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Pastor Mike outside school gates

Pastor Mike at Jordan High {format} {format} {format} 4:06 Queena Kim

Patroling a Watts school.

Broadcast: Jan 7 2008 on HV PODCAST; Sep 5 2006 on NPR Day to DaySeries: Pacific Drift Subjects: Youth, Education, African American

Finding 'Safe Passage' in a Tough L.A. Neighborhood

September 5, 2006 from Day to Day

ALEX CHADWICK, host: It used to be parents or maybe grandparents would take the opportunity of back- to-school week to talk about that long, snowbound walk to the classroom. Actually, many kids today face worse challenges. Jordan High School is in L.A.'s Watts neighborhood, where children have to pass through the gang-ridden Jordan Downs projects to get to school and then back home. A program called Safe Passage aims to make the walk a little less scary.

Producer Queena Kim of the Hearing Voices radio collective talked to one of the group's volunteers.

Mr. MICHAEL CUMMINGS (Volunteer, Safe Passage): We are in Watts, California, as I like to call it. My name is Pastor Michael Cummings. I'm here at Jordan High School. We do a Safe Passage program for the kids to be able to walk home safely.

(Soundbite of CB radio transmission)

Unidentified Woman: Copy. (Unintelligible)

Mr. CUMMINGS: We're going to step across the street to the left here. This is a Jordan Downs project house, the home of the (unintelligible) Watts. This is where that gang is out of, right here, so a lot of them are out here. So we're just watching now, we're just looking.

(Soundbite of crowd noise)

(Soundbite of traffic)

Mr. CUMMINGS: What I'm seeing right now is that we have kids walking westbound on 103rd. We have a couple of gang members that's out at the gates here to Jordan Downs. Nothing is out of the ordinary right now. Hold on one minute - come here young men.

These are some of our students at Jordan High School. How do you feel about walking home from school? Do you feel safe?

Unidentified Man #1 (Student, Jordan High School): To some extent, yeah, but I don't know. It's, like, it's not safe. You don't know anybody's coming from.

Mr. CUMMINGS: What do you say? How do you feel about...

Unidentified Man #2 (Student, Jordan High School): Pastor Cummings, (unintelligible) four years ago, man. It's showing a little bit of improvement, you know? I remember I used to get shot at all the time over here, so you know it's crazy.

Mr. CUMMINGS: Thanks, man. Thank you.

Most of the kids have to walk by the projects to get home. A lot of kids are scared of different gangs that's out on 103rd, and scared of getting caught up in drive-by shootings.

(Soundbite of traffic)

Mr. CUMMINGS: Right now it's a time where all the kids are getting out, so it seems like it's a magnet that draws them out to the gate on 103rd. Well, they're coming out to see who's in their neighborhood and who's walking from school that's from different neighborhoods. It's like they're coming out to protect their ‘hood.

(Soundbite of CB radio transmission)

Unidentified Man #3: How do we look down there?

Mr. CUMMINGS: Oh, we've got a code four(ph) down here today. It's code four.

(Soundbite of CB radio transmission)

Unidentified Man #3: Ten-four.

Mr. CUMMINGS: We're going to go down to Caroches(ph), a kind of hot corner that I pick out. These are south-siders here. The south side (unintelligible) are Spanish gangs down here. They're just hanging out. Now just think if you had a couple of gangs leaning up here on the gate like we see today, and you got a rival gang that's in a car. We’ve got 2,600 students going westbound on 103rd, and he's trying to shoot one guy that's running. How many kids would get shot?

(Soundbite of CB radio transmission)

Unidentified Man #4: Just stand by for about another five minutes, and then we're going to lock up both east-west, and west gates.

Mr. CUMMINGS: I feel safe. I feel safe because I grew up here. I used to gang- bang here. We picked on them, robbed them. I guess that's a gang member mentality, you know, to always let the people know that this is my turf, you know, and you can't come here. You know, so then they're looking for stuff to take from them, you know, just to let them know next time, when you see me, you know I'm the man, you know I'm the big man.

(Soundbite of CB radio transmission)

Unidentified Woman #2: (Unintelligible)

Mr. CUMMINGS: See how the kids done thinned out now? See that group that was across the street? They're moving on, they're moving.

CHADWICK: Pastor Michael Cummings of the Safe Passage program in Watts, Los Angeles, California. His story comes to us from Queena Kim of the Hearing Voices radio project.

(Soundbite of music)

CHADWICK: And there's more to come on DAY TO DAY.