I want you to meet “Sweet” Alice Harris, community legend and local hero. Jailed at age 12, made a mother at age 14, and homeless at age 16, Sweet Alice lived a life for the history books. Today she is 78 years-old, a mother of nine, and a walking landmark in the community of Watts/Compton, California.
As a teen in Detroit facing a world of troubles, it was the love and care of a friendly family that would aide Harris in unlocking her full potential. She moved to Watts, California in 1958 at the age of 24 to care for her ill mother and would soon become caregiver to her entire community. Sweet Alice witnessed the 1965 Watts riots first-hand; she saw the anger, felt the racial tensions caused by inequality, and was torn by the not-so-senseless destruction. With the help of local civic groups and volunteers, she would work out of home to help rebuild her community.
In the mid-sixties, she would form the Black and Brown Committee, which served to ease frictions between Black and Hispanic residents of the community while changing the lives of disadvantaged children and young adults like her youthful self. She’s quoted on a can-do.org profile saying “I never want to hear” ‘no’ said . . . I always want to be able to tell people they can eat, sleep, be counseled, and be comfortable.” The B&B Committee would become the Parents of Watts (POW) in the mid-seventies and subsequently be incorporated in the early eighties. Today, as a community activist and director of POW, Sweet Alice has evolved her former one home community organization into a 15-program, 8 house, street-block long community force to be reckoned with. Programs range from parent training and self-esteem building, to English classes for recent immigrants.
Sweet Alice and POW see to it that every child in the community has access to immunization shots and for the past 45 years, she has continued her Thanksgiving tradition, giving away turkeys to needy families. With the help of donations, she provides toys, bikes and school supplies to in-need children of the community. To top it all off, a year ago today, Harris held a back-to-school community event in which local children could apply for a savings account through Nix Financial or Kinecta Federal Credit Union pre-loaded with $5. In exchange for accepting the seed money, these 96 youth pledged that the money would be used for their college education. One of these youth, then 16-year-old Ariel Flowers, said she applied because “Pepperdine costs a lot of money.” Flowers said she plans to expand on the $5 by working summer jobs and babysitting in order to achieve her goal of opening her own business.
Sweet Alice, to say the least, is a legend, a hero, an inspiration, and a gift from the heavens. Her hard-work and dedication to the community has set the bar for what we should all hope to achieve for our communities world-wide. I hope you’ll all join me in saluting one of our grassroots legends, Sweet Alice Harris.
Parents of Watts (contact):
10828 Lou Dillon Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90059