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Standing by Their 'Hood : Residents of South-Central's 74th Street Say Their United Community Has a Bad Rap

October 31, 1993|ETHAN ALLEN THOMAS JR. | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Kids, crack addicts and struggling single moms.

Government workers and community activists.

They are among the many who make up the urban mix of residents on 74th Street in South-Central Los Angeles.

But 74th Street residents are angered that their neighborhood is often portrayed as a "bad part of town," plagued by gangs and drive-by shootings. Outsiders don't know about the block club formed last year to unite the street's residents.

They don't know that 74th has its own personality: a street lined with modest houses and well-kept front yards, some fenced in with wrought-iron gates. Children ride their bikes during the day. In the evenings, folks enjoy the cool breeze while sitting on their porches. And during the summer, a block party brings everyone out to celebrate their community.

The people on 74th have lived through the turmoil of the rioting at Florence and Normandie--only blocks away--that followed the Rodney King police brutality trial in the spring of 1992.

They are also proud. Today, they are trying to rebuild their community and their lives in this diverse neighborhood, which has gone through many changes.

Once a predominantly Anglo neighborhood, 74th and the surrounding area is home mostly to African-Americans and Latinos. Korean-Americans own many businesses in the area but don't live here.

Many of the residents on 74th have lived here their entire lives. Others are newcomers, adding to the mix of cultures, voices and stories.

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Denise Wallick, 38, has lived on 74th Street since 1962. She's a mother of four, a bus driver for the transit district and president of the street's block club.

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"When my parents and I first moved to the block, there was only one other black family here. The rest were white. Now there's only one white family on the block. They've been on this street longer than anyone else.

More and more Hispanics are moving in. It seems like they're taking over the neighborhood just like blacks did in the '60s.

Right now, there are about four Hispanic families on this street. I think that's enough. I really don't want the block filled with them, but I wouldn't move out over it. Besides, they're here and I feel we should get to know them and treat them like neighbors.

I've seen a lot of things change around here, but it really changed in '92. After the riots we united. We came together and formed the block club.

We figured since we have to live together, we should all get along. We needed to start looking out for each other.

Even though our block club was formed because of the riots, I was still very angry when I saw my community burning.

I feel if you don't like Korean stores, go shop somewhere else. But don't burn them. If you do, they can collect fire insurance and rebuild right back in the same place. But if you stop shopping there, they lose money and eventually move or go out of business.

All in all, I feel like our street isn't that bad. We can sit outside and not have to worry about anything bad happening."

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Veeondra Ward, 19, is a single mother of one. Three years ago, her 17-year-old fiance was fatally shot outside a nightclub. She works as a data processor and attends Los Angeles Southwest College.

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"My neighborhood hasn't prevented me from being successful, but I want to live in an area where gunshots and police helicopters aren't the norm .

Where you live can't constitute how your life will turn out. That's up to the individual. My mother raised four kids all by herself. She was our mother and father. From her, I learned all my morals and values. She made me strive to be somebody.

A lot of black males from my generation aren't being fathers to their children because their fathers weren't there for them. They didn't have anyone to teach them how to be a man.

People are in gangs and drugs because they've given up on life. They think that's the best they can do.

I don't think the negative stereotype the media has handed South-Central is accurate. They make the gangbangers the stars. They don't mention the centers and programs we have going on here, like the block club and things of that sort.

I would like to see peace in the neighborhood. More unity. People to mingle more. We need to stick together.

I don't want to raise my daughter in this community. But if I have to, I will. No matter what, my daughter and I are gonna make it."

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Juan Ruiz, 34, is from Nicaragua. He has lived on the street for almost two years and is a member of the street's block club.

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"I fear for my family. The fear's not caused by my neighbors on this street. My street is OK. It's caused by the larger streets that surround my block. That's where a lot of the problems are. If there are any problems on my street, it is mostly caused by outsiders.

This is not where I want to raise my kids. This is only temporary. They have to go to school and my wife has to go to work. It's not safe on the streets.

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