Benefit concert planned for survivors of South L.A. house fire

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By Shirley Hawkins

Contributing Writer

SOUTH LOS ANGELES — A fundraiser for the family that was devastated by a house fire last month that left five people dead will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. Nov. 20 at the Mafundi Cultural Arts Center in Watts. Proceeds from the event will go to the surviving members of the Slack family.

The fundraiser, titled the 1 Watts Love Benefit Concert, will feature Watts icon Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band, former Motown singer and Watts native Brenda Holloway, and comedian Darryl Brunson.

The fundraiser is being organized by Louis Hollingsworth, also a Watts native and the founder and executive director of the nonprofit Homeless Free America.

Hollingsworth heard about the tragedy from Lawanda Slack, 61, whose estranged husband Timothy died in the fire.

Hollingsworth said he was shocked. 

“I couldn’t wrap my mind around losing that many members of your family in one incident, he said. “I was kind of speechless.

Hollingsworth immediately reached out  to help the family.

The fire broke out in the early morning hours Oct. 12 near 87th Street and Compton Avenue in the Florence/Firestone district of South Los Angeles.

As the flames tore through the beige stucco home, the five family members trapped inside tried desperately to remove iron bars from the home’s windows to escape the flames.

Cries for help from family members could be heard by nearby neighbors as one of them grabbed a water hose and attempted to put out the mounting flames.

Even though firefighters tried valiantly to quell the fire, matriarch Walterine Slack, 87, who was wheelchair bound, was rushed to the hospital suffering from smoke inhalation. She lated died. A son, Larry Slack, 57, was rushed to the hospital but died of smoke inhalation along with niece Anastasia Slack, 20, and sister Debra Slack, 64. A second son, Timothy Slack, 58, died inside the home. 

The family said there was no insurance on the home.

The close-knit, religious family attended St. John Church of God and Christ, a church that was built next to the family home by their father, the late John Robert Slack Sr., nearly 40 years ago. The church was untouched by the fire. 

Lawanda Slack said she was devastated.

“I was going down Compton Avenue on my way to Subway the next morning and I was shocked when I saw all of the damage to the home from the fire,” she said.

Charles Wright said that he was surprised that the tragic incident did not receive more publicity. 

I never even heard about it on CNN, but I am more than willing to help the family. I feel like it’s my duty,” Wright said, adding that his band has agreed to donate their time for the fundraiser and plan to keep the crowd thoroughly entertained.

Comedian Darryl Brunson, who is helping plan the fundraiser, said he lost five nephews and a niece in a house fire in his hometown of Baltimore several years ago.

“I really have sympathy for the Slack family,” he said. “It is a heart wrenching  time for them and it is good that the community is here to give them support during a horrible time such as this. Even though it’s a sad occasion, we still have to come together as a community to celebrate those lives that are still living.” 

Kenneth Slack, a truck driver who owns Alliance Plus Transportation and one of two surviving sons, said he began receiving phone calls the morning after the fire as friends and other family members attempted to reach him. He was overwhelmed with emotion as he spoke about his family members. 

“My mom was a sweet lady,” he said tearfully. “She was the mother of the neighborhood. Neighbors would come to her and tell her their troubles and she would comfort them. She meant so much to a lot of people.” 

He added that his brother Timothy, a pastor, had just come home from the hospital the day before the fire after undergoing an operation to have one of his legs amputated.

Multiple funerals have already been held for the Slack family members, but the fundraiser is being held to help the remaining brothers Kenneth and John Slack and sister Althea Grandberry rebuild the family home. A Go Fund Me page has been established to help raise funds for the house building fund.

The page, at www.gofundme.com/f/family-of-3-lost-in-a-fire, has raised $32,000 so far with a goal of $60,000.

“The home is a total loss and had been in our family for decades,” Kenneth Slack said. 

Grandberry said that the family has been deeply touched by the dozens of people who have showered them with an outpouring of love and sympathy.

“People came by after hearing about the fire on the news and handed us cash donations. Some came by and brought us home-cooked meals,” she added.

More community members are expected to attend the weekend fundraiser to contirbute more to the cause.

The Mafundi Cultural Arts Center is located at 1827 E. 103rd St.

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