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Rebuilding South-Central LA: 10 Years After the Riots

Monday, April 29, marks the 10th anniversary of race riots in Los Angeles. The unrest was sparked by the acquittal of four white police officers who had beaten a black motorist. More than 50 people were killed in the ensuing disturbances. Businesses were looted and many buildings were destroyed. The intervening years have brought healing and rebuilding.

After the riots, community leaders appealed to government and industry to help rebuild South-Central Los Angeles. While poverty and unemployment rates in the minority neighborhood remain twice the national average, there has been a dramatic improvement, says resident Greg Dulan, an African American who owns Dulan's Catering Company. His firm supplies hot meals to local public schools, and he also runs two restaurants. "You see a lot more economic development in the community now. And I'll tell you, the biggest change, and I would say this for me is the biggest positive aspect of the aftermath of the riots, is the attitude of the financial community and the corporate community in terms of investing, lending and developing the inner city," he says.

Mr. Dulan says a $20,000 loan helped him expand his business.

One local church has been at the forefront of the redevelopment. The First African Methodist Episcopal Church, or First AME Church, has attracted funds from government and industry to build housing units, a private school, a hostel for AIDS patients and other projects. A church-sponsored corporation has built three large housing complexes and will soon open smaller one on the site of derelict building that once housed drug dealers and prostitutes.

Peggy Graham-Hill directs the corporation and she points to a new structure with 12 apartments. "Just spectacular. But if you could only look back a little bit as to what was going on here at the time," she says. "One would be uncomfortable just walking the street here because you never knew what was going to come out of this building."

A nearby school serves 165 students.

The Reverend Mark Whitlock says it opened in 1994, two years after the riots, providing a rigorous course of studies. "The curriculum is outstanding. Certainly Afro-centric, but at the same time we offer Spanish language, and computer training," he says. "We also mentor. The men of the church come over and talk. Wonderful athletic programs. Pastor Murray's dreams to have an education center was realized right after the unrest."

Longtime pastor Cecil Murray of the First AME Church was one of the many leaders involved in the community renewal.

Local residents point with some pride to thriving commercial centers in the neighborhood. They include a theater complex and shopping center built by basketball legend Magic Johnson, and chain businesses, such as Starbucks Coffee. On Crenshaw Boulevard, a newly refurbished McDonalds, now owned by a black family, is one of the largest fast-food restaurants in the city.

The racial tensions of 1992 that pulled apart blacks and whites, Latinos and Koreans have dissipated now, according to business owner Greg Dulan. "I think over the last 10 years, we have learned to live together," he says. "There is a Korean merchant's association that for the last 10 years has done a community day/parade and I have donated soul food that is served right next to Korean food. And I see that the Korean community has really reached out and there are efforts being made on everyone's part because we all live together, we have to work together. And I don't sense or feel those tensions like I may have felt them 10 years ago."

Peggy Graham-Hill also sees a dramatic difference between Los Angeles of today and of 10 years ago. She recalled that now-peaceful streets were filled with rioters, and as far as the eye could see, plumes of smoke rose from burning buildings.

One thing, she says, has not changed. "The difference between then and now, the need is no different. What is different now, people seem to be looking a little bit closer now," she says. "There were a few more dollars put into the community, nowhere enough, but a few more dollars put into the community for us to do some of the things that needed to be done over 30 years ago."

Restaurant owner Greg Dulan adds, "a lot has been done, but there's a lot more to do" in South-Central Los Angeles.