They invite you to come by between 11:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. for music, cooking demonstrations, and tastings. They will also have a number of products for sale, including their jams, sauces, pickles, herb-infused oils, and vinegars, and baked goods. Proceeds go toward helping pay for their move to the new space and supporting their other programs. Click here for more about CSU, their work, and their indiegogo campaign to raise funds for their move.

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CicLAvia South East: Building a Movement Ride by Ride

Riders pause at the Watts Towers for a group photo (photo: sahra).

“Oh yeah, I just saw maybe 50 or 60 riders go by. Yeah, it was pretty cool.” said a security guard at Plaza Mexico.

“I think there were 500 or 600 bikers,” said a flower vendor, smiling. “There were a lot!”

In order to ask people along the route what they thought of seeing a large group of cyclists go by and of the idea of a CicLAvia in the area, I had foregone joining the CicLAvia South East group at the start of the ride. A fact that had not gone unnoticed by the youth of Los Ryderz.

“Nice of you to make it,” teased Troy with a smile when I met up with riders at the halfway point.

“You were late!” shouted Rosie.

I explained I was trying to write a story that went beyond, “On the seventh day, people rode their bicycles. And it was good.”

They nodded but looked a little skeptical. They seemed worried I wouldn’t be taking enough photos. I am one of those upon whose shoulders the job of documenting our South L.A. family of riders has unofficially fallen, as I always have my camera in hand.

And it’s true, I didn’t shoot much this time around (sorry, guys). But I have an excuse: I was too busy cataloging the growth of a movement. Read more…

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South L.A. Calendar: Urban Farming, a CicLAvia Southeast Event, Community Coalition’s Power Festival, and a Neighborhood Bike Ambassador Meeting

Riders in South Gate give the CicLAvia Southeast event a big thumbs up. (photo: sahra)

Over the next week, you’ve got four opportunities to participate in promoting more livable streets in South L.A.

From 9 am to 1 pm on Saturday morning, Community Services Unlimited will be working with the USC Volunteer Center at two of their urban farm sites. It’ll likely be hot, so have a hat, sunblock, and some water and be prepared to work hard at creating an edible green space in South L.A. RSVP to for more information.


Because Community Coalition believes that successful civic engagement is cause for excitement, they have pulled together a fantastic line-up of musicians for their South L.A. Summer Power Festival this Saturday, from 4 – 9 pm. The sweet sounds of artists such as Aloe Blacc and Las Cafeteras will serenade you as register to vote and learn about the initiatives on the November ballot. Also on hand will be The Red Cross, CHIRLA, and L.A. Care Health Plan to offer workshops on disaster preparedness, deferred action for DREAMers, and health care reform (respectively). Bienestar, New Way of Life, and the CLEAN Carwash campaign will be among some of the other organizations present offering health screenings and information on a variety of services available to community members.

So, come, learn, and dance at Martin Luther King Recreation Center at 39th and Western.


On Sunday, the 26th, grab your bike and a friend and head to Watts to participate in the Second CicLAvia Southeast ride. Building on the momentum of the first ride, which had over 300 participants, the committee seeks to continue expanding the horizons for residents of communities in the area.

“Now we know that [CicLAvia] is something that the community does want,” said organizer Mayra Aguilar. So, the next steps include continuing to create routes that cross through several of the Southeast cities at once and engaging local officials in the process. In doing so, she said, they hope residents and elected officials will see themselves as part of a larger community and want to work together to bring CicLAvia to the Southeast in 2013. Read more…


Space Nerds Unite: The Shuttle’s Arrival is Now Confirmed!

The Space Shuttle Endeavour. Photo courtesy of the California Science Center.

Maybe watching Curiosity land on Mars reminded you how cool space exploration was. Or maybe it was Mohawk Guy. Either way, all you long-time and newly-minted nerds out there will be thrilled to know that that will be neither a bird nor a mere plane you see overhead on September 20th. That will the Space Shuttle Endeavor hitching a ride on a NASA Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier on its way to LAX. Once it arrives, writes The Source:

It then will be transferred to a United Airlines hangar where it will stay until final preparations are made for its move on the morning of Oct. 12. The move to the Science Center will take two days, as the 58-foot-tall shuttle is transported under raised transmissions lines and across the 405 Freeway to Inglewood City Hall for an official launch ceremony Oct. 13. It then will be transported to the intersection of Martin Luther King and Crenshaw boulevards for a celebration of Mission 26. The shuttle is expected to reach the California Science Center in Exposition Park that evening.

The Shuttle will not be open for viewing until October 30, and viewing will require a timed ticket, according to the Science Center website. If you think that the 20 minutes you will get to cozy up to the Endeavour won’t be enough to get your nerd on, the Science Center is looking for volunteers to help welcome and manage crowds as well as answer guests’ questions about the exhibit. You will be able to tell visitors fun Shuttle facts like the Endeavour has orbited the earth 4,671 times and traveled a total of 122,883,151 miles. Just make sure you are 18 years old and can commit to taking one four-hour shift a week for a six-month period.

The map of the route for “Mission 26: The Big Endeavour” can be found here.