By Shirley Hawkins
SOUTH LOS ANGELES — As thousands of students returned to school this week, experiencing a safe journey to and from school is one of the missions of Community Build, which provides services for at-risk young adults. The agency takes part in the city of Los Angeles’ Gang Reduction and Youth Development and Safe Passage programs.
Helping to mitigate the effects of crimes in and around school districts is the job of Leon Gullette, vice president of intervention services at Community Build, who has been with the agency for nearly 20 years. He oversees the Gang Reduction and Youth Development, Safe Passages and several other programs at the agency.
Funded by the offices of Councilmen Curren Price and Marqueece Harris-Dawson, Safe Passage’s goal is to protect students from crime on streets, bus stops and bus lines once they leave the school campus. According to statistics, there are an estimated 400 gangs and 50,000 active gang members in Los Angeles.
Students have reported being targeted for armed robberies, gang harassment, intimidation, bullying, drive-by shootings and other crimes. Many report that they felt most unsafe in the community as they moved to and from the school campus.
Gullette has been involved with quelling gang violence for nearly 30 years.
“I was part of the group that helped bring about the gang truce in 1992,” he said.
“Our goal in the Safe Passage Program is to get the students to and from school safely and to take the unnecessary pressure off of them. There are people trying to lure them into the gangs and there are also pedophiles around the schools.
“We decided years ago to create a program to protect the students,” he added. “We have intervention workers in our program who work with the communities and help the communities preserve peace. What is also helpful is that we took folks in our community and trained them on how to monitor the kids in their neighborhoods.
“Our goal is to make the kids feel safe which has a direct effect on making the school attendance rate go up and crime go down,” said Gullette, who added that the organization also works closely with the Los Angeles Unified School District police officers.
“We regulate what the kids do,” Gullette said. “We currently cover middle and high schools including Manual Arts, Bethune, Carver, Dorsey, Audubon and Maya Angelou High School.
“Councilman Price recently called us and had us come to schools in his district that weren’t safe,” he added.
The group also watches for violence on buses.
“We might get a call from the administrators at DASH who need our help in stopping fights on the bus,” Gullette said. “We will dispatch a staff person who will monitor the DASH buses to make sure the kids are not fighting. We help to navigate the students through some of the rougher areas of the city.
Gullette said he also gets the business community invloved.
“We provide store owners with an emergency contact number because sometimes we have kids who act up in the stores,” he said.
Along with protecting the students, Gullette said that the Gang Reduction and Youth Development program also works to turn around the lives of gang members by pairing gang members with a case manager and an intervention worker to redirect them to enroll in school, find employment and other services that they might need.
“We help them obtain employment and help them to pull out of the gangs,” Gullette said.
Program employees also scour “hot spot” neighborhoods as well as local parks to help keep gang conflicts at a minimum.
“They get the young homies to tone down,” Gullette said. Staff members also attend monthly meetings at the mayor’s office where they suggest ways to make the communities safer.
“I love being in a position to change the lives of young people who might be going in the wrong direction,” Gullette said.
Shirley Hawkins is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.