It’s been more than 25 years since the civil unrest that rocked our city in the wake of the Rodney King verdict. Since then, much has changed. We have seen an influx of wealth transform and literally create neighborhoods from the Arts District downtown to Abbott Kinney on the Westside.
But this rise in new affluence has come at a cost. While the number of wealthy Angelenos increases, we also have record high poverty and homelessness throughout our city — particularly among communities of color. This disparity is reflected in the lack on investment we still see in our communities in South Los Angeles, which has a higher percentage of poverty and unemployment than most other parts of the city.
We both have deep roots in this neighborhood. Generations of our families have lived and gone to school here. And for the last 20 years, we have run businesses and worked to ensure local businesses recruit and hire residents from the local community.
We both lead community-based efforts to disrupt cycles of violence and incarceration in local neighborhoods by providing career and leadership development opportunities to thousands of young men and women of color. But we have watched with frustration as other parts of the city rebuild and flourish, while our community remains an afterthought.
Now, after decades of residents working together to demand greater investments in our neighborhoods and schools, we are starting to see our fair share of the city’s prosperity. We welcome this long-overdue capital investment in South Los Angeles.
But our local small business owners and community leaders also want to make sure this type of investment is done right. While we want to bring career opportunities and services to our community, we also want to be careful not to push out the very residents we are trying to serve.
That’s why we are so supportive of the plans to overhaul the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza. The proposed upgrades, supported by local Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson, will comprise the most significant investment in South Los Angeles in decades and will bring the kind of improvements we need to our community.
This is investment that takes the needs of the community in mind, with a commitment to hiring people who live in and around South Los Angeles, and ensure those who are working on the project receive a livable wage. It will also bring much-needed housing, including affordable housing, to help our region deal with the growing housing crisis, which is pushing people of color out of our city and deeper into poverty.
We both support this project despite our different perspectives. As a small business owner, Karim focuses on hiring, supporting, and promoting young people of color in his business as a smarter way to increase the bottom line.
While John, as a labor leader, focuses on creating career pathways for people of color through strong labor agreements on projects across the county. However, we both believe the renovation of the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza will help boost our local economy and improve neighborhood safety by providing jobs, housing and safe spaces for family and community activities.
This is a project that is committed to retaining and attracting small businesses owned by people of color. Throughout the process, the community has been asked for its input to ensure we bring the right kind of change to our neighborhood.
We know firsthand that poverty has been the greatest threat to black and Latino families in our community. As business and community leaders, we believe we can help pull families out of poverty through job creation and small business development in our community.
The renovation of the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza will create thousands of jobs and career opportunities for local residents. We believe with the community’s support, this project will help advance the community’s demand for economic development and community investments.
Karim Webb is a local business owner and civic activist who sits on the Board of Corporate Advisors for the Brotherhood Crusade and the California Community Foundation.
John Harriel is an executive board member of IBEW Local 11 and a facilitator at 2nd Call, an organization that helps formerly incarcerated individuals transition back into society.