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.
Ssembatya Fred tells a Global Public Affairs audience about life as a street activist in Uganda. Photo by John Danly
Global Public Affairs (GPA) at UCLA Luskin hosted an Oct. 31 presentation by Ssembatya Fred, a grassroots activist from Kampala, Uganda, who leads the movement Dembe Ku Kubo (Freedom in the Streets). Fred has been at UCLA this fall working with Amy Ritterbusch, assistant professor of social welfare, on “Violence Against Street-Connected Children in Uganda,” a participatory action research initiative. His fight, he said, is for justice and freedom from violence against youths living under the tyrannical regime of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni. Fred told of having a nail driven through his foot in his own home when he was in his early teens, an experience that sent him into the life of a freedom fighter. He said he took to the streets for his own safety, as thousands of other young people in Kampala have done, despite the availability of other housing options. Fred returned to Kampala on Nov. 1 to continue the work of keeping young activists safe, primarily from police violence. “Sometimes the most important thing they need is for a safe place to take a long sleep,” he told the GPA gathering. Dembe Ku Kubo was established to provide these necessities and also promote youth involvement in the ongoing political opposition movement. — John Danly
Watch Fred’s new music video Against Violence (in collaboration with Colombian artist Siere).
Ron Avi Astor, professor of social welfare, spoke to CBC News and its radio component The Current about unreported school violence in Canadian schools. Only half of the provinces and territories in Canada clearly define school violence and require schools to report violent behavior, and only four report those numbers to government ministries. “That’s not a real system for the country,” Astor argued. In countries where the media and politicians shame schools for high violence rates, underreporting or no reporting occurs, he said. Astor found that in the last 20 to 30 years of research, child reports of violence in school are what keeps the schools’ reporting honest. “If you can’t trust the data and you have zeroes on there, you really can’t allocate resources — not just money, but social workers, psychologists and counselors,” he said.
Gary Segura, dean of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and an expert in polling and public opinion, was quoted in a Pacific Standard article dissecting President Trump’s announcement to cancel foreign aid to El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. Trump has made multiple threats in the past to cut off the three Central American countries due to his dissatisfaction with their respective governments’ failures to stop people from leaving. After his recent announcement that funds would be withheld from the three nations, experts objected, explaining that the funds help combat crime and violence, ultimately serving U.S. interests. Segura maintained that ulterior motives were behind the policy decision, which would fuel the asylum crisis. He tweeted, “Pay attention folks. This is an INTENTIONAL act to drive MORE asylum seekers to the U.S. border to help [Trump] maintain his crisis. It’s ugly, devastating in impact, and bad policy.”
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.”
Cecilia Gentili of Decrim NY, which advocates for decriminalization of the sex trade. Photo by Pacific Press
Public Policy Professor Manisha Shah stressed the importance of data-backed claims in a GQ article describing the controversial New York movement to decriminalize sex work in order to make workers safer. “Many people see sex work as morally repugnant, so public policy around it is very rarely based on the actual evidence,” explained Shah, whose 2014 research findings supported decriminalization of the sex work industry. According to Shah, “A lot of people make very big assertions about this topic, but most of the time there just isn’t any data to back them up, or the methodological constraints mean they’re not able to make causal claims.” Shah’s research linked decriminalization to reductions in both rape offenses and female gonorrhea cases. Shah concluded, “Except for the growth of the market, everything else that we worry about from a policy perspective — like public health and violence against women — gets better when sex work is decriminalized.”
Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin, published an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times detailing the ongoing conflict between newly elected Sheriff Alex Villanueva and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. Years ago, in response to scandals surrounding the county jails, the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence created a 600-page report with recommendations for reform in order to “establish a culture of constitutional policing, and consequences for those who wouldn’t acculturate,” Yaroslavsky wrote. Many of the reforms were implemented under former Sheriff Jim McDonnell, but Villanueva “has vowed to eviscerate these reforms,” he stated. Villanueva has prompted further criticism as a result of his reinstatement of a deputy who was discharged for domestic abuse allegations. Yaroslavsky wrote, “Alex Villanueva can either get on board with the U.S. Constitution or get out of the way.”
Mark S. Kaplan, professor of social welfare at UCLA Luskin, has researched suicide and written about it from several perspectives. He joined the Scholars’ Circle podcast to talk about some of the potential explanations for the recently reported increase in suicides in the United States. The interview is the first segment of the podcast.
In the half-century since the Kerner Commission’s report on urban unrest, South Los Angeles has experienced little economic progress, according to a new study by the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge, part of UCLA Luskin.
In 1960, South L.A. workers made 80 cents on the dollar compared to the average Los Angeles County worker. In the last 50 years, that gap has widened. Today, the average full-time, full-year worker in South L.A. earns about 60 cents on every dollar earned by the average county resident.
“This report is a sobering snapshot of the inequalities that have persisted in South Los Angeles 50 years since the 1968 report,” said Paul Ong, director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge. Disparities in earnings are the main driver of income inequality. Earnings are critical in overall quality of life — low earnings can translate into less access to necessities, amenities, and opportunities.
Earnings in South L.A. have failed to catch up to county levels, according to the researchers. That widening pay gap is driven in part by a steady decline of male wages.
South Los Angeles is home to 722,000 persons, and epitomizes the plight of inner-city neighborhoods. It is the site where frustrations of a marginalized and neglected community boiled over in 1965 Watts riots and 1992 civil unrest. These reactions to the lack of progress should not have been unexpected given the realities documented by this CNK report.
In addition to earnings, the study also documents inequities in:
Homeownership, the principal mechanism for wealth accumulation for middle-class residents, is lower in South L.A. than the county and has declined over time. Today, fewer than one in three South L.A. residents own their home.
The high demand for housing has translated not only to higher cost but also higher home values. After adjusting for inflation, the average home is priced at nearly three times as much today as it was in 1960. This places financial strain on new buyers and puts ownership further out of reach for renters.
Car ownership is critical in Los Angeles where, despite large investments in public transit, lacking a car can severely limit one’s access to job and educational opportunities. Availability of cars within households has improved over time; nonetheless, households in South LA are twice as likely to lack a car, according to the study. South LA residents remain three times as likely to rely on public transit for commuting.
Educational attainment is critical in preparing children to be successful and productive adults. However, public schools have continued to be “separate and unequal.” Elementary school performance on standardized testing reveals persistent gaps between South LA and the most affluent neighborhoods in West L.A.
Early childhood preparation can be critical toward the goal of fostering successful students. Fifty years ago, recommendations concerning education specifically prioritized the expansion of preschool programs. In 1960, preschool enrollment was virtually non-existent in both South L.A. and the county.
In 1990, children in South L.A. were only half as likely as county children to be enrolled in a private preschool. This can be taken as an indicator of the wide gaps in the availability of resources for education to residents in South L.A. compared to the county. This gap has grown since then. In 2016, county children are four times as likely as South L.A. children to be enrolled in a private preschool.
View the full report.
There are no definitive boundaries for South Los Angeles. Over time, the boundaries have shifted as the neighborhood has changed. This study is based on public use microdata areas (PUMAs), which are defined by the U.S. Census Bureau. These are reasonable approximations of the curfew area for the 1965 Watts Riot, the post-1992 Civil Unrest Rebuild L.A. zone, and the Los Angeles Times Neighborhood Mapping Project’s South Los Angeles area.
All data, with the exception of school performance, come from PUMS samples. The 1960 data are extracted from IPUMS. Additional data come from tract-level statistics reported by the U.S. Census Bureau. Data on elementary school performance combine assessment scores from California’s Standardized Testing and Reporting with historical information of schools, reported in the 1965 McCone Report.
This project was supported by the following partners: the Haynes Foundation, the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin, the UCLA Lewis Center, the UCLA Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, the UCLA Luskin Center for History and Policy, the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, Professor Manisha Shah, and the UCLA Asian American Studies Center.
“Burnout is very much about how we work, and not only about how much we work,” according to psychologist Alessandra Pigni, author of “The Idealist’s Survival Kit. 75 Simple Ways to Prevent Burnout.” She spoke Feb. 15, 2018, as part of a series of talks sponsored by Global Public Affairs at UCLA Luskin. Pigni talked briefly about her personal experiences, including observing caregivers under extremely stressful conditions while working for several years in combat situations in the Middle East as part of Doctors Without Borders. Pigni also shared insights from her research into burnout, which is the subject of a book and a blog, which is how she first came to the attention of Stephen Commins of the UCLA Luskin faculty, who provided the introduction for Pigni’s talk. Her presentation focuses on identifying the signs of burnout and taking steps to prevent it, which she refers to as the ABCs of burnout prevention: awareness, balance and boundaries, and civility. “C is also for connections — connections with people beyond work. You are not just your job,” Pigni told the crowd. Later, she addressed the concerns of students who are just entering the workforce and may not feel empowered to take action if they find themselves in a toxic workplace. “You will not survive for very long in a work environment that mistreats you,” Pigni said. “You can make it for a few months, if necessary. Otherwise, run a mile if you are being mistreated.”
View a Flickr album from the presentation:
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