SOUTH LOS ANGELES — The year was 1989 and the crack-cocaine epidemic that devastated thousands of families and lives was in full effect. But somewhere in Los Angeles, in the midst of the health crisis, a group of activists were inspired to transform the addiction-afflicted communities that surrounded them.
That year, Karen Bass, who was an emergency-room physician’s assistant at the time, summoned a gathering of activists that would mark the beginning of the Community Coalition for Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment nonprofit in South Los Angeles
Since its inception 27 years ago, the Community Coalition’s mission has been to rebuild the social and economic circumstances that residents in South Los Angeles face. By assembling a strong community organization to change, influence and create public policy, Bass, who now represents the area in Congress, and thousands of others have fought back against the conditions that contribute to crime, addiction, poverty and violence in South L.A.
“We organize residents to direct power around various issues,” spokesperson Glauz Diego said. “A lot of issues are around public safety.”
Like making sure that their communities receive adequate city resources. When South L.A. residents call to get a pothole fixed, for instance, too often it takes weeks, even months, for the city to do anything about it, Diego said. That is, longer than it takes in more affluent areas, and that’s because it’s a community that historically hasn’t seen much investment.
“[South L.A.] is seen as a community that’s not worth investing in,” Diego added. “But people in these communities are hard working and want a high quality of life like everyone else.”
Recognizing the socio economic conditions that South L.A.’s predominantly Latino and African-American populations experience (both then and now), the Community Coalition developed several key, community organizing programs to uplift them.
Kinship In Action is one that came about in response to the crack crisis.
“One of the residual effects [of the crack-cocaine epidemic] was that many folks were being incarcerated,” Diego said. “During this time, we saw a rise in children going into the foster care system; many kids were being taken care of by grandparents or other relatives.”
As elected officials passed harsher laws for drug use, thousands were put into prisons, many of whom were parents. The coalition’s website reports that more than 50,000 children in L.A. County were taken from their homes — 40 percent were from South L.A. alone.
For over a decade now, this program has helped caregivers fight for the support and resources needed to keep children out of foster care. In addition, it has influenced the construction of South L.A.’s first kinship center and has helped raise $82 million for foster care reform.
Another of the Community Coalition’s programs is the South Central Youth Empowered Through Action youth program, which brings high school students to the frontlines of community and educational change. Youth are trained to be the next generation of activists, teaching them how to put pressure on reforms that obstruct the “school to prison pipeline,” while also preparing them for college.
Along with its other programs, the Community Coalition has equipped South L.A.’s black and brown neighborhoods with the tools to build up their own communities. For nearly three decades, residents have learned effective community organizing, empowering them with the skills and knowledge to change public policy and better their lives.
“Making a Difference” is a weekly feature profiling organizations that are serving their communities. To propose a “Making a Difference” profile, send an email to email@example.com.
CEO: Alberto Retana
Annual budget: about $4.5 million
Number of employees: 35-40
Year founded: 1989
Location: 8101 S. Vermont Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90044