Following historic lows in gun violence, the month of May saw an alarming spike in violent crime. Unwilling to accept the rise in violence, including the murder of South Los Angeles’ beloved Nipsey Hussle, Counclimember Marqueece Harris-Dawson launched a robust effort to address the root causes and effects of gun violence in South L.A. Traditionally, the summer tends to display an increase in violence. This summer program meets residents where they are with the resources they need to deal with trauma and intervenes to prevent youth from joining gangs and continuing cycles of violence.
The Community Safety Initiative is an innovative $1 million public safety program designed to disrupt and prevent gun violence in South Los Angeles. Councilmember Marqueece Harris Dawson brought this program to life in the form of prevention and intervention strategies that leverage existing programs and create new ones to support our communities as they deal with gun violence. The initiative includes four creative intervention strategies designed to disrupt, prevent and respond to gun violence in our communities. Over the next few weeks, we will revisit the Initiative and highlight different aspects of the strategy.
The Youth Workshops produce hour long presentations that introduce students to creative forms of entrepreneurship and teach STEM skills. All of the workshops are designed to give students practical life-skills that promote self-esteem, empathy, stress reduction, anger management, academic improvement, and civic leadership. The councilmember began this program to expose young people to outlets for expression and entrepreneurship in the hopes of expanding their opportunities for the future.
“I believe in creative solutions to shared community challenges,” said Harris-Dawson. “The Community Safety initiative is an opportunity to pilot creative new approaches proven to combat the root causes of gun violence. Our neighborhoods deserve more robust strategies to reduce gun violence and I am proud to partner with individuals and organizations who see the value of this opportunity.
“My thanks go out to the Ballmer Foundation, the California Wellness Foundation and the Weingart Foundation for believing in this holistic proactive approach to investing in our youth.”
The initiative uses creative presentations to teach youth entrepreneurship. Baron Jay Littleton, founder of the Baron Jay Foundation, a nonprofit that prepares youth to become responsible, civic-minded, respectful, and productive citizens leads each presentation.
At middle schools and high schools across South L.A., students ages 10-18 learn about social entrepreneurship. Each workshop begins with Littleton introducing basic business principles and quizzing the students on terms like e-commerce and profit. The students display extraordinary focus for their age and after a few minutes, Littleton transitions from the traditional portion of the workshop and something unexpected happens: a magician, entertainer, or entrepreneur enters and after showcasing their skills, the students are given the opportunity to explore their own talents.
While students implement what they recently learned, Littleton crystallizes the connection and expounds on how the skills learned through creative practice also improve academic progress. Workshops like these have been happening all summer, across South Los Angeles at schools like Johnnie Cochran Middle School.
“Young people need training and career guidance to fully realize their potential and overcome challenges,” said Littleton. “We’re here to provide these opportunities to motivate and empower economically disadvantaged youth to become productive and empowered members of society.”
Students receive the opportunity to learn a new skill and explore aspects of their creativity while also learning business skills. Some have gone on to audition for acting roles while others are exploring starting their own businesses. Additionally, students improve their confidence by learning a new skill then demonstrating it for the class to see.
The Community Safety Initiative workshops conclude in October with a recognition ceremony for over 170 student participants. These workshops were inspired by Nipsey Hussle’s legacy of social entrepreneurship and community investment. This innovative partnership was made possible by Ballmer Foundation, the California Wellness Foundation and the Weingart Foundation who all believe in holistic efforts to create safe and healthy communities.