The Los Angeles Urban League has put forth a plan to transform underserved communities one neighborhood at a time. The initiative, Neighborhoods@Work, has brought together some of the city’s and state’s public agencies as well as a myriad of private institutions in an effort to revitalize one of the most troubled sectors of the city—the 70-block area known as Mesa Heights surrounding Crenshaw High School. By starting there, and after proven success, the Urban League anticipates creating a model that can be utilized in other urban neighborhoods across the region.
During the unveiling of the five-year, $25 million plan, which was held Dec. 6 on the steps of Crenshaw High School, Los Angeles Urban League President and CEO Blair Taylor was joined by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, State Senator Mark Ridley-Thomas, Councilmember Bernard Parks, LAPD Chief William Bratton, City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo, Crenshaw HS Principal Sheilah Sanders, Dean Karen Gallagher of USC’s Rossier School of Education, and other business, community and civic leaders to discuss in detail Neighborhoods@Work.
“This was an opportunity to talk about this project in terms of what it is, the progress thus far, and the commitment from various city and state agencies as well as private institutions,” Taylor said of the initiative that is already a work-in-progress having soft-launched in October 2006 and formally hard-launched in April 2007. “It was an incredibly exciting day.”
Neighborhoods@Work, which came as a response to the 2005 State of Black Los Angeles report issued by the Untied Way of Greater Los Angeles, undertakes five areas of concentration: education, safety, employment, health and housing. By addressing these areas simultaneously, the plan recognizes the significant interplay between them. But Taylor told the Los Angeles Sentinel that addressing education had been the primary focus since the beginning.
“We went into it thinking education is the key and believing that the high school is at the heart of this community. And, we went into it believing that needed to be our first point of focus,” Taylor said. “What we found is education is the key, the high school is the heart of the community but violent crime rates are inhibiting anything else from happening.”
He continued, “Teachers will tell you that if you don’t reduce violent crime, they can’t teach and the students can’t learn. People in the community will tell you that [violent crime] is affecting their lifestyle and ability to work and have a reasonable quality of life on the weekends. So, what we ended up doing was an initial huge push against the crime rates in the area.”
The Urban League partnered with LAPD Chief Bratton in launching Safer Cities II, an initiative focused on crime prevention that has resulted in a 17 percent reduction rate in violent crimes and an 80 percent decrease in homicides.
In the area of safety, the organization is also working with City Attorney Delgadillo to appoint a school prosecutor at Crenshaw High School to address absenteeism and truancy, and Civil Rights Attorney Connie Rice to create a gang intervention plan. And, in 2008 the Urban League expects to introduce plan that addresses the perception of crime by working with the Department of Public Works in the beautification of the neighborhood in general.
“We’ve had tremendous impact on the area that was identified as ‘mission critical’ in terms of getting this thing to happen,” Taylor commented. “If we don’t affect crime, everything else could be brought to a screeching halt. Our goal is to lower violent crime by 50 percent over five years. …That’s a vital area and a real important win for us.”
Taylor also detailed the plans, both in motion and expected to launch next year, concerning the four other areas of concentration.
Educational initiatives have been launched to move Crenshaw High School into the innovation division of the Los Angeles Unified School District, and funding has been provided directly to the school by the Urban League that will support the school’s programs as well as mentorship and academic enhancement programs. With respect to employment, the Urban League will create a summer job program for the high school’s students, and a customer service institute that will recruit heavily from the respective area to refine soft skills. And in the area of health, the Urban League, with the help of local hospitals, has begun to bring services into the community that include free mammogram screenings and walking clubs.
“Many things have taken root, and all of it is under the banner of delivering tangible results over the next five years,” said Taylor. “We’re going to figure out how to transform a neighborhood with the long-term intention of how to build a model that transforms neighborhoods, hence the name Neighborhoods@Work.”
The L.A. Urban League’s holistic approach also quantifies outcomes for each discipline that will be measured and regularly reported to the community and partners.
To find out more about Neighborhoods@Work, visit www.laul.org or call (323) 299-9660 to learn how you can get involved.