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Renovating parks, renovating Crenshaw

Leslie Shaw Park | Residents of Jefferson Park said what they imagined they would see at Leslie Shaw Park after the renovations.

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A leader of the renovation project talks about the needs of the park, and the vision for the park's future.
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The Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center provides a safe and fun environment for kids in the community.
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By Alyssa Nakamoto

Sandra Pruitt has many reasons for wanting to fix up Leslie N. Shaw Park in the Jefferson Park area of Los Angeles.

She is a childcare provider, and realized her neighborhood park did not provide much for children.

"I take them outside sometimes, but there's nothing at that park," she said. "I decided it's time for us to renovate the park."

The main reason for her involvement in the community, though, is her son.

Pruitt has lived in Los Angeles for over 30 years, but moved to the Jefferson Park area on June 12, 2008, her birthday. Almost a year later, in March 2009, her son was murdered in a drive-by shooting, on Jefferson and Arlington, at the age of 26. He was at the wrong place at the wrong time.

"Out of that pain, I felt I had to do something in my community to bring us together," said Pruitt.

Pruitt wanted to take action to create a better community. She immediately started a block club, and organized many marches and rallies in her son's honor. She wanted to name her block club Jefferson Park United, as she noticed that many of the people that were coming to the club's events were not specifically from her block, but were instead from the entire Jefferson Park area.

Eventually, someone in the community told her about the United Neighborhoods Neighborhood Council. After all of the work she had done with her own block club, she was elected to the board of the UNNC, where she has served since 2009. She is currently the chairperson of the Recreation and Parks Committee, and her main job is preserving and enhancing parks in the area.

The United Neighborhoods Neighborhood Council represents the areas of Historic Arlington Heights, West Adams, and Jefferson Park in Los Angeles. It is one of many neighborhood councils in the Los Angeles area, which are open to all community residents who have concerns about the area they live in. The UNNC, specifically, takes input from the community of the Crenshaw area, and works to improve the issues in that community. The United Neighborhoods Neighborhood Council consists of 23 board members, who are all residents of the area. This group of community residents work on different areas of concern, which make up nine committees. These committees are Executive, Recreation and Parks (Pruitt's committee), Economic Development, Public Safety, Youth, Public Works, Planning and Zoning, Historic Preservation, and Outreach. Most of the work of the UNNC is done at the committee level, as they address issues in the community and create projects or programs to fix the problems.

It is the United Neighborhoods Neighborhood Council, along with avenue associations, council offices, and the residents on these councils that pushed for the renovation of another park in the area, Benny H. Potter West Adams Avenues Memorial Park. Carlton Stubbs, who was the program director during the renovation process, said that while he was part of the process, it was the residents' care for their community that got the project off the ground.

"This community is not the type of community that just lets things happen. They're involved, they're a part of everything," said Stubbs.

He said that there were many disbelievers that never thought that the Benny H. Potter Park, or the South Seas House renovation projects would happen. However, the fight of the community proved them wrong.

"They have a can-do attitude," he said. "They don't take no for an answer. This is their park, it's where they live."

Pruitt emphasized the importance of the community not only coming together, but staying united to bring change. She says that even though the community is diverse, it is important for everyone to work as a group.

"I think it's important for me as one person to bring us together as a unified group and truly be a neighborhood. It says we are the United Neighborhoods Neighborhood Council, and I would really like to see that become a truth," said Pruitt.

While Pruitt is proud that she has been able to give back to her community, she admits that the projects she works on, like the renovations of Leslie Shaw Park, are not what she cares about most.

"It's given me the power to honor my son, and let people know that you can get something positive out of something so painful," she said as tears began to form in her eyes.

Leslie N. Shaw | The man that inspired the park's name.