Bringing the Community Together in South L.A.

Aired on KQED Public Radio’s The California Report

(Photo: Kristin Anderson)

(Photo: Kristin Anderson)

When Renee Gunter moved to South Los Angeles with her 8-year-old daughter, she didn’t realize they were relocating to an area with one of the highest gun violence rates in L.A. But instead of packing up and moving out, Gunter decided to bring community back to her neighborhood. And she did that by starting a block party.

“I think two weeks after my daughter and I moved here, we heard what I thought, silly me, was fire crackers. And I thought, well this is weird; it’s not the Fourth of July.

And later we heard sirens an as it turned out it was gunshots and a young 16-year-old kid was killed.

And my daughter, she looked at me in disbelief and said, ‘Why did you move us here? What if we get shot?’ And I remember saying to her that she needed to learn how to duck. If she heard gunfire, drop to the floor.
And she was very, very worried and she goes, ‘I can’t go outside? Are you telling me I can’t go outside? I can’t walk down the street?’

I said, ‘You can. We’ll figure it out. We’ll do something. I’ll do something.’

And I was going to do something if I was going to live here. Because I had worked so hard to save money to buy this house that I wasn’t going to be chased away by gunfire.

After that, I thought, ‘Wait a minute. How could I bring this community together?’ And I though the best way of bringing a community together and getting people to talk to each other was, through food.

I passed this flier around inviting people to come out, on the Fourth of July, and let’s have a party. I’ll close the streets down and your kids can play and we can get to know each other.

I think that there were probably maybe five or six people that participated. I think the concern was both the fear of something bad happening. Like maybe somebody would get hurt or shot, and also that people really didn’t talk to each other.

Every year it got a little bit bigger, and a little bit bigger. And it just, it has continued to grow to numbers that I’m a little blown away. In 2012, I would say there were at least 500 people. And it was absolutely spectacular. I mean there was music, families were sharing their food, kids were riding their bicycles up and down the streets, there was water slides, there was basketball, there was disco. I mean, there was at least 200 people dancing in the street.

You know, before it seemed like curtains were drawn. It was relatively quiet with the exception of gunshots, the sounds of gunshots, too often.

We certainly have now turned a corner. I noticed that bars came down off the windows. People starting doing things for each other. I would see neighbors bringing in other neighbors trash cans. I saw children starting to ride their bicycles up and down the street even when it wasn’t Fourth of July.

What it means for me is that if I need something I know I can go across the street. I can go around the corner. I can ask. I can talk to people. I can sleep at night. I can walk down my street.”

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