A new LA Stories episode on Spectrum News 1 highlighted the work of Jorja Leap, adjunct professor of social welfare, who has changed the narrative surrounding gang members by sharing their stories. As a social worker in South Los Angeles, Leap earned the trust of many current and former gang members and forged bonds with people she now considers family. “I think if each person could hear the story of even one gang member, their views would change radically,” she said during the interview. Leap argued that these communities are worthy of investment and that the people in them deserve our help and attention. Leap has published two books sharing the stories of those she has come to know and is the co-founder of the Watts Leadership Institute, which provides community members with the resources to create positive change. “It’s not enough to understand. I had to take action,” she said.
Adjunct Professor of Social Welfare Jorja Leap was featured in a New York Times article about the restrictive parole system that makes it difficult for individuals with a history of gang involvement to ever clear their names. Kerry Lathan, who was shot in the back while picking up a T-shirt from Nipsey Hussle’s store the day the rap artist was killed, was later arrested for violating parole by associating with a known gang member. Hailed as a community icon who had turned his life around and worked with police to reduce gang violence, Hussle was still listed on CalGang, the California database of gang members. Leap said, “If someone like Nipsey Hussle is viewed as always a gang member, what is happening to the average guy who has a low-level job, who’s trying to make it, and that’s his past?” Leap concluded, “No one ever makes it off that list. No one.”
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.”