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
I have a little sister who is fast approaching womanhood. Nearing the age of 17 years old, I stand in a difficult position. She is no longer the little baby in my 6-year-old arms in the picture sitting on my bookshelf; the cute birthday hats are no more and she is now the young woman who I am praying doesn’t get any more beautiful than she already is. Why is that you ask? Well, because I can no longer run from the fact that much like I had my eyes on my high school peers, guys are checking out my little sis! The both of us being raised solely by our dope-ass mother, there is a bit of fatherly emotion I can’t help but have as I play the role of a loving and protective big bratha. I tell you this because I recently gave her the “know your value as a woman… don’t accept less than what you deserve from a guy… real men do this… little boys do that” talk. Although I’m confident my sister won’t be dating until she’s married, I think some valuable points were brought up as I described to her the example that I’ve tried to set as a respectable and well-raised young man.
Being raised in a family that is mostly women I’d seen the tears, heard the cries, and heard the stories about what guys did or didn’t do. So I took note of these things from a very young age and from my mother’s, cousins’, and aunts’ relationships, I thought “Oh they complain that he didn’t do that… I guess that’s what I NEED to do. I guess that’s what I’m SUPPOSED to do.” Throughout the years my mother molded me into everything that she deserved but has yet to find for herself. Whether it be my chivalristic mentality or my relentless dedication to my committed significant other, I proudly feel like her Frankenstein of a man. This is especially important for my little sister because I know she’s observed the same things I did and I can’t allow her to think, “oh, it must be normal to settle for less than what I deserve.” The love that I have for the women in my family has made it my duty to treat Black women (and all women of course) as they deserved to be, whether they realize their value or not.
After all, it is the Black woman whose strength raised me and my little sister, it is the Black woman that birthed our communities nationwide, it is the Black woman’s womb that holds the future of our heritage, and it is the Black woman who will nurture MY seed… As men, it is our responsibility to our community, our family, our future, and the God who gave the world this gift to treat them with the utmost respect, admiration, and affection. Hell, from a selfish standpoint, I can’t stress out the future 9-month home of my children. That in itself is starting out as a bad father and my child hasn’t even been born yet. Are you aware of the thousands of studies on the effects of stress/environmental factors on the pregnant woman and their growing child? In other words, let me quote hood-prophet Tupac Shakur in his decree Keep Ya Head Up:
“And since we all came from a woman
Got our name from a woman and our game from a woman
I wonder why we take from our women
Why we rape our women, do we hate our women?
I think it’s time to kill for our women
Time to heal our women, be real to our women
And if we don’t we’ll have a race of babies
That will hate the ladies that make the babies”
Words can’t describe the hurt I feel when I see a strong jewel of a woman broken at the hands of a bad seed. Then to make things worse, I can’t tend-to and help her mend the beautiful pieces because a warning-sign has now been placed on my forehead at the hands of the PreviousCats, as Musiq Soulchild so aptly named them. Well, I’m sorry ladies; I can’t be to blame for the pain that was caused by previous cats. However, I will gladly take the blame for making you hate yourself for wasting your time on such trash while your treasure was waiting for you to open your eyes and see it… hopefully you’ll forgive me for that.
As for my fellas out there: Please! Don’t waste your time on a woman who, at your expense, won’t realize her own value and, as a result, ignores yours as well. Reject those women who neglect the respect for that “good Black man,” yet complain that there aren’t any left… We’ve all heard that before. Both the brathas and sistahs out there keep in mind that no one is born deserving anything because karma ain’t no joke. This is neither a game nor race, it is a journey that we must take together and both sides have to do their part to reach the goal. This shared goal must be the future of our mutual well-being, the well-being of our children, and the survival of our culture and community as a whole. Personally, I’m doing it first and foremost for my not-so-little sister; because for now, I’m the only man she got.
So starting today, let’s do better. Do it for the children… the ratchets can come after.
As I walked into the fair, I was immediately drawn in the direction of a tent for a group called Concerned Black Men of Los Angeles. Being that I am a concerned Black man in Los Angeles… it only seemed appropriate to see what they were about, ya dig? As soon as they caught my attention, one of the brathas at the table made eye contact and looked maaaad familiar. Turns out he was a year under me at Crozier Middle School in Inglewood. We started shooting the jive and he dropped the knowledge on me about their organization. I did some research myself and here they are:
Concerned Black Men was founded in 1975 in Philadelphia following a series of Philly police sponsored events aimed towards kids at risk to gang violence. Their main website here (http://www.cbmnational.org/) says “CBM’s vision was to fill the void of positive black male role models in many communities by providing mentors and programs that affirmed the care and discipline that all youth need, while providing opportunities for academic and career enrichment.”
The Los Angeles chapter (http://www.cbmla.org/) was established in 2003 as an independent non-profit organization. Since day 1 of their formation, “CBMLA strives to provide quality youth and adult services to African American communities throughout the Los Angeles County area.” I think it goes without saying that these brathas are doing an invaluable service for the community by targeting our youth for positive activities. The group provides free tutoring to its members, offers scholarships, offers support to the Raising Him Alone Campaign (http://www.raisinghimalone.com/) for parents in need of support, and gives the invaluable gift of positive Black male role models to the youth that need them.
Now I have to expand on this a little. The importance of mentoring really couldn’t be stressed enough. For many young men and women growing up in our communities, it is felt that the only thing in reach is what they see in front of them. They can see them on TV, hear and read the stories of our doctors, lawyers, teachers, mothers, college graduates, and various professionals, however until they can see and touch them with their own hands, it might as well be a fairy tale. I can speak from personal experience that though I had a strong mother who acted, as Musiq Soulchild put it, as a motherfather for most of my life, it wasn’t until I had a strong Black male mentor figure that I said “oh… I really AM going to be a pediatric surgeon.” For the first time I was looking at the future that I was reaching for and was immediately inspired. All it took was the first handshake and already he’d made a difference in my life. THIS is why we need to value and support mentorship. I encourage all of you to find mentorship programs around you or take it amongst yourself to reach out to a young’un in your community and help them make it through the fire just as you have. We may be the present, but they are the future and we gotta pay it forward.
To say the least, I was excited to hop on board CBMLA so I filled out my application A$AP. If you would like more information on the group, would like to contact the group, would like to apply, and all that, here is all their info:
Concerned Black Men of Los Angeles
PO Box 5614
Gardena, CA 90249
I look forward to working with them and for you Field Ladies out there, I’ll def be lookin for a Community Profile on mentorship programs for young Black women soon!
After a great start to the day, I stumbled upon a table doing another great service for our young Field folk. The next stop on our Community Profile Series is a focus on David G. Brown Studios.