The Watts Labor Community Action Committee (WLCAC) continues to provide needed services to a changing demographic in South Los Angeles.
Founded by the late Ted Watkins shortly before the 1965 Watts Riots, the organization has focused on quality-of-life issues in the community which has, for more than 50 years, been mired in poverty, unemployment, inadequate housing and violent crime.
The WLCAC helped establish Martin Luther King Hospital in 1968, oversaw the construction of more than a dozen low-income apartment buildings and, over the past two decades, has helped facilitate the construction of the 105 Freeway and the Blue Line railway project. The organization founded in the 1970s is one of the nation’s first senior-citizen assistance programs.
When its Central Avenue headquarters was destroyed during the 1992 Los Angeles Riots, the Watts community rallied to construct a new facility, and that became the city’s first rebuilding project following the turmoil.
More than 30,000 persons work with or receive assistance yearly from the WLCAC, which supplies low-income housing, food pantries, job training, family counseling, remedial education and alcohol/drug diversion programs. Among its many contributions is McCoy Villa, the Southland’s first major housing complex for homeless persons; Mudtown Farms, L.A.’s first urban agriculture initiative; co-creation of the region’s only museum with a permanent civil rights exhibit and creation of Watts’ first public policy institute dedicated to the study, planning and development of the Central Avenue Corridor project.
The WLCAC, which spearheaded the refurbishment of the Watts Towers and its subsequent establishment as a state historical landmark, is leading a discussion this year on attracting new industry initiatives as potential solutions to long-term poverty and neglect.
In the early 1970s, the WLCAC became a community development corporation, which emphasized a comprehensive approach to the economic problems facing South L.A. Its Community Conservation Corp. provides summer jobs for teenagers and offers educational classes on African American heritage and culture. One of its most famous projects is the annual Watts Summer Festival, a community celebration of African American culture traditionally held at Ted Watkins Park and begun on the one-year anniversary of the Watts Riots.
The aforementioned Central Avenue Corridor and Mudtown Farms projects are based on the WLCAC precept that ” … although other communities enjoy the capacity to enrich healthy cultures, the culture of Watts remains mired in abject poverty.”
Mudtown Farms was awarded in 2012 $4.9 million in Proposition 84 funds to establish a new urban farm park and community center. The facility will be self-sustained and provide educational classes in agriculture, as well as job training, gardening plots and farming and various entrepreneurial opportunities for community stakeholders.
The WLCAC serves a community far different now than at the time of origins. Latinos constitute well over 70 percent of the Watts population, thus officials have incorporated programs celebrating Mexican and Central American culture to emphasize multiculturalism to residents.
The WLCAC is located at 10950 S. Central Ave. For more information, call (323) 563-5639.