An organization representing dozens of south Los Angeles block clubs and neighborhood watch groups is looking to start an adult education school to help foster community activism and personal growth among inner-city residents.
The Urban Regional Block Associations Network, or URBANetwork, hopes to have the Tree of Knowledge school up and running by June, said Dwayne Wyatt, who chairs the group's steering committee.
Wyatt's group formed in 1988 to encourage block club participation as a means of empowerment for inner-city residents.
The proposed community school would complement this aim, Wyatt said, because it would offer classes on such topics as cutting through red tape to improve neighborhood services. Courses on starting and maintaining block clubs are also planned.
"There are a lot of classes that are going to give people the wherewithal to do things for themselves," said Richard Askey, who will direct the school once it is operational.
Classes will cost between $15 and $25 and be held at churches and community centers across south Los Angeles. "One significant factor is the school will be brought to the community," said Askey, a speech teacher at Los Angeles Community College.
Another mission, Wyatt said, will be to help improve area businesses by persuading shopkeepers to take competitiveness courses. In turn, block club members would be encouraged to patronize businesses whose owners had completed the courses, which organizers hope will prompt merchants to provide better quality goods and services.
Yet the focus of the school won't be limited solely to community improvement courses. Also in the works are personal enrichment courses such as music, writing, wine-tasting and other "lighthearted types of classes," Askey said.
He said inclusion of these courses is an effort to offer inner-city residents the types of classes available to Westsiders through the popular Learning Annex program.
South Los Angeles resident Alvin Bruce Tipton plans to take advantage of the school's personal finance and computer courses. "It sounds interesting," the 30-year-old bank employee said. "I can see its value."
But while there is enthusiasm for the school, planners still need to find instructors to teach the courses. Askey has mailed dozens of solicitations to educators, business people, artists and community organizers during the past few weeks.
Classes will be taught in the evenings and weekends, and teachers will be paid 40% to 60% of tuition receipts, depending on overhead costs.
Novelist and free-lance writer Gary Phillips is among a handful of potential teachers who have already responded. He plans to offer a mystery writing course and possibly essay- and commentary-writing workshops in an effort to "help people find their voice."
A longtime community activist and South-Central resident, Phillips said: "I see the writing course as an extension of my activism. I can help people learn."
Along with the search for instructors, school planners have also begun casting around for free and low-cost classroom space at churches and community centers.
Askey said he already has a list of 50 possible locations but added he plans to keep his eyes open for more.
Information: (213) 893-2963.