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Why South L.A. didn’t receive Promise Zone funding

When President Obama officially announced, last week, that several low-income Los Angeles neighborhoods would b eligible for grants as part of his “Promise Zone” poverty initiative, it caused a great deal of uproar from some elected officials and South L.A. residents because none of the areas selected were in South L.A.
Los Angeles “Promise Zone” cover parts of East Hollywood, Hollywood, Pico-Union, Westlake and Koreatown.  Part of Obama’s plan to help end poverty is to help funnel money to improve housing, public safety and education.  It’s possible that Los Angeles could receive up to nearly $500 million, over the next 10 years, if grants are awarded, however, the city’s application didn’t include South L.A.
Angry South L.A. residents took to social media and the radio airwaves to blame the most convenient target – newly elected Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.  Garcetti was at the White House and met with President Obama personally when the “Promise Zone” funding was announced.
The Los Angeles Times reported U.S. Rep. Janice Hahn (D-Calif.), a former L.A. City Council member for District 15, planned to go to last weeks event but cancelled the trip when she learned poor areas in her district were not included.
Hahn is quoted as saying
Any money coming into Los Angeles benefits Los Angeles, but when I listened to the president speak about changing the odds for these communities to really help kids succeed, I really thought about Watts,” she said. “The odds are really stacked against kids growing up in Watts, and these kinds of resources could change their choices in the future
In a statement released to the media, Mayor Garcetti says
When the city applied for a Promise Zone designation, it had to choose an area with a population between 10,000 and 200,000, with at least a 20% average poverty rate. It also had to be a contiguous region that included a neighborhood that had received a related grant before. Both Hollywood and Pacoima had received qualifying grants, and the city decided to chart out an area encompassing Hollywood because it had a higher concentration of poverty.
With so much controversy, speculation and misinformation being spread into the South L.A. community, I am simply choosing to deal with the facts!  South L.A. leadership and non-profit organizations did apply for the “Promise Zone” funding in 2010.  Sherri Franklin, one of our most prominent and trusted civic leaders, wrote a grant on behalf of the Los Angeles Urban League, The Community Coalition, The Brotherhood Crusade, and at least 20 other social organizations.
Unfortunately, as usual, our community was late to the table.  With roughly 6 weeks left in the process, Sherri Franklin did a tremendous job, but ultimately the entire effort fell short, due to the territorial nature, of some of the leadership and organizations at the table.  The South L.A. coalition wasn’t able to put together and develop a synchronized service delivery model, to create a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and they refused to share information regarding funding distribution.  They couldn’t create methodologies to integrate innovation and technology into each organizations social delivery model so that change could occur.
When the South L.A. grant application was finally completed, two of our major African-American organizations simply decided they couldn’t work together.  The Los Angeles Urban League lost funding from its Head Start program and the Crenshaw High initiative plan started revealing significant and troubling issues.  This created a major road block because Crenshaw High School was the focal point for the previous grant application.  The truth is African-American leaders didn’t have their acts together.  The grant applications process stated to communicate and work together to help our residents but weren’t up to the task.
Going into the process, Sherri Franklin and the South L.A. coalition of groups knew that they were not likely to get funding in the first round because that funding was meant for startups.  The goal was to get structured, get into the game and be ready for the next round of funding because they require a web of integrated social and economic development programs and funding sources which does not naturally exist in South L.A.  The facts are that its doubtful any organization would have been able to deliver many of the social services under this new “Promise Zone” Request for Proposal (RFP) given  that the county defunded most of the South L.A. non-profits and churches under its DCFS child welfare RFP.  They gave money to outside agencies to provide services in our communities.  Defunding is set to take place July 1, 2014.
The key to this is identifying organizations that have local resources and if that capacity is available they can be leveraged with federal dollars.  Federal dollars require leveraging, collaborative reporting across several critical indicators, institutional innovation and the ability to demonstrate sustainability.  But in South L.A. we are losing local funding and capacity and are not able to effectively compete when it comes to social innovations.  So the only way South L.A. can compete in the future is to begin to chart all sources of county and city funds and see how much is being managed by local organizations.  Structure our larger groups as lead agencies to go after funding with the help and support of all our elected officials that represent South L.A.  Sherri Franklin was the one who helped spearhead this grant effort and she was 1 of 339 applications.  $10 million was available for 20 communities @ $500k each.
So to her credit she did the best she could be was a community helped fail her.  When people and elected officials attempt to shift the blame on Mayor Garcetti you can tell them what Sherri Franklin told me
Mayor Garcetti is completely blameless.
But we are not.  We have to demand that our elected officials and community organizations communicate and work together for the best interests of South L.A. that way we can compete successfully for federal funding that’s desperately needed in South L.A and stop pointing the finger of blame at others.

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About Najee Ali

Najee Ali is a social and political activist. Najee was selected as one of the Los Angeles Wave newspapers "100 Most Influential" and is the author of Raising Hell: A Life of Activism. He is a proud alumni of the University of Southern California #FightOn

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