A Healthier Future

Here’s an article I wrote for Heal the Bay’s “Currents” magazine (intro based on previous work of Heal the Bay’s James Alamillo):

As part of Heal the Bay’s new Healthy Communities Initiative, we have been doing intensive community organizing work in South L.A. to empower residents to heal their environment for the sake of L.A. County’s coastline.  We are all interconnected, and this is especially true with our street trash, storm drains, rivers, watersheds, and ocean.  At Heal the Bay, we believe that a healthy community is one that embraces the belief that health is more than merely an absence of disease.  A healthy community is a product of a healthy environment; and as part of the feedback loop, a healthy environment enables a healthy community.  Most all human health issues witnessed in urban areas have at their root an environmental component. Whether it is air pollution and asthma, water pollution and infectious diseases, urban blight and psycho-social disorders, or poor planning (no parks and lots of junk food outlets) and obesity; there is a nexus between the built environment and human health.  So how can we even begin to heal our environment?  Four community groups from South L.A. have taken up the call to fight for a healthier future in L.A. They have partnered with Heal the Bay to develop several green community spaces in the hopes that these sites would serve as filters that will naturally catch and treat urban runoff before it reaches the storm drain system.    

St. Michael’s Church Community Group 

St. Michael's Catholic Church Community Leader Jose Estrada

St. Michael's Catholic Church Community Leader Jose Estrada

Heal the Bay’s partnership with St. Michael’s community group (housed at 1016 W Manchester AVE) in the area has been a very inspirational one.  Through the leadership of a council of community leaders headed by Jose Javier Estrada, they have engaged in planning and developing much-needed green spaces and building neighborhood beautification projects.  Last year, they worked on building their so-called public “Living Rooms” in a couple of street corners and this year they are focusing on re-energizing their long-term “Vermont Avenue Median” project that would stretch from 89th to 90th ST.  Mr. Estrada explains: “this project has been a very positive experience because it has involved multiple sectors of the community: neighborhoods, colleges, churches, Bernard Parks’ staff, Southeast Neighborhood council, and others.”  In order to make sure that the project has the support of the local community, their group has embarked on a process of incorporation so they can function in a more independent manner and begin to have further name recognition.  For this purpose, they have recently elected their officers as the first step to become a nonprofit group so that they may better represent their constituents and move forward their goals and objectives in order to fight for better neighborhoods because as Mr. Estrada often declares, “everyone deserves a beautiful community.” 

Wisdom Academy for Young Scientists

Wisdom Academy students learn about marine animals.

Wisdom Academy students learn about marine animals.

The staff and parents at Wisdom Academy of 706 E. Manchester AVE have chosen a wonderful site for their WAYS Reading & Fitness Park, an outdoor classroom/community green space.  It is a median located behind their school, on the corner of McKinley AVE & 87th ST.  Located in a residential area, their WAYS project is a great piece of land with great tall beautiful trees already in place; it is as if the site itself were calling for some attention.  Answering the call, Wisdom Academy Executive Director Krendra Okonkwo and Principal Alake Watson have formed an alliance with Wisdom’s PTA parent leaders Brandy Williams and Evelyn Aguirre to make sure that the project becomes a reality. The road ahead will not be easy, but the folks at Wisdom Academy remain steadfast in their resolution.  “I’m a big believer of reclaiming space for the community”, Executive Director Okonkwo has often said.  In addition, Principal Watson envisions that “The WAYS Reading and Fitness Park will be a driving force to unite the school and local community as we continue through the implementation process.   Local community members will be invited to partake in the building efforts and finishing design of the project.  WAYS proposes to make the implementation safe and fun for everyone by providing a series of educational workshops prior to the weekend of the build … We highly anticipate the participation of the office of our local councilwoman, Jan Perry.  We hope the WAYS Reading and Fitness Park will be the start of a powerful collaborative that extends beyond the border of our school walls and touches the lives of families in need of physical fitness as well as serves as a quiet reservoir where reading is literacy is nourished.”            

Youth Opportunities High

Principal (standing) Kianna Nesbit chats with parents at a Y.O.'s design workshop.

Principal (standing) Kianna Nesbit chats with parents at a Y.O.'s design workshop.

The Principal at Youth Opportunities High 1827 E. 103rd ST in Watts, Kianna Nesbit, and her assistant Mayra Arroyo have been leading the charge to turn a portion of their school’s parking lot into a community space that would benefit the surrounding neighborhoods.  Principal Nesbit explains: “The Watts Community Garden Plaza will serve as a place where local residents, patrons, and students can commune, relax, and enjoy their community.  This plaza will provide people with a safe, pleasant space where they can partake in recreational activities (basketball and chess), learn about plant/fruit/vegetable life through participation in gardening activities, and/or just sit, converse and enjoy the scenery in our rendition of a serene space.  The Watts Community Garden Plaza will be located in the Robert Pitts Center, the Malfundi building.  This center was constructed in 1965 after the civil unrest.  The goal was to create a space where Watts’ community residents could participate in artistic and educational activities.  The Watts Community Garden Plaza will serve as an extension of this original objective, a viable, real, and tangible manifestation of that original goal.  This community beautification project will allow the original mission of the Mafundi building to be further felt and experienced by people in this community.”

Washington Elementary PTA

Parent members of the Washington Elementary PTA participate in a recent design workshop.

Parent members of the Washington Elementary PTA participate in a recent design workshop.

The parents at Washington Elementary 1421 N Wilmington AVE in Compton, under the leadership of School Administrator Ema Escobar and PTA President Martha Barajas, have chosen a piece of land in the front of their school.  Under the supervision of their Principal Ontrece Ellerbe, they have banded together to make sure that they are involved in the process of bringing about the construction of an outdoor classroom that would also serve as a green plaza for the enjoyment of the community at-large.  In order to carry out this project, they have also embarked on leadership development and so they have picked four main parent leaders: Maria Rodriguez, Blanca Rivera, Olga Palma, and Petra Luciano that will assist in getting the rest of the parents involved.  In the coming Fall, Washington Elementary students will join Heal the Bay and other schools (including Wisdom Academy’s) to celebrate our annual “Ed Day”: a day of fun, games, and learning to promote the annual county-wide “Costal Cleanup Day” event at Santa Monica Beach.  To learn more about and participate in Heal the Bay’s Coastal Cleanup Day activities, please visit: www.healthebay.org/ccd

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Filed under Environment, Healthy Communities, South Central L.A.

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