STEAMFest showcases students and technology giants

STEAMFest showcases students and technology giants

By Dennis J. Freeman,Contributing Writer

COMPTON — As a foster kid growing up in Compton, Google software engineer Anthony D. Mays felt awkward in social settings, sometimes not believing that he could be an achiever.

Today, after overcoming personal challenges, Mays is encouraging young people that they can be all that they believe they can be.

Mays represented Google at the Compton Unified School District second annual STEAMFest, and found more than a handful of students seeking his advice. A crowd estimated at 8,000 people filled the Dollarhide Community Center for a few hours as they took in the latest technology from the likes of Apple, Boeing, Cemex, Carrot Group, Hacker Fund, Google, Charles Drew University, and other vendors.

Mays said he was more than happy to share what he has learned with students.

“I’m telling the kids that they have an opportunity unlike any other,” Mays said. “They can learn coding, they can learn engineering. They can learn science, medicine and math and apply their art skills. They can do all that stuff.

“They have the tools. They just have to use them and be willing to work hard. If I can spark inspiration in that regard, then I would love to,” he added.

There was a time that Mays didn’t feel he could be successful in anything. It wasn’t until his foster parents went out and bought him a computer that he figured out he could make something of himself.

Mays, who brought that computer to the STEAMFest event, learned to code off that technological instrument. He would later hone his coding skills from mentors that took him under their wings in middle and high school.

That proved to be the foundation Mays needed to jump headfirst into the technology field. That discovery certainly boosted his self-confidence.

“I didn’t feel like I was the smartest growing up,” Mays said. “I didn’t feel like I was the most capable. I struggled. I felt like I was an imposter every time when I went to college and all this other kind of things.

“I know that I may run into kids that are foster kids or going through the process of losing their family or during abuse or whatever that is. I’ve been through those things.  So I want to be able to share with the students, ‘Hey, I’ve been there and done this. You can do the same thing. You can do it even better than me. You can go out and start your own business.’”

Part of the showcase at STEAMfest was featuring the art, robotics, science and the technology innovation of Compton students that highlighted photography, artwork and astute craftsmanship.

“It’s an opportunity to showcase what’s going on in Compton Unified School District and to show that parents and the students that the turnaround is real,” Superintendent Darin Brawley said. “It’s really an opportunity to say, ‘Hey, this is the new Compton. These are the things that are happening. Your kids can be exposed to robotics, coding, arts, performing arts, you name it. The sky is the limit in Compton.”

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MAKING A DIFFERENCE: Friends of the Children offers mentor program for foster kids

MAKING A DIFFERENCE: Friends of the Children offers mentor program for foster kids

Childhood and adolescence were anything but easy for Duncan Campbell.

He was neglected by his alcoholic parents from a young age, and his father spent years in and out of jail.

Knowing he couldn’t rely on them, Campbell worked several jobs to get through school. In his 20s, he worked in a juvenile court in Oregon as a child care worker, where he built strong bonds with the children in his unit.

After a stint as a successful businessman, Campbell sold his timber firm to focus on helping at-risk children break out of generational poverty. That’s when he started Friends of the Children, a nonprofit that soon grew nationally.

But the nonprofit’s recent presence in Los Angeles is particularly apt, said Thomas G. Lee, executive director of the organization’s local branch. And that’s because Los Angeles has the largest child welfare system in the country.

“[Friends of the Children L.A.] is about building strong networks with children,” Lee said. “Networks matter. As children form networks with families, it’s important if we’re going to break cycles of poverty and get them out of the welfare system. We have to connect children with families and individuals in a meaningful way and with depth.”

And that’s what the organization does: connect at-risk children with caring adult mentors.

The nonprofit identifies kindergarten children living in poverty and matches them with an adult mentor –– or friend –– until the child graduates from high school.

Mentors spend two hours a week in the children’s classroom and two hours one-on-one, totaling 16 hours a month together.

“Our focus is making sure the child is meeting educational outcomes, social and emotional outcomes, and to expose and get them connected to the array of sources [available to them] in L.A. County,” Lee said.

Thomas Lee

Although L.A. has countless resources for foster children, they are often underused because individuals don’t know about them, Lee said.

“Our mentors become a bridge to those resources,” getting families and children connected to a larger network of support.

But it’s not just foster youth that Friends L.A. advocates for. It’s also youth exiting the foster care system that are parenting.

Lee said the local organization wants to focus on enrolling the 128 children of foster youth into their program. By doing so, it hopes to serve “that population in a real and intentionally meaningful way.”

And their program seems to be working. The organization’s website reports that 83 percent of its children graduate from high school; 93 percent stay out of the the juvenile justice system; and 98 percent avoid parenting, even though 85 percent were born to a teenage parent.

While Friends L.A. is just planting its feet in the county –– particularly in East and South L.A. –– communities and organizations have warmly received it, Lee said, and already it is looking to extend a broader hand to more children in need.

“Foster youth have much skepticism about adults in their life, and for good reason,” Lee said. “But developing a deep level of trust between us and them was really important. … It requires a level of humility, thoughtfulness and care, especially for kids who have been failed by a lot of people.”

But Friends of the Children L.A. is changing that, one friend and one child at a time.


L.A. Executive Director: Thomas G. Lee

Years in operation: national: 25; L.A.: 7 months

Annual budget: $3 million

Number of employees: 7

Location: 672 S. Lafayette Park Place, Suite 33, L.A. 90057

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MAKING A DIFFERENCE: Create Now provides eight programs for at-risk youth

MAKING A DIFFERENCE: Create Now provides eight programs for at-risk youth


By the time Tasha was 14, she had been in and out of nine detention centers. She started running away from her abusive home in South Los Angeles two years before and it was clear she didn’t want to go back.

Inside a detention center one day, Tasha was matched with a writer who bonded with her and taught her how to write a “Moesha” television script. Tasha loved it so much that she decided she wanted to pursue a career in the film and television industry.

With the help of mentors years later, including the writer who first taught her how to write a script, Tasha received a scholarship from Warner Brothers. With that money, she went on to attend the University of Southern California’s Film School Program and later completed a year of law school in Chicago .

From her early years as a troubled kid, Tasha has gone from being a runaway teenager to a college graduate, an author of three books, a licensed real-estate agent, a paid script writer, a traveling standup comedian and a documentary filmmaker.

Create Now CEO, Jill Gurr

Create Now CEO, Jill Gurr

And it’s all thanks to Create Now, the nonprofit that helped Tasha find positive outlets through writing and the arts during a dark time in her life.

And since 1994, Create Now has transformed the lives of other at-risk youth like Tasha through arts education.

“We offer eight programs to at-risk youth throughout Los Angeles and Orange County,” said Jill Gurr, the nonprofit’s founder and chief executive director.

The organization offers programs in music, fashion design and digital media, and the visual, performing, culinary and literary arts.

Its most unique program, called Cultural Journeys, organizes outings for youth to concerts, plays, museums, sporting events and much more. Often, those cultural expeditions are the first time a child has attended a live performance or event, Gurr said, which is really exciting for them.

The art programs are offered to thousands of children all over the city who face life challenges, be it poverty, abuse or homelessness. And Create Now reaches children in need in several ways.

The first matches one of its 110 volunteers to a child in need.

“We have networks with 165 youth agencies like shelters, schools, rehab and detention centers, where we set up different types of arts programs and life skills programs,” Gurr said.

The second is inside the classroom. Nonprofit volunteers go into schools with a high percentage of low-income families, where they offer anything from one-hour workshops to more long-term ones that last from 12 to 16 weeks. These Title 1 schools, as they are called, often don’t have the financial resources to offer students arts education, Gurr said.

The third is inside communities. “We organize arts festivals and community events in disadvantaged neighborhoods,” Gurr said.

In August, the organization will host an arts festival at Venice Hope Park in downtown L.A. that will feature “an open mic and prizes, arts and crafts and face painting.”

And in the historically underserved South L.A., Create Now is working on instituting a writing program in the fall at John Muir Middle School.

It is also in that neighborhood where Gurr envisions the future of the organization. She said that she and everyone at Create Now dreams of opening an art center in South L.A., where they hope to continue transforming the lives of more at-risk children like Tasha once was.


CEO: Jill Gurr

Years in operation: 22

Number of employees: 4 full-time, 1 part-time

Annual budget: about $400,000

Location: 1611 S. Hope St., Los Angeles, 90015

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BOOK CORNER: Author offers insight to the world of autism

BOOK CORNER: Author offers insight to the world of autism

Autism is the fastest growing developmental disability in the world and in “Help Me Understand My Child: A Mother’s Truth About Autism,” author Florence Bracy introduces readers to the world of special needs.

Inside her new memoir, Bracy chronicles her inspirational journey of how she advocated for 12 years for her son who has autism. She shares the secrets of how she overcame many challenges and obstacles and what it took to support her son successfully.

One of the challenges she mentions was the act of gaining access to the proper services in school districts and regional centers that help assist children with special needs.

“Most parents are overwhelmed upon learning how to secure services and live with a child with autism,” Bracy said. “There are a lot of feelings and acceptance issues that come up. This book provides strategies on how to cope through this process.”

Florence Bracy

Florence Bracy

The book is a story of hope that will definitely interest families who have children with autism or adults with autism, and others who have an interest in the population. Bracy hopes that family members who have someone with autism are filled with a sense of empowerment after reading her book.

In addition to being an author, Bracy is a paralegal in a domestic violence clinic. She lives in Los Angeles with her family.

To learn more about the author and to join her support group, visit her website, Meetings are held in the Los Angeles area.

Bracy will have a book signing at South Central Los Angeles Regional Center from 6 to 8:30 p.m. May 4. To attend, rsvp at 

“Help Me Understand My Child: A Mother’s Truth About Autism” is available for $18.95 or $9.99 (e-book) on Amazon.

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MAKING A DIFFERENCE: STEAM:Coders provides opportunities for at-risk students

MAKING A DIFFERENCE: STEAM:Coders provides opportunities for at-risk students

LOS ANGELES — Not all schools in Los Angeles are created equal.

Raymond Ealy noticed that was true when it came to low-income, underrepresented students learning about science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM). So he decided to change that.

In July 2014, Ealy launched STEAM:Coders in Pasadena to provide STEAM learning opportunities for kindergarten to 12th-grade students with limited access to technology.

“We work with students in Inglewood, South L.A., Long Beach, Pasadena and others … and we collaborate with colleges and school districts … with a focus on Title 1 schools,” said Ealy, founder and executive director of the nonprofit.

Since its inception, the organization has served more than 3,000 students in its after-school, weekend and weekly summer-camp classes teaching them skills they can apply to any field they choose to go into.

“We teach students logic, critical thinking and problem solving,” Ealy said. “We have to build a pipeline for students to not only get them ready for [STEAM] fields, but to give them the opportunity to see those areas.”

Its numerous partnerships with corporate, academic and nonprofit entities has allowed STEAM:Coders’ students to visit places where they can see technology in action and get involved. Field trips include locations like Google L.A., the California Science Center, Art Center College of Design, Apple, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the California Institute of Technology.

These field trips are a way for underserved students to see that with the right skills, they can find a place for themselves in those places, Ealy said.

“When we take kids to Caltech, many of them have never been to a college campus before,” he said. “And many of their parents have never been to a college campus, either. So when we take them to a university, it plants a seed that they can go to college too, and hopefully inspires them to attend.”

Raymond Ealy

But before students get to college, the nonprofit tries to implant a different seed in them: the seed of imagination.

Many Title 1 schools don’t have a computer science curriculum, let alone a computer lab, Ealy said. Many of the same schools, he continued, no longer offer students art or music classes, which restricts their imaginations.

So STEAM:Coders tries to remedy that disadvantage by equipping them with “tools, training, teaching and coaching to get them exposed” to both the arts and classes that teach them subjects like computer science.

Offering introductory, intermediate and advanced STEAM courses, students are taught hands-on by staff and volunteers, many who are college students or professionals who teach the weekend classes.

Among the classes being taught this year are “Building Apps and Games using JavaScript” for fourth to eighth-grade students and an “Introduction to Coding” for students from second to fifth grade.

With these opportunities, Ealy believes that kids are learning invaluable skills and getting the hard-core support they need to rise above their circumstances.

And sometimes that support manifests itself into the form of a laptop. Made possible by its partnership with Warner Brothers, the nonprofit recently gave away more than 40 laptops to students. Getting equipment like that into the hands of kids who need it most was a very proud moment for the organization.

As for the next several years, Ealy hopes to support more students in places outside of California.

“We know there’s lots of talent out there, students just need the opportunity to show it,” he said.


Executive Director/Founder: Raymond Ealy

Years in operation: 4

Annual budget: $290,000

Number of employees: about 20

Location: PO Box 90213, Pasadena, 91109

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MAKING A DIFFERENCE: Iridescent seeks to interest young girls in technology

MAKING A DIFFERENCE: Iridescent seeks to interest young girls in technology

When Tara Chklovski, an aerospace engineer from India, came to the United States to pursue her Ph.D, she noticed a lack of interest in technology.

“It was interesting to see that the same drive in technology [in India] wasn’t here,” Chklovski said. “Girls are not encouraged to go into engineering and tech.”

It soon became apparent to her that something needed to be done about that. So she decided to give young people from underserved communities, particularly girls, the opportunity to become innovative leaders in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

And in 2006 in Los Angeles, she founded Iridescent to do just that.

Since then, about 100,000 children, parents, mentors and educators have participated in the organization’s two international programs: Technovation and Curiosity Machine.

Technovation, which is for middle and high school students, gives girls the chance to learn necessary skills to become leaders and entrepreneurs in the tech world.

Girls in the program are encouraged to find a problem in their communities and are challenged to solve them by creating a mobile application, Chklovski said. In teams and with the support of mentors and a curriculum, the girls go through several stages of introducing their own mobile app startup.

Then there is Curiosity Machine, a family science program where children and their parents participate in a weekly design challenge. In it, they explore everything from computer science to biomechanics using simple household items like popsicle sticks or cardboard.

A few weeks ago, the nonprofit launched its Artificial Intelligence Family Challenge, in which students ages 8 to 15 and their families learn the basics of artificial intelligence technology by building projects together.

Tara Chklovski

“The big challenge is that AI is changing the world in big ways,” Chklovski said, and “the education system is going to take many years to react and respond.” This challenge intends to prepare young girls for it.

Although the AI challenge is still in the developing stages at some schools, STEAM coordinator for local district east of the Los Angeles Unified School District Craig Sipes said he is seeing a lot of excitement from teachers, principals and parents.

“[The project] is really fun and engaging and thought provoking for kids,” Sipes said. “Kids love to do hands-on projects, and by introducing the engineering design process, we help students structure how to solve problems.”

The program is teaching kids that when things don’t work out, it doesn’t mean they failed; instead, it’s showing them that failure is an opportunity to grow, Sipes said.

But what makes these programs unique, Chklovski said, is their family design.

“A key part [of the success of these programs] is engaging parents; it’s a two-generational approach. It’s really important for the child and parent to learn [about STEAM],” Chklovski said.

But these programs, Chklovski has found, do more than provide children an opportunity to bond with their families and be mentored by STEM professionals; they’ve also bettered the individuals who participate in them.

“Often, kids who do well in the family challenge struggle academically. Once they find a creative and imaginative environment, they really try,” she said.

For many students, creating designs is the first time the child feels like he or she could be successful in something, Chklovski said.

But Iridescent hopes to reach beyond helping young children blossom; it hopes to help their parents and guardians, too.

“If some of these stay-at-home moms are not working because they are taking care of children, it’s a big loss of potential,” Chklovski said. But if the millions of stay-at-home mothers in the U.S., many who don’t take the academic path, take on an entrepreneurial route after the program, big things can happen.

“If you can open new horizons for 60 million [stay-at-home mothers], we can change the world.”


CEO: Tara Chklovski

Years in operation: 12

Annual budget: $2.5 million

Number of employees: 27

Location: 532 W. 22nd St., Los Angeles, 90007

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BOOK CORNER: South L.A. students tell their own stories

BOOK CORNER: South L.A. students tell their own stories

“When the Moon Is Up,” released last May, is a collection of essays and interviews reflecting on the lives of 61 students at Alain Leroy Locke High School in South Los Angeles.

Each year, 826 LA partners with one Los Angeles Unified School District high school to give students an opportunity to create a collection of student writings. The book is 826 LA’s 14th Young Author’s Book Project publication and revolves around the 25th anniversary of the 1992 Los Angeles riot.

“All of our work is centered around helping students find their voice, own their words and write about their own stories and experiences, and the Young Authors’ Book Project does just that; give voice to a population that isn’t always heard,” said LaTesha Adolphus, 826 LA’s in-schools program coordinator.

Inside the book, the students look back at the history of their community, describe their experiences today, and look toward what the future may hold. Each chapter includes a student’s personal narrative and an interview with a community leader, writer or art historian who offers a perspective on the history that shaped their neighborhood.

Some of the Locke High School students who contributed to ‘When the Moon Is Up,’ 826 LA’s 14th Young Author’s Book Project. (Courtesy photo)

Students in Kate Rowley’s and Grace McCormack’s English classes used Anna Deavere Smith’s “Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992” as their principal source, in addition to interviews from scholars, writers, and community leaders like Aqeela Sherrills.

“Our community and our history has been shaped by other people’s telling of our stories,” Rowley said. “For me, it was really important that their truths were told and that their voices were the voices describing what the future of this community looks like.”

826LA is a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting students ages 6-18 with their writing skills, and to helping teachers inspire their students to write.

“When the Moon Is Up” is available for purchase online at

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OPINION: STREET BEAT: ‘Should teachers be allowed to have guns in the classroom for protection?’

OPINION: STREET BEAT: ‘Should teachers be allowed to have guns in the classroom for protection?’

Compiled by Dorany Pineda at L.A. Live.

Lafawn Morris
Los Angeles
“No, I don’t think that teachers should have a gun inside a class full of a lot of children … or in the school environment. … But they could have it inside their cars.”

Schelaundye Blake
“Yes. I think so because [teachers] need to be able to protect themselves as well as their students. … As long as they’re responsible adults, I think they should still be able to carry guns in order to protect themselves … if someone is trying to come into the classroom like the shooting we just had.”

“No. Guns … aren’t going to help. The only way to help is to control the guns. That’s it.”

Brian West
Los Angeles
“No, because it wouldn’t be safe for children because you never know.”

Gordon Rudy
“No. No one should have guns in schools. Guns have no business anywhere near a school. … There shouldn’t be armed security guards, either. … The direction is less guns, not more guns.”


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Culver City schools enter pact with West L.A. College

Culver City schools enter pact with West L.A. College

WAVE NEWSPAPERS — CULVER CITY — It will be easier than ever before for Culver City high school students to earn college credit right on their own campus thanks to a new agreement with West Los Angeles College to offer college and career access pathways through dual credit courses in computer science, technical production for theater, and architecture.

The AB 288 agreement, signed at the Culver City school board meeting Jan. 23, allows students to take classes provided by West L.A. College at Culver City High School and Culver City Park High School, to earn college credit. Those classes will fulfill both diploma and college degree requirements and will be offered tuition-free.

“We are very excited about this new AB 288 partnership that allows our students to take dual enrollment classes and earn high school and college credit simultaneously,” Culver City school Superintendent Leslie Lockhart said. “This is yet another way that we can offer students a chance to follow their career goals and get a head start right on our high school campuses.”

“Reaching them where they are is critical to helping our young people connect to college and succeed in higher education and the workplace,” said Sydney Kamlager-Dove, president of the Los Angeles Community College District Board of Trustees. “This partnership reduces barriers to entry by allowing high school students to become comfortable with college processes from the familiar place of their high schools, and it’s tuition free — that’s a win-win for all.”

“This demonstrates how both institutions working together can capitalize on their strengths to increase access to college and meet the needs of students in the communities we serve,” LACCD Chancellor Francisco Rodriguez said. “I look forward to more of these signings across our nine colleges.

“West L.A. College has offered concurrent enrollment courses at Culver City High for years,” said Aracely Aguiar, the college’s vice president of academic affairs. “Through the AB 288 partnership, classes can be offered as dual enrollment for high school students to get high school and college credit simultaneously. Working with Culver City Unified, are creating pathways in computer science, technical production for theater, and architecture that lead to employment.”

“In one year, West Los Angeles College will celebrate its 50th year.” college President James M. Limbaugh said. “If you know anything about the college’s history, you know that Culver City’s residents and school board were instrumental in the establishment of this campus that serves Culver City, West Los Angeles and other surrounding communities.

“So we are particularly pleased and excited to be entering into this agreement that expands our partnership with the outstanding Culver City schools.”

Assembly Bill 288 was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in October 2015. Introduced by Assemblyman Chris Holden, D-Pasadena, it allowed community colleges and nearby school districts to enter agreements for the purpose of offering or expanding dual enrollment opportunities for students who may not already be college bound or who are underrepresented in higher education, with the goal of developing seamless pathways from high school to community college for career technical education or preparation for transfer, improving high school graduation rates, or helping high school pupils achieve college and career readiness, according to the state Chancellor’s Office.

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Volunteers give makeover to Compton charter school

Volunteers give makeover to Compton charter school

WAVE NEWSPAPERS — COMPTON — Celerity Achernar Charter School was given a much-needed exterior makeover Jan. 27. Housed in a part of the city that can be considered dreary and industrial, peppered with auto repair shops and residential houses, the school brightened its surroundings with a colorful call-to-action piece of artwork.

Beautify Earth, a nonprofit whose mission is to put an end to blighted walls by empowering artists, encouraging social responsibility and instilling community pride in impoverished or neglected neighborhoods, hosted more than 100 volunteers and students at a painting party. Equipped with bright colored enamel, paint brushes, roller pins, ladders, painter’s tape, gloves and upbeat music, mural artist Ruben Rojas taught eager volunteers how to paint the wall outside of the school’s playground in neat letters that spelled out Just Do Good.

“All we ask is that you bring your energy, your giving spirit, sense of community and we’ll show you the rest,” Rojas said. “The best part about painting murals is the different hands involved with the final picture. It warms my heart to see people giving of themselves to making their community, this school, a better place then when they left.”

The Beautify Earth education project seeks to create positive environments through inspirational murals, instructed by professional artists, offering a hands-on approach for participants to express their creativity as well as learn new techniques.

The common thread between the volunteers was that one person doing something could make a huge difference. Mothers came with babies, fathers with their daughters and teachers with their students, all in an effort to do something to directly beautify their community.

“There is a lack of goodness around here and we could use more of it,” volunteer Zee Johnson said. “One person can make an impact and as they say, living is giving. You can take, take, take or you can start to give. Why do I volunteer? Because I know that I have to do my part.

“I can’t think of a better way to be active in change,” Johnson added. “Once you’ve put some work into building something or creating a lasting mural, you take more pride in your surroundings. It becomes contagious.”

Included in the makeover were the lines on the basketball court which got brisk strokes of improvement by the steady-handed members of the Compton Initiative, another participating nonprofit whose mission includes the physical restoration of Compton homes, schools and churches.

“I’m out here volunteering because this is my school,” said Rico Sanchez. “I’m an eighth grader here so what I’m doing right now is helping me and my friends.

“I never realized how many people even cared about us to come and do this.”

Since 2006, the Compton Initiative has beautified more than 550 homes, 372 buildings at 30 schools, 35 church buildings, 31 public spaces, two medical clinics and 134 murals.

“I volunteer because everyone has to do their part,” Sumby Kuti said. “If people just show up and do their part, we’ll be in a much better position.

“I’m so glad that so many people showed up today. That’s the start.”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics, under the U.S. Department of Labor, conducted a survey in 2015 that showed more than 62.6 million people provide some type of volunteer service; the first being of service to a religious sector and the third is for their community. People choose to volunteer for a variety of reasons.

For some, it offers the chance to give something back or make a difference to the people around them. For others, it provides an opportunity to develop new skills or build on existing experience and knowledge.

For this group of painters, it was about beautifying Compton.

“Compton is one of the most underserviced communities in Los Angeles so to say that this community needed it is an understatement,” Neal Bledsoe said. “I believe it is my duty to take part in making this neighborhood beautiful again. Why not take the power back?

“We have to realize that we all live in the same city and although L.A. is still very divided, I’m here today planting that seed that I hope will grow so that others will join me and come together. When you stand on the other side of the street or turn that corner and see this mural, you can’t help but feel some kind of pride.”

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