The Los Angeles Urban League has high hopes of transforming urban communities throughout the state of California, by doing so one community at a time. Starting with a 70-block area around Crenshaw High School, known as Park Mesa Heights, the LAUL is launching its five-year strategic plan that focuses on five disciplines simultaneously – safety, education, health, housing and employment.
Blair Taylor, president and CEO of the Los Angeles Urban League, formerly announced the hard-launch of "Neighborhoods at Work" during the organization's 34th Annual Whitney M. Young, Jr. Awards Dinner held Thursday, April 12 at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel.
He detailed the initiative to a packed house of over 1,200 guests, many of whom have been involved with the strategic plan, which calls for advocacy, leadership and neighborhood change, since its soft-launch in October 2006 within the neighborhood surrounding Crenshaw High School.
"We've been busy at the Urban League for the last 12 months," stated Taylor. "I talked at last year's dinner about a vision to transform communities across this city… and in October 2006 we soft-launched our plan."
Taylor explained that the Los Angeles Urban League felt compelled to take action after the release of its "State of Black Los Angeles" report, followed by the California Legislative Black Caucus' "State of Black California" report, both of which revealed the deplorable conditions for African Americans in urban communities throughout the state.
"We aggressively pursued a plan that had four simple 'ah has,'" Taylor said, "to run five disciplines simultaneously; constrain the geographical area to 70 blocks; build in accountability from the start; and plan for replication."
After devising the strategic plan, which calls upon the involvement of church leaders, elected officials and city figure-heads, an area was needed to be chosen.
"The school and the community had significant needs, but it also has a rich history," Taylor said of Park Mesa Heights. "The high school is at the heart of this block, and it is at the heart of this model because in every single highly-functioning community in America, there is a great high school at the center. Crenshaw High School has become our model's heart.
"But beyond the walls of Crenshaw High School," added Taylor, "the 70-block area also had a tremendous amount of other needs – 2 1/2 times the violent crime rate; staggering double-digit unemployment rate; health care crisis; high substance abuse rates; and gangs."
Taylor revealed that during the first few months of the soft-launch phase of the initiative, where the focus was impressed upon violent crime, violent crime in the targeted area has fallen 24 percent. Also in October, LAUL began focusing on the educational component that concerned Crenshaw High School, which, said Taylor, has the highest percentage of African American students within LAUSD and is also ranked at the bottom 15 of all Los Angeles high schools.
Now, the Urban League is in full force during the hard-launch of its initiative, "Neighborhoods at Work," which simultaneously focuses on education, employment, safety, health and housing within the same geographic location.
By way of advocacy, leadership and neighborhood change, the Los Angeles Urban League is leading this five-year plan to revitalize the Park Mesa Heights community and raise $25 million to help improve the lives of its 10,000 residents. But the model has also been devised in such a way to be replicated in urban communities throughout the state. And, in support of the replicable model, Assembly Majority Leader Karen Bass and Senator Mark Ridley-Thomas have introduced legislation relating to economic development. Senator Ridley-Thomas was on hand during the LAUL dinner to discuss SB 765.
Also present at the 34th annual Whitney M. Young Jr. Awards Dinner were the night's honorees. Charles H. Smith, former president and CEO of AT&T West, received the Whitney M. Young Jr. Award. Donald W. Tang, vice chairman of Bear, Stearns & Co Inc. and chairman of Bear Sterns Asia, received the Community Coalition Partnership Award. And, Christina Johnson received the Nestle Youth Leadership Award. The 17-year-old senior at Palos Verdes Peninsula High School also received a $10,000 scholarship.