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Georgia Hunt, 88; offered adventures for youths from low-income areas

July 25, 2007|Jocelyn Y. Stewart | Times Staff Writer

Georgia Beasley Hunt spent her childhood in Texas, in "the smallest and most prejudiced town that I've ever seen in my life," she once said. After she grew up and left the confines of that place, she never forgot how it felt to be young and unexposed to the world and its possibilities.

In South Los Angeles, where she settled in the 1940s, Hunt volunteered with Campfire Girls, served as a Cub Scout and Boy Scout leader and as a youth director at her church and worked at Teen Post.

In those positions, she found ways to take youths from low-income families on trips out of their community, city, state and country -- a necessity, Hunt always said, for broadening their vision and their potential.

Hunt, who was a mentor to generations of young people in the city and offered many of them their first taste of travel, died of cancer July 9 at home in Los Angeles. She was 88.

"She was in a position where she could have moved on with her life and done other things," said the Rev. Carl Washington, a former California assemblyman who traveled with Hunt as a child. "But she was steadfast in our community and with the organization to make sure young people had an opportunity to see things other than the violence taking place in our neighborhoods."

Today, the kind of work Hunt did may seem unremarkable. But those were days when travel was a luxury that many young people simply did not experience. Going camping was an adventure, as was a trip across town.

In the beginning, Hunt didn't have a car or money, so the travel was local. She packed the children on public buses, and off they went on their field trips, recalled her daughter, Deloris "Niani" Brown, who survives Hunt, along with a granddaughter, Nitobi Brown of Los Angeles, and six great-grandchildren.

After the Watts Riots of 1965, Hunt found work with Teen Post, a government-funded program that provided positive activities for low-income youth, including cultural and educational trips. Hunt eventually became a supervisor responsible for several Teen Post groups in the city.

Washington was 11 and living in the Imperial Courts, a public housing project in Watts, when he met Hunt. He grew up involved in Teen Post, traveling with and learning from Hunt. With her groups he went to Sacramento and Washington, D.C., transformative and prescient experiences for the boy who grew up to serve in the state Assembly.

"Those were my first trips out of my community," Washington said. "Had it not been for Teen Post, I know I would not have had an opportunity to go."

In addition to the trips, Hunt helped arrange job training for young people, helped them get jobs and gave them encouragement. Her desire to stay involved with young people, especially those from some of the toughest parts of the city, demonstrated what it means to serve the public, said Washington, who was in the Assembly from 1996 until 2002, representing the 52nd District, which includes parts of South Los Angeles, Watts, Paramount, Compton and North Long Beach.

Jimmy Williams, whose sister was in Hunt's Campfire Girls group, found motivation in the model Hunt set and became involved with young people through local parks. He learned from Hunt's organizational skills, her focus, and her knack for getting toys, baseball tickets and other gifts for the children.

"She'd write letters to people, and they could not deny her," said Williams, facilities manager at Gilbert Lindsay Recreation Center in Los Angeles.

Hiking trips to the San Bernardino Mountains were annual events. Each summer about 75 youths, sometimes as many as 120, went to "Africa Camp." They chose a country -- Benin, South Africa, Egypt during the 18th dynasty -- then spent the camping trip creating that time and place in the mountains, learning about the music, language and history of that nation.

By 1989 that imaginary foreign travel had become real. That year the Cultural Education Project Inc., a nonprofit that Hunt and her daughter formed, took six youths to Senegal, in West Africa. For Hunt, who was in her 70s, the Senegal trip was the first of many trips to places that were far from Luling, Texas, where she was born Aug. 26, 1918.

Hunt's father did carpentry work; her mother washed and ironed clothes for white families. When those families gave her permission, she would take home encyclopedias to Hunt, who read them aloud to her mother.

After getting a bachelor's degree in education at what is now Huston-Tillotson University in Austin, Texas, Hunt earned a teaching credential at what is now Pepperdine University and taught in L.A. public schools.

Hunt continued to work and travel with young people until she was in her early 80s. Her last excursion was to Kenya.

"What I admire most about the young people is they seem to really grasp the information," she told The Times in 1999. "It becomes a part of what they're about. It makes me feel real good."

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. on Aug. 11 in the auditorium of Kedren Community Mental Health Center, 4211 S. Avalon Blvd., Los Angeles. Memorial donations may be made to Cultural Education Project Inc., P.O. Box 473, Inglewood, CA 90307.

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