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How Local Leaders are Addressing a History of Systemic Inequity in South Los Angeles

Friday, April 9, 2021

The piece below was based on SCG's program "Philanthropy’s Role in Addressing Inequity in South LA and Advancing Policy and Systems Change" hosted on Thursday, February 25, 2021. We encourage you to watch the video embedded above to hear the entire conversation. 


In March 2021, a robust SCG panel of experts celebrated the launch of South Central Rooted, a 2020 report outlining the ways white supremacy and anti-Black racism have perpetuated systemic inequities for Black and brown communities in South LA. Dr. Manuel Pastor, Director of USC’s Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (PERE), led the panel conversation on the report and was joined by Barbara Lott Holland, Associate Director of the Labor Community Strategy Center; Karen Mack, Founder of the LA Commons, which promotes diverse neighborhoods through artistic programming; Benny Torres, President and CEO of CDTech, which focuses on community organizing and leadership training; and Laura Muraida, Director of Research and Communications at SCOPE in South Los Angeles. 

The South Central Rooted report was born from conversations among the Building Healthy Communities (BHC) Collaborative. The Collaborative wanted to provide a historical analysis of Black and Brown communities’ structural impediments in South LA. From the report, the panelists highlighted four lessons funders can leverage to help community leaders pursue a safer and more equitable future in the region. 



Drawing from the findings of the South Central Rooted report, four consistent “drivers of disparity” emerged that have kept Black and brown communities, like those of South LA, behind for generations:

1) Gentrification and displacement: The collision of exclusionary housing and a disappearing social safety net has driven a disproportionate amount of uncertainty for communities of color. 
2) Poverty and joblessness: Limited homeownership is reinforced and exacerbated by a lack of equitable public infrastructure spending. 
3) Policing, deportation, and mass incarceration: A pattern of erasure or disruption of families of color persists, as people are routinely locked up or sent away.
4) Environmental racism: Exclusionary housing ultimately shapes the health and parameters surrounding where people of color live, work, and play.



“When someone goes to prison, just the same as when they go to college,” Lott Holland remarked, “it’s as if the whole family goes with them.” The intergenerational impacts of over-policing in South LA, largely in Black neighborhoods, routinely have devastating effects far beyond an arrest’s initial impact. Such circumstances often leave young people in their grandparents’ care or increasingly reliant upon public transportation and other services. As an example of effective leadership on the issue of over-policing, Lott Holland applauded LAUSD Board Member Monica Garcia for initiating a $25 million cut to LAUSD that, last year, ultimately reduced police presence in schools and reinvested the funds in improving equity for Black students. “That means more intermediaries, not cops,” she noted.



Local initiatives have begun to leverage the uniquely persuasive power of art and culture to reframe perceptions about L.A.’s under-resourced and underrepresented community. One new initiative, Creating Our Next LA, draws heavily from the passions and collaborations of young artists to reshape the city in the aftermath of COVID-19. An example of this initiative’s transformational output, the Destination: Crenshaw project, galvanized what Mack described as “narrative change through the built environment.” Together, artists used wide-scale artistic expression to claim space for the African-American community in response to Metro transportation that currently cuts through a section of Crenshaw Boulevard. “If [the train] is going to be above-ground,” Mack said, “let’s give [riders] something to see.”



The South Central Rooted report’s multidimensional lenses underscore why stand-alone, issues-based advocacy will not solve the systemic and structural challenges of South L.A. Instead, leaders should champion a plan that considers where gentrification, criminal justice, and school reform overlap. Reluctance to establish sustainable, long-term solutions only means the same challenges are left to re-emerge, again and again. The result reinforces historic disparities between and among underserved communities in South LA, as Black and Latino demographics are left to compete over space and resources.

“The challenge many times is we're very siloed in terms of how we are given resources,” Torres said. “Economic development. Workforce development. Environmental justice. Arts and culture. We have not been able as much to push back and say, ‘Let's have a broader conversation about these issues intersect.’” 

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