90044: South Central L.A. Residents Still Believe In And Donate To Obama
This story is part of a Neon Tommy Special Report that follows 2012 campaign money in L.A. >>>
Pastor Calvin Reed Jr. likes to slip in reminders during Sunday lectures, encouraging members of his church to perform their civic duties.
“I announce it right there, ‘Go and vote,’” Reed said. “I don’t tell them who to vote for, but I tell them, 'Go and vote.'”
Living up to his own pleas for the community to become more invested in politics, Reed said he made a political donation of his own last month to President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign.
“I want the president to win again,” Reed said with a chuckle. “I think he’s done a good job [running the country] because it was messed up when he got in there. He needs another term to really straighten things out.”
The Louisiana-born pastor has delivered sermons at the First Community Baptist Church in South Los Angeles for 10 years. The church is located in the Vermont Knolls section of South L.A., along a stretch of Vermont Avenue where many other religious buildings are based.
Statistics from the Los Angeles Times show the area has three of the highest-ranking violent-crime neighborhoods per 10,000 people of the 209 neighborhoods in Los Angeles. The three areas are Vermont-Vista, ranking No. 5, Vermont-Knolls, at No. 3 and Vermont-Slauson as the ninth highest crime neighborhood.
Rosha Stephense has lived in the Vermont-Vista neighborhood for 10 years and said it is not safe but that a person can still walk down the street without getting hurt. She said there is a common misconception that South Los Angeles is so violent that a resident cannot act in the same way as someone living in a middle-class neighborhood.
“It’s all in who you affiliate yourself with. If you affiliate yourself with knuckleheads, then you’re going to have problems and issues that are going to come up,” said Stephense.
She said the community has changed with many people struggling to find jobs and hold on to their homes. Stephense added that the job opportunities are fewer and conditions are worse in a lower-income community.
“It’s all political. It’s all in who you know,” said Stephense.
She points out that education does play a significant factor because many residents only have a high school degree, if any degree at all. According to 2010 figures, only 24 percent of residents in the 90044 zip code have completed high school. The numbers drop quickly when moving to higher levels of education.
As a real estate agent for nine years, she also has seen many people in the community lose their homes and move to shelters. She would like to see the government give money to struggling families. She said the government can’t do much more to help people from losing their homes besides loan modification and lowering mortgage rates.
However, homeowners are also at a loss when their neighbors lose their home to the bank. Stephense said it has caused house values in her area to drop drastically.
“It’s like almost worthless, basically. But it’s good for those that are trying to afford a home. As opposed to $250,000 to $400,000 a home down to about $80,000 or $120,000, I think that’s great,” said Stephense, who said the area’s housing prices range from $120,000 to $140,000.
In the 2004 presidential elections, donations spiked to $25,200. In 2000, only $3,325 was given to campaigns.
This year the area has raised $10,200. Half of the amount came from Rodney Shepard of RSS Development Inc., in check to Barack Obama's re-election campaign. The other campaign donations also went to Obama.
Stephense said she donated to Obama’s campaign in 2004 and plans to donate again in the fall.
“He is making a difference, but it takes time to make a difference. Other presidents messed up so he has to clean up their mess. People think he can just go in and do what he wants,” said Stephense, who believes Obama has been doing a good job.
The one thing she hopes is that the city and government make residents more aware of the programs that are available to residents in the zip code. She said many government programs offer free remodeling, but people do not know about them. Recently, Stephense said she has installed new windows in her home and even replaced her roof.
“It’s a shame. I mean I go up and down the street. I let everybody know on this block that you can get free windows you can get a new roof,” said Stephense.
One resident, who did not want to give his real name, said he belongs to the Black Riders Liberation Party, a modern-day Black Panther Party and expressed the same thought as Stephense.
He said many of problems facing inner-city, urban communities is a lack of education about political and civic rights, which is why many are not engaged in the political process or do not seem to have an opinion on it.
“The more we educate our people the more they can make a smarter strategic decision for themselves,” he said.
He said the disparities are clear when comparing the state of high schools in Santa Monica and Beverly Hills to those in Watts and Inglewood. He said many of the parents and kids do not want to go to a high school in disrepair but are unable to afford anything else.
Pastor Calvin Reed Jr. is more concerned about the diminishing religious freedom in schools.
Having grown up in Galveston, Texas, Reed came from an environment where prayer in school was commonplace. He thinks that prohibiting children from expressing their religious beliefs in the classroom has caused discipline issues that plague some youths in his South L.A. neighborhood.
“This country was built on ‘In God We Trust’ and we’re getting too far from that,” Reed said. “We’re going by what the world says to do and not what the bible says to do. If America doesn’t straighten up, then we’re going to fall.”
In looking ahead to the November general election, Reed cited jobs and healthcare as two of the more pressing campaign issues directly impacting the 90044 community. He emphasized the need for national healthcare reform to help take care of the uninsured. Roughly one in three adults in South L.A. are without health insurance, according to the L.A. County Department of Public Health.
“If old people can’t get medical help, they’re going to die,” he said.
Reed also said that companies outsourcing jobs to foreign countries have hurt the neighborhood surrounding his church, as well as Americans as a whole. The latest unemployment statistics show that the Westmont region of this zip code had a 24 percent jobless rate, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“Take care of home first, and then try to spread it abroad,” Reed said. “The last job I had, they closed down the plant and moved it to Mexico, but I was old enough to retire then.”
The employment opportunities that are available to residents — such as positions at McDonald’s and Jack in the Box — do not pay enough to provide decent living conditions, Reed said. And the shortage of available jobs has forced many residents out of their homes when unable to meet payments.
“[Foreclosure] is a very serious issue,” he said. “You’d be surprised how many people have lost their houses. It’s not because they didn’t want to pay, it’s because they didn’t have the money to pay. The big banks will lend money to the corporations, but they don’t lend it to the people that need it.”
It might be a daunting challenge for any politician to draw up quick remedies for the issues Reed describes in the neighborhood. But he did offer a simple suggestion for residents.
“It’s important for them to vote, whether you win or lose.”
Reach Special Project Reporter Subrina Hudson here.
Reach Special Project Reporter Danny Lee here.