Residents from a Venice neighborhood synonymous with crack cocaine and violent death quietly banded together Saturday morning to plant life along one of their bloodier streets.
Former gangbangers and resident millionaires worked side by side under rain-swollen skies, gingerly placing 40 ornamental pear saplings into the mud along Broadway Avenue, which slices through Venice's notorious Oakwood neighborhood.
The event was the brainchild of Mindy Meyers, a 31-year-old actress and 10-year Oakwood resident who said she was tired of hearing gunshots shatter the night.
"Crime exists in neglected areas," said Meyers. "One level of neglect is just the appearance of the neighborhood.
"There is a sense of disconnectedness among the diverse people who live in the area, and this brings them all together," she said.
It was the fourth tree-planting along Broadway organized by Meyers, who handed out hundreds of fliers to residents and nearby schools inviting them to "come party and plant trees with your neighbors."
The Bradford pear trees, which erupt into sprays of white blossoms each spring, were donated by the Los Angeles Conservation Corps. Children water the trees, and even gang members have helped nurture them, Meyers said.
Last fall, she noticed that some of the saplings had been snapped in half by vandals, so she enlisted the local homeboys to watch over them. "I asked them since they were hanging outside all the time, if they could keep an eye on the trees," she said.
Her plea was heeded--none of the trees has been tampered with since, she said.
As of Saturday afternoon, 90 pear trees in different stages of growth lined Broadway, a street where gates of every size and color surround family dwellings in a mostly symbolic gesture to ward off violence. Dogs snarl from behind fences, and sullen young men in baggy blue chinos post themselves in front of stucco homes to stare down passersby.
Oakwood has come a long way since a war between black and Latino gangs left 17 people dead and 55 wounded a few years ago. Although the violence has subsided, it hasn't stopped, residents say.
Shanyka Jones, 13, still ducks behind parked vehicles if she sees a car slow down, sparking fears of being shot, she said.
Elizabeth, who like many others would only give her first name, said she was forced to send her 15-year-old son to stay with relatives in Hawaii after crack dealers set up camp in her driveway.
But on Saturday, all those affected by the violence had one thought on their minds: healing.
Darrell Goode, a 46-year resident and president of the Venice/Santa Monica chapter of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, planted a tree in front of Broadway Elementary School, where he attended kindergarten.
"This was a fun place to grow up in," said Goode, who added that at the time, black and Latino children in the neighborhood were friends. "Their parents knew each other, they went to each other's homes for dinner," he said. "Eventually drugs ripped the neighborhood apart."