Spit in the ocean.
In the grand scheme of things, that's how important Bernita Moss' actions appear to Bernita Moss. She says she is merely responding to the needs of others.
Margaret Cambric says the same thing. And so does Gwen Bolden.
But those who know these women disagree. Friday, about 40 appreciative members of Los Angeles' black community and state Atty. Gen. John K. Van de Kamp gathered at his downtown office to honor them for their years of service.
Moss and Cambric, program director and executive director for the Jenesse Center, have been aiding battered women and other victims of domestic violence for 10 years. Bolden, a former Los Angeles Unified School District Teacher of the Year, is the founder of the Gwen Bolden Foundation, a South-Central Los Angeles center devoted to altering the sometimes self-destructive behavior of the area's youth.
The commendations coincided with the close of Black History Month, an observance of the contributions black Americans have made to society and their rich, but often overlooked, history.
Cambric and Moss grew up in the same neighborhood and graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School only a year apart. They knew each other then, but "didn't run together," Cambric said.
They are also both victims of domestic violence. When Cambric was 12 years old, she saw her mother being battered by an abusive boyfriend. The fear and pain her mother hid unfolded before her eyes and at that point, Cambric said, she knew what her life's mission would be.
'Lived With It'
"There were no shelters at that time, there were no shelters she could go to . . . you just lived with it," she said.
In a time when few women, especially black women, went to college and started a career, Cambric attended Metro and Sawyer business colleges, going on to earn a credential in coping with domestic violence. She opened Jenesse at 8803 S. Broadway, the first domestic violence shelter in the South-Central area, with Moss and three other women in 1978.
While serving as a county sheriff's deputy, Moss' boyfriend, also a deputy, beat her. She never told sheriff's officials and attempted to handle the problem on her own.
"I didn't know what to do," Moss said. "It really confused me totally. I didn't know how to get out of it. I knew I just couldn't move someplace because he knew how to find me."
A graduate of Cal State Los Angeles and a student at USC, Moss quit her job and began working full-time at the center, which serves about 500 families a year.
Bolden, a former nurse and Navy lieutenant, also works in South-Central Los Angeles as the full-time director of the Vermont Avenue foundation bearing her name. She gave up teaching in 1979 after earning Teacher of the Year honors two years before to devote all her time to "her kids."
The center provides tutoring, job training and placement, field trips and counseling for young people. Many of the children she meets have been exposed to gangs in some way, and Bolden said her goal is to steer them away from bad influences.
"We show them that there are people who care," she said. "We try to instill in them the confidence and the skills for a productive future."
Cambric, too, finds her center dealing with the gang problem. She says the epidemic of gang violence afflicting Southern California has its roots in the problems of families.
"When you're dealing with gang activity, you're dealing with the family structure," she said. "People don't tend to see it that way. . . . All of it is domestic violence . . . gang violence stems from the home."
"These children who are out here on the streets have no direction," Cambric said, attributing this to the large number of one-parent families and mothers who work and cannot give guidance to their children.
"So what they do is look in the street for the direction and that tends to be the wrong direction," she said. "What they need to do is deal with the family as a whole in order to resolve the problems these children are having."