Adjunct Professor of Social Welfare Jorja Leap, who has conducted extensive research on gangs, contributed to a KPCC discussion about the reality and evolution of gang violence in South Los Angeles. Concerns about heightened gang violence were prompted by the shooting of rapper Nipsey Hussle, which remains under investigation. Looking at the data from current efforts to reduce gang violence through prevention, intervention and reentry, Leap confirmed that “what we’re doing is working” but there is still a long way to go. “The relationship between the communities of L.A. and law enforcement has changed radically in a very positive direction,” Leap said. Looking forward, she stressed the importance of prioritizing funding and trauma-informed reentry, arguing that “we must not become complacent.”
Jorja Leap, adjunct professor of social welfare, spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the legal dispute between Los Angeles County and Sheriff Alex Villanueva over the new sheriff’s reinstatement of Deputy Caren Carl Mandoyan. Mandoyan was fired by former Sheriff Jim McDonnell in 2016 over allegations of domestic abuse, but was recently rehired by Villanueva, who argued that the termination was unfair. The county identified the reinstatement as unlawful and has instructed Mandoyan to return his badge and gun, but Mandoyan has refused to comply. The legal conflict “threatens what is normally a more collaborative relationship between officials,” Leap said. “This is not where the energy should be expended,” she added, noting that Villanueva should “admit his mistake and move forward.” Leap also spoke to KNX1070 radio, commenting that the case is seen as a battle of wills but should focus on whether an individual is fit for employment.
“The Sheriff’s Department has a credibility problem to begin with, and this adds fuel to the fire,” said UCLA Luskin Adjunct Professor of Social Welfare Jorja Leap in a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times. “The fact that they’re taking this stance this early in [the sheriff’s] tenure means they are putting him on notice,” Leap said in response to a decision by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors to publicly rebuke newly elected Sheriff Alex Villanueva after he unilaterally reinstated a deputy who was fired after domestic abuse allegations were raised against him. Villanueva, elected two months ago in an upset victory against incumbent Jim McDonnell, was criticized by the supervisors, who rarely speak out against sheriffs. Villanueva was also called into a meeting with the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission.
Adjunct Professor of Social Welfare Jorja Leap spoke to HuffPost about President Trump’s characterization of the street gang MS-13. Trump has portrayed the gang as an imminent threat in the United States, but “the truth of the matter is it is less of a problem now than it ever was,” Leap said. While law enforcement and youth gang prevention have helped combat MS-13 in the U.S., the gang founded by Salvadoran immigrants in Los Angeles in the 1980s has become a far bigger menace in Central America. “It is indescribable what goes on there,” said Leap, who is also executive director of the UCLA Health and Social Justice Partnership. “I don’t think we can grasp where the real terror is and how fear and intimidation rule the day for individuals, for their families, because of the grip of this gang” in Central America, she said.
Public Policy lecturer Jorja Leap was featured in a Los Angeles Daily News article discussing factors contributing to the unexpectedly tight race for Los Angeles County sheriff. While incumbent sheriffs are traditionally successful at winning re-election, the 2018 midterm elections marked a notable shift, with retired lieutenant Alex Villanueva currently in the lead. Although opponent and incumbent sheriff Jim McDonnell is higher ranked, has more experience and had a better-funded campaign, Villanueva attracted significant support from unions and Latino voters. Leap noted the “collateral damage” of “voters who were primarily interested in other races and voted for Villanueva because of demographics or party support.” Leap and other experts debate whether Villanueva’s success thus far is a result of voters’ placing less value on incumbency, McDonnell’s overestimation of the power of name recognition, or the confusion prompted by Villanueva’s ballot designation as sheriff’s lieutenant, effectively muting the candidates’ different levels of experience.
As California’s general elections rapidly approach, much of the local media focus has turned to the Los Angeles County’s sheriff’s race. The incumbent, Sheriff Jim McDonnell, is generally favored to win. However, retired sheriff’s lieutenant Alex Villanueva managed to force a runoff with strong Latino support in the June primaries, according to the Los Angeles Daily News. If elected, Villanueva would be the county’s first Democratic sheriff in 138 years. The article noted that the current political and social climate could benefit Villanueva, who aligns himself with progressive ideologies. Voter turnout will undoubtedly be a major factor, UCLA Luskin’s Jorja Leap told the Daily News. “Will the ethnic and racial groups subjected to disparity, will they get out and vote?” said Leap, adjunct professor of social welfare. “Will law and order, and people who believe in a more conservative, badge-heavy approach, get out and vote? [The outcome] depends on that.”
Community leaders working to make Watts a safer, healthier and more vibrant place were honored at a beachside gathering on Aug. 11, 2018. The advocates, all part of the original cohort of the UCLA Luskin-based Watts Leadership Institute (WLI), came together with family, friends, philanthropists and leaders in the nonprofit sector at a celebration held at the Annenberg Community Beach House in Santa Monica. GRoW@Annenberg, a major sponsor of WLI and its cohort members, hosted the event. Founded in 2016 by Social Welfare faculty member Jorja Leap’78 MSW ’80 PhD ’88 and Karrah Lompa MSW ’13, the institute identifies and empowers community leaders in Watts so that they can maximize their impact on the ground.
View more photographs from the event.
Read about recent grants to WLI.
Watts Leadership Institute cohort member Amada Valle, left. with UCLA alumna Crystal Thomas, WLI co-founder Jorja Leap and Valle's daughter Jenni. Photo by George Foulsham
By Mary Braswell
The community garden launched by the Watts Leadership Institute (WLI) a year ago is growing, thriving, bearing fruit.
The same could be said for the institute itself.
Since the start of 2018, the UCLA Luskin-based WLI has received several grants totaling more than $650,000 that will allow it to expand its core mission of empowering the community leaders of Watts.
“We’re absolutely thrilled,” said co-founder Jorja Leap, adjunct professor of social welfare. “We’re finding great support for this model, the idea that we want to lift up and help the small nonprofits and real community leaders in these marginalized communities.”
Along with Karrah Lompa MSW ’13, Leap founded the institute in 2016 with a two-year $200,000 startup grant from The California Wellness Foundation.
Since January, WLI has received new and increased investments:
- An additional two-year grant of $250,000 from The California Wellness Foundation is an expression of confidence that its initial investment was effectively used in the community.
- The Weingart Foundation is providing $200,000 for the next two years to support its efforts in Southern California communities most deeply affected by poverty and economic inequity.
- Ballmer Group provided $150,000 over two years. Ballmer Group supports efforts to improve economic mobility and has invested significantly in direct services and capacity building in the Watts-Willowbrook area.
- GRoW@Annenberg has invested more than $50,000 this year as part of a multiyear commitment for the WLI GRoW Community Garden. It has also provided generous additional funding and technical assistance to enhance WLI community engagement and outreach. In addition, GRoW’s founder, Gregory Annenberg Weingarten, has awarded almost $100,000 directly to Watts community leaders working with WLI.
These continued philanthropic investments will “take our mission to another level,” Leap said. Lompa added that “having the support of these leading philanthropic institutions reinforces both the need for WLI and the impact these leaders are making in Watts.”
“We are grateful for these new funders and grants because they help diversify WLI’s overall funding, helping us lead by example when encouraging WLI leaders to diversify their own funding streams,” Lompa said.
The funds are quickly being put to use on the ground in Watts. WLI works with community leaders who are already making a difference and provides them with the tools, resources and training to be more effective — including tutorials on using tablets to keep their books as well as tips on navigating the Southern California policy and philanthropic landscape.
“These are the people that the community listens to and follows,” Leap said of the first cohort of 12 Watts leaders supported by the institute. “They live there, they work there. But they’ve never had the capacity to really do the work of which they are capable.”
The key for WLI, she said, is to listen to people who are acutely aware of what their neighborhood needs. WLI builds on this knowledge by responding with tangible help to sustain the leaders and their efforts.
Leap told the story of WLI cohort member Amada Valle, a community organizer and advocate for residents of the Jordan Downs public housing development. “Amada is teaching women to sew and to create women-led businesses,” Leap said. “And what do you need if you’re teaching women to sew? Sewing machines.” Thanks to funds allocated by The California Wellness Foundation for direct service reinvestment, Valle received a grant from WLI to purchase six sewing machines.
“You would have laughed if you had walked into the Luskin development office and seen all these boxes of sewing machines, all piled up,” Leap said.
Doing good works is contagious, WLI has found. Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino donated office space to the institute. The Johnny Carson Foundation funded an MSW internship in Watts. The UCLA Luskin IT team offers technical support, bringing community leaders to campus for tutorials.
“That’s really our dream — to have everybody working together and leading within their community,” said Leap, who has been active in Watts for 40 years, since she attended UCLA for her BA, MSW and Ph.D.
“With WLI, UCLA Luskin has a 24/7 presence in Watts. This is not lip service, and we don’t want to be a temporary program. We’re part of the community, and we want to be,” she said. “We’re honored to be.”
The tweets of Donald Trump are not known for factual accuracy, and Jorja Leap of UCLA Luskin Social Welfare told PolitiFact that his recent claims about ICE “liberating” towns from MS-13 and other gangs are an “outrageous” example of his tendency to exaggerate. “This is hyperbolic and misleading language,” said Leap, who is also director of the Health and Social Justice Partnership at UCLA Luskin. “Liberation is usually the terminology of military forces — as in, the Allies liberated France from the Nazis.”
In its coverage of the Trump administration’s claims that its policies prevent members of the Salvadoran gang MS-13 from entering the United States to commit crimes, the Chronicle turned to Jorja Leap of UCLA Luskin Social Welfare, who has studied MS-13 and other gangs. In reality, MS-13’s threat in Los Angeles, where the gang was born three decades ago, “is probably the lowest it has ever been,” Leap said. Constantly citing the danger of MS-13, as Trump has done, could backfire, helping MS-13 in recruiting. Leap said, “Along with being erroneous, he is giving them oxygen. Donald Trump is acting as a one-man publicity band for MS-13.” Leap also contributed to a recent visual storytelling piece about MS-13 by the New York Times. And she previously spoke to the L.A. Daily News about the search of a new Los Angeles police chief.