Cities of Hope: From Rubble of the Riots, a Partnership

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This article is the first in a series of three to explore new strategies being used by the philanthropic community to aid urban America.

By Meg Sommerfeld

LOS ANGELES--It has been slightly more than a year since the City of Angels was ablaze, and Americans watched the largest civil unrest in the nation's history unfold live on their television screens at home.

The violence that erupted after four Los Angeles police officers were virtually exonerated of beating Rodney King left an indelible mark on the city: 51 people dead, 2,300 injured, more than 8,000 arrested, and $384 million in property damage.

In the past year, however, the stormy events have left behind a silver lining of sorts, serving as a wake-up call that rousted Americans into recognizing the precarious condition of the nation's cities and prompting a massive outpouring of money and support from the private sector.

Here in Los Angeles, some 200 corporations have pledged $500 million to "Rebuild L.A.,'' an organization created last May to restore the city's riot-torn areas.

And in more than a dozen other cities, private-sector groups have launched similar anti-poverty initiatives and raised million of dollars from foundations and corporations.

The Carter Center in Atlanta and the Enterprise Foundation in Baltimore, for example, are seeking to help neighborhoods imperiled by chronic, intergenerational poverty by focusing on the interrelated education, health, and social needs of children and their families.

Already, a loose national network of these urban-renewal initiatives has been formed. Known as the Community Building Network, representatives of urban-improvement initiatives in 17 cities held their first meeting in Oakland, Calif., in March.

Noting that tight financial times make their work even more critical, foundation and corporate leaders say they realize they can make more effective use of their grantmaking dollars by coordinating their anti-poverty efforts.

For instance, said Eugene Wilson, the president of the the Los Angeles-based ARCO Foundation: "You can't do school reform without thinking about the social and health needs of the families and the kids. And they're most identifiable by the teachers in the classroom.''

Other Los Angeles-area foundation leaders emphasize that the problems of inner-city America are not only placing children and families at risk. "America is running the risk of becoming balkanized enclaves; the very concept of community is disintegrating,'' said Raymond F. Reisler, the executive director of the Mark Taper Foundation.

Rebuild L.A. Launched

Perhaps the most watched urban-renewal collaboration in the country is Rebuild L.A., which was established even before the riots ended. On the third day of the disorders last year, Mayor Tom Bradley and Gov. Pete Wilson asked Peter V. Ueberroth, the chairman of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic organizing committee and a former Major League baseball commissioner, to serve as a co-chairman of a five-year effort to revive the city's riot-torn areas.

Citing a need to devote more time to his family and other commitments, Mr. Ueberroth resigned from the post last month. He plans, however, to continue serving on Rebuild L.A.'s board of directors and to solicit funds from private companies to support it.

In a letter to the collaborative's board, Mr. Ueberroth wrote: "It has been an incredible year for R.L.A. What is most important, though, is that we continue to evaluate where we are and set the direction for the next phase of this effort.''

Marcia Gonzales-Kimbrough, the staff coordinator for Rebuild L.A.'s education and job-training task force, said that, so far, Rebuild L.A.'s mission has not only been to "invest, train, and hire in the inner city,'' but also to inspire community pride.

Outpouring of Resources

Over the past year, a new sense of urgency about the problems confronting urban America has resulted in the announcement of a slew of new grants and initiatives in Los Angeles. For instance:

  • In the first week after the riots, the ARCO Corporation contributed $1 million for emergency relief for riot victims; since then, it has donated an additional $20 million for long-term revitalization efforts.
  • Within the first month after the riots, the Walt Disney Company opened a new store in the Crenshaw district, a predominantly minority neighborhood, and pledged to hire 200 youths from inner-city neighborhoods to work at Disneyland, the company's theme park in Anaheim.
  • In February, the pop-music superstar Michael Jackson and former President Jimmy Carter unveiled "Heal L.A.,'' a $1.25 million initiative to provide vaccinations, drug-prevention programs, and mentoring activities for area children.
  • The Mattel Foundation has contributed $1 million to set up five learning centers that will offer preschool programs, after-school activities, tutoring, and job-training programs.

In addition, said Ms. Garcia-Kimbrough of Rebuild L.A, R.L.A. has recruited thousands of Los Angeles residents to pitch in and help on a number of short-term projects, including a home-rehabilitation program coordinated by Habitat for Humanity and an immunization fair for area children.

'A Skyscraper on Swampland'

Despite its successes, Rebuild L.A. has come in for a fair amount of criticism.

One of its most vocal critics has been Maxine Waters, the U.S. Congresswoman who represents South Central Los Angeles. From the beginning, Ms. Waters has questioned the decision to ask Mr. Ueberroth, a wealthy white businessman, to head the organization. She later founded a group called Community Build as an alternative to Rebuild L.A.

Others have complained that it has put too much energy into cultivating corporate initiatives and not enough effort into promoting the development of small minority-owned businesses.

In an essay published in the Los Angeles Times last fall, Tyson Park, a Los Angeles lawyer and businessman, called Rebuild L.A.'s tactics "akin to building a skyscraper on swampland.''

"More than anything else, what needs to be nurtured in South Los Angeles are small, locally owned, service-oriented businesses,'' Mr. Park wrote. "If people have a stake in their community, they will protect not only what is theirs but also what belongs to their neighbors.''

In recent months, Rebuild L.A. has sought to address such deficiencies by announcing plans to establish a $5 million nonprofit lending fund for owners of small businesses and a $20 million small-business venture-capital company.

Expanding Agenda

Since its inception, the leadership of Rebuild L.A. has grown considerably. Over the months, Mr. Ueberroth was joined by four co-chairmen, and the membership of the board of directors has increased from 40 to more than 80.

Originally conceived with a focus mainly on economic development, Rebuild L.A.'s agenda has expanded as well. It has now engaged a virtual army of 1,100 volunteers to staff 11 task forces examining a wide range of issues, including education, health, and philanthropy.

"The initial understanding that a lot of folks had was that it was pretty much going to be bricks and mortar and jobs, and, for a variety of reasons, that agenda grew and grew and grew,'' said Lon Burns, the executive director of the Southern California Association for Philanthropy.

"R.L.A. was an organization created in the middle of the flames,'' Mr. Burns, who is also a member of R.L.A.'s philanthropy task force, added. "It was not the result of a relatively thoughtful, long-term process or critical thinking as to what's the best way to go with this.''

As it begins its second year of operation, Rebuild L.A. does not plan to replace Mr. Ueberroth, Ms. Garcia-Kimbrough said; instead, it will rely on the other four co-chairmen to continue providing leadership.

Several leaders in the foundation community view Mr. Ueberroth's resignation as an opportunity for a fresh start.

"In one sense, it wasn't a huge surprise, because he really had become a lightning rod for criticism,'' said one foundation official who asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the issue. "As the expectations rose, and given the lack of leadership in the rest of city and county, it became almost an undoable job.''

"It's grown like an amoeba and spread far and wide without really achieving focus,'' the official added.

Mr. Reisler of the Mark Taper Foundation commented: "I think it's a positive step because the perception, right or wrong, has been that he has been the first among five equals. He could spend all day and all night arguing that they all shared jobs, but if public perception is that he is causing the success or causing the problems, it's not going to help.''

Evolving Demographics

Meanwhile, as Rebuild L.A. struggles to define itself, the city's philanthropic community is wrestling with a tough tack of its own: trying to figure out how it must change to meet the needs of Los Angeles's rapidly evolving population.

In one of its first actions after the riots, the James Irvine Foundation hired Craig Howard, a consultant from the Berkeley, Calif.-based National Economic Development and Law Center, to assess the underlying causes of the unrest.

In his report to the foundation, Mr. Howard emphasizes the significance of the demographic shifts reshaping Los Angeles--changes, he says, likely to occur elsewhere in the country in the future.

The violence, Mr. Howard writes, "underscores the extent to which Los Angeles has also been the place where tensions resulting from the intersect of poverty, race, and immigration occur most intensely.''

The result, he concludes, is increasing competition for such basic resources as housing, jobs, and business opportunities--a competition that "is increasingly played out in ethnic and racial terms.''

Mr. Wilson of the ARCO Foundation said he and his colleagues first became aware of the need for private-sector collaboration when they read the work of such demographers as Harold L. Hodgkinson, the director of the Center for Demographic Policy at the Washington-based Institute for Educational Leadership.

A recent report by Mr. Hodgkinson notes that, by 2010, approximately one-third of the nation's youths, more than half of them members of minority groups, will live in four states--New York, Texas, California, and Florida. He points out that three of those states--California, Florida, and Texas--have among the highest dropout rates in the country.

'Realities Are Quite Different'

When Ms. Garcia-Kimbrough recently sat down with a visitor in a small office at the bustling downtown headquarters of Rebuild L.A. to discuss the initiative's progress, one of the first topics she raised is the role of race and ethnicity in Los Angeles County's 82 school districts.

"Compton, in a matter of 10 years, went from being about 90 percent African-American enrollment to close to 70 percent Latino enrollment,'' she noted, referring to maps outlining the distribution of racial and ethnic groups in the city.

At the same time, she added, other districts--Long Beach is a good example--have experienced incredible surges in the number of Southeast Asian students, leaving schools struggling to find teachers' aides who speak such languages as Hmong or Cambodian.

"So all of a sudden in 10 years,'' she said, "there has been a new customer, there are language issues, there are cultural issues.''

Meanwhile, others suggest that many Los Angeles residents remain unaware of the population shifts.

"You still think that only Latinos live in East L.A. and only African-Americans live in South Central,'' said Susan B. Badger, the education program officer for the Irvine Foundation. "The realities are quite different.''

One can visualize these changes easily, she suggested, by comparing the striking differences in the racial makeup of kindergarten classes--which reflect the increasing influx of Hispanic and Asian immigrants--to that of the city's 5th-grade classes.

Some point to the lack of public transportation as a factor in fueling the isolation of racial and ethnic groups in the city.

"One of the things about Los Angeles--which is often called one of America's most segregated cities, and I suspect that's correct--is that lots of non-Hispanics drive through East L.A. all the time,'' said Mr. Burns of the Southern California Association for Philanthropy. "But they drive through it on the freeway. We don't have a public-transportation system where people are used to being on subways or buses, so we drive over all of these places.''

Foundation and city officials say it is the sweeping demographic changes combined with the magnitude of the violence that set last year's disorders apart from the riots of the 1960's, like those that erupted in Watts 28 years ago.

"For most people, [Watts] really didn't directly affect them,'' Mr. Burns said. "The geographic area that was affected here [in 1992] was phenomenal; this was not a localized riot or rebellion, it was quite widespread.''

Community and Collaboration

In the aftermath of the riots, many grantmakers have suggested that, to get to the root of the problems in the nation's inner cities, it is imperative that the dynamics of individual neighborhoods be examined.

"'Community' is a word that has engaged us all profoundly in the last year,'' said John Orders, the cultural-arts program officer at the Irvine Foundation. Consequently, Irvine's staff, he said, has spent a significant chunk of time examining what defines the ties that bind communities.

"What we're all facing is that they've ceased to exist, or they're very weak,'' he said. "We're all trying to find some way of trying to recharge community capacities.''

Even before the riots, "collaboration'' had become a buzz word in the philanthropy community. As a growing number of national foundations launched ambitious multi-state efforts to integrate education, health, and human services for children and their families--among them, the Annie E. Casey, Rockefeller, and Ford foundations--their staffs recognized the need to coordinate their efforts.

In the fall of 1991, about a dozen members of Grantmakers for Children, Youth, and Families--a subgroup of the Council on Foundations--decided to create a "comprehensive services'' working group.

"A number of us became aware that we were pursuing common interests with separate initiatives and felt it would be very important to share information about progress, about problems,'' said Barbara B. Blum, the president of the New York-based Foundation for Child Development and a representative of the working group.

"One of the biggest wastes in the demonstration and research field,'' Ms. Blum added, "has to do with the fact that so often evaluations are separately designed, and, when you get the results, you find you really can't compare across projects.''

Ratcheting Up the System

Here in California, efforts to develop and strengthen collaboration among foundations had also been under way.

"One of the things the riots did,'' Mr. Burns of the regional philanthropy association said, "was to ratchet up some of the things we'd been talking about and some of the things we'd been doing.''

In the weeks immediately following the disorders, for example, the association compiled a bulletin for grantmakers to share information about their grants. And in an effort to enhance communications between foundations and the organizations they fund, the association recently began publishing a quarterly journal that it distributes to some 8,000 philanthropic organizations and nonprofit groups.

Today, the Southern California Association for Philanthropy is seeking to transform itself from an association that mainly provides services to its members into a leadership institution with a broader vision. Mr. Burns hopes the group can become "more of an organization that can help grantmakers to think in new ways and act in new ways and to create new alliances with others.''

In the process, association leaders say they are examining where Rebuild L.A.'s philanthropy task fits into the picture.

"There has been some overlap at best, if not question on my part, as to what the philanthropy task force is doing,'' Mr. Burns said. "It has been on occasion confusing. There's no need for R.L.A. to compete with or duplicate or get in the way of things we ought to be doing.''

Targeting Community Needs

Even with the increased collaboration among grantmakers interested in urban issues, Mr. Burns said, many partnerships have still tended to be what he calls "single issue'' collaborations: focused on education, health, AIDS, or housing, for example.

While it is helpful to have grantmakers invest in such single-focus projects, he argued, it is not enough. "It would get at community needs--but it wouldn't get at the needs of community,'' he asserted.

With this in mind, Mr. Burns and others are trying to develop more formal structures through which groups of grantmakers can come together to create pools of funds that could be used to respond to the interrelated needs of specific geographic areas.

Mr. Wilson of ARCO cited California's Healthy Start initiative as one successful example of collaboration and service integration.

A public-private-sector partnership supported by state legislation approved in 1991, it links the directors of the state health and human-service agencies, the state's office of child development and education, and 10 private foundations. To date, some 110 planning grants and 40 implementation grants have been awarded to encourage California schools to work with public and private agencies and families to improve access to health and human services.

"What we're talking about is making more efficient use of available dollars,'' Mr. Wilson said. "Whether you call it Total Quality Management or whatever, the fact is, the future doesn't look like there's going to be large amounts of new dollars, so you begin to look at competing, duplicating, non-complementary [programs] ... in order to try to get the system to become more efficient.''

'Anchor Centers'

The Irvine Foundation has also embraced the philosophy of collaboration and service integration. One of its major post-riot initiatives has been to support the development of what it terms "anchor centers'' in inner-city neighborhoods.

"It's really an expanded Hull House,'' Mr. Orders said, referring to the Chicago settlement house founded by the reformer Jane Addams in the late 1880's that provided social services and cultural opportunities to working-class immigrant families. The idea is "to take the settlement-house idea and make it alive in this context.''

And as corporations, foundations, and other groups seek to address the concerns of urban America, Henry A.J. Ramos, the community-services program officer at the Irvine Foundation, suggested that their success will depend in part on whether they view the poor populations they are seeking to serve as an asset or as a burden.

"How you respond strategically depends on how you look at it,'' he said. "To the extent to which we can draw out these individual resources and enable them to flourish, to unleash that inherent energy and give it some coherence, we will make some significant progress.''

"These groups become burdensome only when you neglect them,'' Mr. Orders added. "Whether they are a burden or a resource requires a major shift in how public dollars are spent.''

Whatever the case, he added, the concerns of cities cannot be ignored. "The fabric of this country in the next century will rise or fall directly in proportion to the quality of life in the inner city,'' he said.

Next week: As the 1996 Olympics approaches, the Atlanta Project, an initiative spearheaded by former President Jimmy Carter, works to empower the residents of 20 low-income neighborhoods to tackle their community's problems.

Vol. 12, Issue 36

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