By Mark Ridley-Thomas and Phillip A. Washington, Special to the Los Angeles Sentinel
On the northeast corner of Vermont and Manchester Avenues, a little over four acres of land have remained blighted and mostly vacant since the 1992 Civil Unrest, when the shopping center that once stood there was set ablaze.
For the past three decades, as the world around it has continued to turn, this small commercial strip in South Los Angeles has remained frozen in time—an unfortunate and sobering reminder of the anger and desperation that led to neighbors looting and setting fire to businesses, many of which were owned by those of a different color. It has come to symbolize the lack of economic growth and opportunity that far too many corners of South Los Angeles still contend with today.
The protests and civil unrest that we have seen across this country, and across Los Angeles this month, are visceral reminders that progress is not inevitable, that addressing the deep racial and economic inequities that continue to define our region and much of the world must come from the hard work of our action and begin at home.
But there is no reason that this plot of land on the corner of Vermont and Manchester should continue to sit vacant for decades to come.
In 2018, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors decided to invest in the change that was long overdue. The Board took the unprecedented and bold step to acquire this property by eminent domain with a commitment to rebirth it with all of the elements necessary to revitalize a community. We will soon break ground on a model transit- oriented development. It will include 180 units of affordable housing, community-serving retail, a transportation-focused job training center, and a plaza that will connect to the future rapid bus line slated to travel down Vermont, connecting Hollywood to the South Bay. But the centerpiece of the new development will be the SEED School of Los Angeles.
With a planned opening in August 2022, SEED LA will be California’s first public college- prep boarding high school. The admissions lottery will be weighted for students from households that are eligible for mainstream benefits, experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity, or have an immediate family member who is incarcerated, as well as students with a history of involvement with the child protection or juvenile justice system. Young people who have demonstrated tremendous resilience in the face of adversity hold enormous potential to become key leaders in our community, if given access to appropriate opportunities and tools. These Resilience Youth will receive the resources – both in and out of the classroom – to prepare them for college and careers.
We could not imagine a better partner in making this vision a reality. The SEED Foundation has the track record – three campuses on the east coast that produce graduates who enroll in college at a rate of 94%, and graduate from college at 3.5 times the national rate for low-income, first generation students.
SEED LA promises to prepare its scholars not just for college, but through a unique partnership with LA Metro and LA County, is committed to educating and exposing students to careers within the transportation and infrastructure sectors.
This will happen not just through interdisciplinary courses in STEM fields, but through a mentor program linking students to professionals in the industry, internships at Metro and with industry partners, and field trips both locally and globally to give students a deeper understanding and appreciation for the infrastructure that we all rely on, each and every day.
All over this country, infrastructure projects are being designed, built and managed in underserved communities by people who are neither indigenous to these communities nor reflective of these communities’ demographics. SEED LA will expose students to an array of professional fields ranging from communications and planning to design and finance, with the intention of creating a farm system comprised of a new generation of Angelenos who represent the ethnic and geographic diversity of our County and can guide this work for decades to come.
This community and many others across our County have waited far too long for meaningful change. But we know that change doesn’t roll in on the heels of inevitability. Lasting change happens when civil society, governments, philanthropy and corporations step forward and invest in ideas, institutions, communities and people who can truly bring about a more just society.
This moment must inspire all of us to pursue tangible change in our communities, and we intend to finally seed that change, right on the corner of Vermont and Manchester Avenues.
Mark Ridley-Thomas is a Los Angeles County Supervisor representing the Second District, and member of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board of Directors.
Phillip A. Washington is the Chief Executive Officer of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.