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Volunteers lead rebuilding after L.A. riots

LA Riots April 28, 1997
Web posted at: 7:18 p.m. EDT (2318 GMT)

In this story:

From Correspondent Garrick Utley

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- With volunteerism at the top of the nation's agenda in Philadelphia, one key question has emerged: what does volunteer work accomplish and when does it fall short?

Examples of both can be found in South Central Los Angeles. Five years ago Tuesday the worst urban riots in the United States this century erupted. The effort to rebuild has been largely driven by volunteers.

LA Riots

The mayhem of the Los Angeles riots became an icon of American urban conflict. Gene Grigsby, professor of Urban Planning at UCLA, remembers how it happened:

"The liquor store across the street was burned down, the gas station was burned down. About then the truck driver drove up. He was pulled out of his car, severely beaten all the time the helicopter was overhead. And from that point on, it just began to escalate and spontaneously combust."

How does a community come back from what happened at this intersection? How can it rebuild?

Business fails to deliver

Over the past five years what has happened here in South Central Los Angeles has provided a pretty clear picture of what can and cannot be accomplished through government assistance, private enterprise and individuals banding together in the community.


The first priority was to revive business and create jobs. It's not going to work "unless banks and businesses and insurance companies and all kinds of private sector -- small medium and large -- make a commitment," Peter Ueberroth, leader of the rebuilding effort, said in May 1992.

Five years ago, it was anticipated that 500 corporations would invest more than $1 billion in riot-torn South Central Los Angeles.

It didn't happen.

Francisco Pinedo runs Cisco Bros. furniture factory, one of the few businesses that made a commitment in the area and stuck with it.

"It's very discouraging," Pinedo said. "It's very hard when you feel like you come in to be a team player and the team doesn't show up."

If business by and large avoided South Central Los Angeles, the people who live here could not. This is home.

Individual impact

People like Edward Cabil, a guidance counselor at John Muir Middle School, have made a difference. In an area where violent gangs constantly struggle for turf, Cabel made a startling pledge: He would no longer attend the funerals of the young people who died in the area's violence.

"I was just tired," Cabil says.

Instead, he organized volunteers and they created an athletic program for 21 inner city schools. And he set standards.

"One of the primary needs is that they have to provide love and care and their genuine concern for their development," Cabil says.

Development is slowly returning

At the intersection of Normandie and Florence, where the riots ignited, development has come slowly.

At Tom's Liquor and Food Store there is little evidence that life in the neighborhood is going to chance much.

Private enterprise did not commit with investments here because it did not see profits to be made. Government aid has helped, but it cannot solve the long-term problems of the community.

That leaves volunteerism as the only recourse. Home grown, it can and has accomplished much. What it cannot create is what the community needs most -- jobs.

Jobs require money, and where is that supposed to be found? The answer will define the future of South Central Los Angeles.


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