Visit to City Hall

Our group worked closely with Jan Perry, the city councilwoman for our district in south Los Angeles, to put on service projects in the community. The high schoolers visited her eco-friendly neighborhood office each week and listened to field deputy Cathy Castro talk about ongoing projects in the district.

One week, Castro told the staff to come to City Hall for recognition. We sat in the gallery as Councilwoman Perry presided over the meeting that day and rose when she honored us for our work in her district.

We were then ushered into Perry’s City Hall office, where staff presented us with a cake and certificates of appreciation.

Yet the highlight of the day was definitely the tour to the top of the City Hall building, one of the tallest and most recognizable structures of downtown.

Star-Crossed Awakening

Brandon and I performed an adapted version of a scene from Romeo and Juliet to awaken campers at 7 a.m. We discovered the swords in the church; a martial arts group uses the building to train. We purchased the ruffled shirts from a thrift store. I am wearing Hilary’s tights.

Party in South LA

Staff and campers marveled as Vermont Square celebrated America’s independence Sunday evening.

About 40 of us walked down the street to Vermont Square Park to eat watermelon and cake, play with soccer balls and frisbees, and take in the sights and sounds with the neighbors.

The sky glowed with the flashes of fireworks, both legal and otherwise, for hours. We heard the loud pops of explosives for several nights leading up to the Fourth, but nothing could compare to the deluge of rockets bursting with color and smoke and sound. Glitter unfurled in the sky like palm trees fired from every block, the smoke of driveway firecrackers cast a haze over the park. Professionals put on a masterful display at the Los Angeles Coliseum a mile to the northeast while fathers and sons lit fuses and ran to the safety of their porches.

In one sense, the park was at the heart of a warzone. Helicopters buzzed around the aerial flowers of fire and sirens rang as police cars drove aimlessly in futile attempt to deter unlawful revelers. The ground shook with each explosion and smoke was everywhere, chaos in South Central.

Yet joy remained at the heart of the madness. Neighbors set aside their differences to light the night sky and celebrate the ideals that bring so many to this country.

The campers this week come from churches in Arizona and Idaho. There are no Cal Bears fans, as Hilary quickly learned, and the 360 degree neighborhood spectacle of light and sound was a new experience.

However, just as these campers will form a community this week, they embraced the chaos that night in Vermont Square and shared with its diverse residents in celebrating America.

“Watermelon, fireworks, and Fourth of July,” said one adult counselor. “This is perfect.”

Community pride shines at Lakers parade

Co-cook Hilary and I walked over to the Felix gas station on the corner of Jefferson and Figueroa to celebrate the Lakers’ NBA Finals victory with the masses on June 21, our first Monday in Los Angeles.

As a Sacramento Kings fan, I expected it would be difficult to enjoy myself in a sea of purple and yellow. However, it was impossible to avoid the great community pride on display at the southernmost of the parade route, where we watched buses of basketball players raising the golden basketball trophy above their heads creep past onlookers behind a tall fence.

Some reports highlighted the negative outcomes of the repeat title celebrations, but the title unquestionably gave south Los Angeles residents reason to take pride in their town. Fans shouted cheers of “LA all day” and slurs against the hated Boston Celtics, walking with the swagger of their repeat champion heroes.

The parade route offered a large gathering place for a diverse community of many residents and independent groups. Fans of all sizes and colors lined the streets well before the caravan of basketball players arrived and numerous vendors took advantage of the huge crowds to peddle their refreshments and souvenirs.

The crowd dispersed quickly after the final team bus passed through the intersection on the University of Southern California campus. Fans chanted on the way back to their cars, homes and jobs as an exodus of Kobe poured through major streets, halting construction workers until the waves of people passed.

“Now the party’s in the streets,” said a man wearing the No. 8 Kobe jersey after the parade had ended.

I wish the celebration would never end.

View LA Lakers victory parade in a larger map

On your mark, get set, grow

Less than a week after flying home from Chicago after the end of my first year in college, I was sleeping on the floor at a church in Sacramento. It was perfect preparation for what will be a summer of sleeping on the dusty floor in the pigeon-ridden attic of a Methodist church in the Vermont Square neighborhood of south Los Angeles.

I will be a chef for more than 200 high school students serving this community over the next six weeks. I struggled with the decision to turn down journalism internships for this opportunity, but I felt called to offer myself to this non-profit service organization made a significant impact on my life during my high school years.

The theme of this program is “Grow.” The staff here and I have learned many things since our short training in Sacramento two weeks ago and I expect the diverse community of Vermont Square will offer countless opportunities for growth in the coming weeks. We are already halfway through our first week of hosting campers and it is remarkable to see the unique transformations in the youth from the first day they arrive at their worksites, to when they distribute lunches on Skid Row, to the time when they pile in their minivans and return to the comfort of their homes.