Intersection renamed in honor of Sweet Alice Harris

Wave Wire Services

WATTS — Longtime community activist “Sweet” Alice Harris was recognized June 17 as a local intersection was named in her honor. 

The 90-year-old Harris joined Los Angeles City Councilman Tim McOsker at the ceremony at the intersection of Lou Dillon Avenue and Santa Ana Boulevard North, near the eight homes she owns on Lou Dillon Avenue and where the social services organization she founded in 1967, Parents of Watts Working with Youths and Adults, is operated.

“This sign and this naming will remember your work — your decades and decades and decades of work, that’s going to continue for decades and decades and decades more,” McOsker said as he unveiled the signage designating the intersection in Harris’ honor. 

Harris is the executive director of Parents of Watts, which encourages children to stay in school and always avoid drugs. It provides emergency food and shelter for homeless people, prepares teenagers for trade school, college and the job market and also offers drug counseling, health seminars and parenting classes.

Harris founded the organization in an attempt to alleviate tensions in the neighborhood after the 1965 riots. It focuses on creating a safe and nurturing environment for the youth, advocating for social change and providing support for families grappling with poverty and crime.

“Thank you all, and I’m ever so grateful that you all have come out and recognized me, because nobody does that but my husband sitting there,” Harris told the crowd of supporters gathered for the event. “I’m ever so proud of my husband because I couldn’t do what I’m doing if he wasn’t a part of me and helping me.”

McOsker, whose district includes Watts, called the organization “a beacon of hope for the community” in the motion designating the intersection as Sweet Alice Square.

“Her remarkable journey and contributions have left an indelible mark on the history of Watts and will always stand as a testament to the resilience and strength of the human spirit,” McOsker said in the motion.

Harris is known for speaking her mind in pursuing equal services and opportunities for her fellow residents and countering any resistance she gets from uncooperative parents, school administrators or city officials with her trademark question: “Do you want to be part of the building crew or the wrecking crew?”

“The reason I’ve done this for so long is because I can remember when I needed help,” Harris said in a 2015 interview. “In Alabama a family gave me help when I was considered nothing. They gave me a job, so I promised them that whenever I find somebody in the same shape and wearing the same shoes I wore, I would do for them what they had done for me.

“I won’t stop. I’ll be doing this until the Lord comes and gets me because I love it. I love to see people smile and I know how good they feel, because I know how good I felt.”

Harris was born in Gasden, Alabama on Dec. 29, 1933, and raised there. She moved to Detroit where she operated her own beauty shop. She moved to Los Angeles in the late 1950s, seeking better opportunities and a brighter future for herself and her family, only to face numerous challenges and hardships as an African-American woman in Watts amid poverty, gang violence and social neglect, McOsker said in the motion.

The naming of the intersection is the latest of a long series of honors for Harris, which also include receiving an honorary doctorate from USC, being selected by President George W. Bush as a “point of light” for the impact she has made on Watts through her volunteer work, being selected by Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante as “Woman of the Year,” in 2002, receiving the Minerva Award created by California first lady Maria Shriver to honor remarkable women, having the play park on Compton Avenue named for her and having the Oral Arts Room at King/Drew Magnet High School of Medicine and Science dedicated in her honor.

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