FINLEY SAYS: “Just grow your own food, at least some of it. Just start! Take your health back. We need to stop letting our food kill us and let it heal us, like it’s supposed to do.” From Left to right: Martha Saucedo, executive vice president of External Affairs for AEG, Ron Finley, health advocate, and Sonya Lockett, vice president of Corporate Social Responsibility at BET Networks.
GARDENS BRING LIFE back into the world as community volunteer Nicole Parrish and BET volunteer Keesha Wallace, plant various vegetables in one of the boxed in plots at the Watts Cloud Artist Residence and Gardens with the Watts Tower overlooking their efforts.
Ron Finley, the inner city health advocate known as the “Gangster Gardener,” along with Black Entertainment Television (BET) and AEG Digital Media has turned their attentions away from the media extravaganza known as the ‘BET Experience,’ to focus on community outreach, in particular healthy eating, with the intent to help replant a community garden in Watts.
“It was going to be a great week of events, and concerts and parties, and great activities, but we really wanted to make sure that we came and left something behind in the community, something sustainable. That’s why BET and AEG are here today,” Sonya Lockett, vice president of Corporate Social Responsibility at BET Networks, said inside what’s known as the ‘Watts Cloud Artist Community Garden.’ The Watts Cloud Artist Community Garden is a sanctuary for visiting artists, nearly fifty feet away from the Watts Towers. Inside that beautiful sanctuary, the garden contained several boxed in plots and lots of grass covered soil where volunteers helped plant a variety of vegetables from corn, to carrots and even a few tomatoes.
“We planted some beds here with all kinds of different vegetables,” added Finley, “from Swiss chard, to watermelons and strawberries, collard greens, and beets. We also put in fruit trees. This is just a movement to change, I call them ‘food prisons,’ into healthy places where people can get meals that are not making them sick, food that’s not killing you. I am honored that AEG and BET would allow us to do this and to share this knowledge with their employees. To me, this is a celebration of life, to take our communities back, to take our health back, and to plant a seed.”
Located on 107th street, the Watts Cloud Artist Residency and Gardens is nestled inside a triangle of two streets and a quaint park, directly behind the Watts Towers in Watts. The food that is grown as a result of BET and AEG’s outreach efforts will be given to the community to use as they see fit. “To me, food should be free,” according to Finley, who is heading up the gardening project, “you should not have to pay $6 dollars for an apple, when you can have apple trees and they have thousands of apples on it.
“Our thing is,” Finley added, “empower yourself. Grow your own food. Growing your own food is like printing your own money. We found that if kids grow kale, they eat kale. We need to take them off of these Takis and these Doritos and all this stuff that they are eating for breakfast lunch and dinner, and maybe we will end some of this ADD and some of this other stuff they say is wrong with our kids.”
In addition to the gardening efforts, AEG and BET have developed a youth program called ‘The BET Experience Youth Program,’ in which 40 high school students were selected to participate in a three day experience.
“So [the 40 selected students] will have an opportunity to be exposed to career paths in the entertainment industry,” added Martha Saucedo, executive vice president of External Affairs for AEG.
“They will be able to take a tour of a special exhibit at the Grammy Museum and get a lot of the behind the scenes perspective from the BET Experience itself.
“Both AEG and BET have a strong history of really trying to, not only work in the community, but to give back to the community that we operate in. So it’s really exciting to partner. It is great, since they really know the L. A. scene, and to come onto what was the best project for us to do. And then to do this, and to learn about Ron, was really enriching and exciting. We all came away very happy and we are going to go home and try and do this in our communities.
“This is very exciting for us because this is the first year working with BET, to implement the BET Experience which really is an outgrowth of the awards show. For the first time, this year the awards show is going to be at the Nokia Center at LA Live, but prior to that, kicking off on this Friday is a whole three day festival filled with various performances at the LA Live Venues. There is a little comedy, there are some empowerment workshops. So there’s a lot of activity. There is also a big ‘Fan Festival’ that’s open to the public and free, so we are excited about it.”
For more information about AEG, go to www.aegdigitalmedia.com. For information or tickets to the BET Experience at LA Live, go to www.betexperience.com.