Lead Story Local News West Edition

Watts community holds its own celebrations

WATTS — While activists and elected officials prepared to observe the 50th anniversary of the start of the Watts Riots Aug. 11, the community of Watts held two distinct events Aug. 8.

The first was a community back-to-school block party at Fire Station No. 64 on South Main Street, where backpacks filled with school supplies were distributed to young students from the Watts/Willowbrook Boys & Girls Club, the Al Wooten Jr. Heritage Center and other community organizations

Nix Neighborhood Lending and Kinecta Federal Credit Union teamed up with firefighters and officers from the Los Angeles Police Departmen’s Southeast Division to make the first day of school a bit easier for hundreds of Watts students and their parents.

It was the sixth year that Nix and Kinecta employees, members and vendors donated backpacks for the block party, which was attended by Assemblyman Mike Gipson, City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson and community leader Sweet Alice Harris.

In addition to helping students get ready for school with new backpacks, Kinecta and Nix representatives provided a $5 complimentary membership coupon for each youth in attendance so that their parents could visit their nearest Kinecta branch to open a youth savings account.

“There’s no better way to prepare our young people for a successful future than helping them to develop good savings habits at an early age,” Harris said. “We’re helping children understand what it means to save, giving them access to opening savings accounts here in the community and providing the tools that will make a real difference in their lives.”

Less than two miles away, at Ted Watkins Memorial Park, the 49th annual Watts Summer Festival was taking place with Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band performing. U.S. Rep Maxine Waters and Assemblyman Gipson were among those attending the festival, which was first held a year after the Watts Riots.

Charles Wright leads his 103rd Street Rhythm Band during their performance at the Watts Summer Festival Aug. 8 at Ted Watkins Memorial Park. (Photo by Gary McCarthy)
Charles Wright leads his 103rd Street Rhythm Band during their performance at the Watts Summer Festival Aug. 8 at Ted Watkins Memorial Park. (Photo by Gary McCarthy)

Rep. Janice Hahn, whose father Kenneth Hahn was a member of the county Board of Supervisors in 1965 when the riots erupted, issued a statement in observance of the anniversary.

“It has been 50 years since Los Angeles and our nation were rocked by the Watts Riots,” Hahn said. “Unyielding poverty, discrimination and inequality built up for years in the Watts community until anger and frustration boiled over on that hot summer night. When it was all over, 34 people had lost their lives, more than 1,000 were injured, and 200 buildings were destroyed.

“Watts was seriously damaged and it would take years, even decades to recover. The impact was felt far beyond South L.A. as Watts came to symbolize the problems that many urban areas have experienced. We continue to see these same issues and hear the voices of protest and demands for change in cities across the country,” she added.

“Today there is progress that the people of Watts can be proud of, from the Watts Gang Task Force to the newly opened Martin Luther King Community Hospital. Still, the issues that tormented the Watts community in 1965 have not been completely resolved. In Los Angeles and across the country, communities continue to battle with institutional racism, poverty, poor education, limited job opportunities, crime, violence and other problems.

“These are the challenges facing this generation of activists as we reflect on 50 years since the Watts riots. I stand firmly with them and anyone else who is committed to staying in the fight, as together we move toward the Watts imagined by heroes past [Ted Watkins, Tommy Jacquette, Edna Aliewine], present (Sweet Alice Harris, Arturo Ybarra, Arvella Grigsby), and 50 years into the future.”