In an impassioned voice, William (Blinky) Rodriguez sounded the call.
"If we leave this room today thinking this was just another meeting, then this is a sad day," said the activist who helped negotiate a San Fernando Valley gang truce that has held for nearly a year.
Close to 100 people gathered Saturday at Cal State Northridge for a meeting of the San Fernando Valley Unity Coalition. Dubbed "A Voice for the Valley," the conference drew everyone from college professors to business leaders to activists who all share the same concern: the welfare of the Valley.
They came together to discuss a broad spectrum of topics--economic development, health, education, community affairs and government relations--and develop strategies for bringing such vastly varied interests together for a common goal.
Tackling large-scale community problems--be they gang violence or a lack of low-cost health clinics--"is like a football game," said Richard Patlan of the national dropout prevention program Cities in Schools. "If people see the team winning, they want to get involved. We want to get some wins."
One of the group's most ambitious undertakings has been a comprehensive demographic study of the Valley. The coalition is analyzing the 63-page report to decide which problems and issues are most pressing.
The report shows many trends that warrant further study, Patlan said. The study indicates, among other things, that Asians and Pacific Islanders have become the fastest-growing minority groups in the Valley; that the population of senior citizens in some areas grew by 80% from 1980 to 1990, and that Valley-wide their numbers increased by a substantial 31%.
Other communities, especially some impoverished neighborhoods, are becoming less and less ethnically diverse, according to the data.
Some areas are "starting to look like South-Central or East L.A., communities becoming separated because of poverty," he said.
The coalition was born during the 1992 Los Angeles riots, when members of various groups and businesses joined together to keep the peace in the Valley.
After tensions eased, organizers realized they had created a diverse action group that already had quickly garnered broad-based support. They turned their attention to making sure the Valley, which many members say is treated as Los Angeles' stepchild, was not forgotten when cleanup and recovery efforts began. The Northridge earthquake in January strengthened the group's resolve, members said.
"We put tax dollars into the community and we want to make sure we have a voice," said coalition publicist Millie Jones, who directs public affairs for the San Fernando Valley Assn. of Realtors, a key supporter of the coalition. The Valley has long suffered what amounts to "taxation without representation," she said.
While in-depth projects like economic development and demographic studies play out slowly, the group also carries out more short-term programs. It is now finishing a community resource guide, a single book to list social service agencies throughout the Valley.
Last year, the coalition provided immunizations for children of the San Fernando Gardens housing project in Pacoima. About 10 agencies, ranging from hospitals to social service groups, collaborated to administer more than 500 shots at the Guardian Angel Catholic Church.