Lead Story Local News West Edition

Social media activism can spark change, neighbors learn

LOS ANGELES — With a little push and a wealth of social media, local residents can ignite a positive change in their community. That’s what a group of neighbors near Jim Gilliam Park learned after a valued asset in their community was shut down.

Earlier this month, they began to see signs of their activism in action, and for many, it’s been a long time in coming.

In February, residents in neighboring Baldwin Village, Baldwin Vista, and Baldwin Hills Estates learned that city workers had shut down the tennis courts in Jim Gilliam Park, a centerpiece of the community’s sprawling multi-purpose recreational facility. Recreation department employees had deemed the courts unsafe for play, leading to the closure.

A young girl rides her scooter on the tennis courts at Jim Gilliam Park. The courts haven't been used for tennis since February, but are scheduled to reopen next month. (Photo by Gary McCarthy)
A young girl rides her scooter on the tennis courts at Jim Gilliam Park. The courts haven’t been used for tennis since February, but are scheduled to reopen next month. (Photo by Gary McCarthy)

By April, however, the courts still had not reopened.

“That’s when I started making noise,” said outraged resident Lory Johansson, an interior designer who has lived in the community for nearly a decade.

Johansson launched a protest campaign on Nextdoor.com, a free social networking service for neighborhoods, urging area residents to pressure Council President Herb Wesson to fix the problem. During a vigorous eight-week campaign, residents sent emails and made phone calls to Wesson’s office insisting the councilman find the money to fix the courts.

Renee Walters, a retired city contractor who played the tennis courts every Sunday from 1979 to 1985, was among the residents who emailed Wesson’s office after seeing Johansson’s solicitation online. “I thought it would be taken care of, that we wouldn’t need to raise a fuss.”

Wesson spokesperson Vanessa Rodriguez said once the councilman’s office was notified about the costs associated with the improvements, “that’s the time when the council member stepped in and immediately moved to have the … funds allocated so that the park could receive the improvements that it needed to reopen.”

Following three weeks in the summer sun, Department of Recreation and Parks workers, wielding buckets of sealant and barrels-full of primer and paint, have now completed the resurfacing on the $40,000 project repairing cracks and uneven pavement on the four-court surface, now blanketed in the colors of the United States Tennis Association: dark blue with a surrounding green field.

As part of the improvements, a measure was passed by the City Council this week to install new energy efficient lighting, according to Rose Watson, public information officer for the Department of Recreation and Parks. The courts are due to reopen later this summer.

“I’m really surprised at how quickly this all happened because that’s not been my experience [with government],” said Johansson. “I don’t take credit for it, but I think it’s a happy accident.”

Johansson added, it “was really heartening” to learn that so many residents spoke out.

“I think the more times people see that our voices in unison can be heard, the better. Not only does it, maybe, motivate the city to act on things more quickly, but it also cements our trust in one another,” she said.

“Anything we can do to work together as a community and get these small victories is really emboldening.”

Yvonne Ellett, co-chair of the Empowerment Congress West Area Neighborhood Development Council, agreed.

“I think the push to have the courts repaired really showed just how much the park means to all the neighborhoods that surround it,” she said.