CULVER CITY, Calif. — Being a leader in the midst of a pandemic and a social justice uprising is a lot of work, but Da’John Harris, the site director of nonprofit New Earth, is focused.

He is helping coordinate a free food market for the Los Angeles community. New Earth is dedicated to empowering at risk youth, but the organization has pivoted to resourcing any and all current needs, including access to fresh food.

“Once COVID hit we kind of shifted what we do to more of a direct service. Where we provide resources in pretty much anything our families would need during these times,” Harris said.

The food is prepared by employees of the nonprofit, local youth in need of work who have dealt with challenges in the legal system. As site director, Da’John mentors the youth involved, but said he is not exempt from unfair interactions with the police.

“Around the corner from here, I was pulled over because of my tinted windows. But I wasn’t given a regular fix it ticket, I was pulled out of my car, me and the youth, I was handcuffed, I was detained, sat on the curb. And my car was ransacked. Basically, it felt as if they were looking for a reason to put me behind bars,” he said.

But those experiences are exactly why Harris is so focused on helping the mainly Black and brown youth that come through the center’s doors. New Earth provides education opportunities, juvenile diversion programs, and quite simply, a safe haven, a space that Harris said has been needed far before the spark of the George Floyd protests.

“I feel that the current climate in which we are in has always been in existence. This is our reality. Regardless if one particular incident raises awareness, this is the reality for all the people we serve here. The people we serve, and myself.”

That’s why stepping up and providing free meals is just the basic, foundational resource being provided. Harris said he hopes the protests will awaken the public to what has been a crisis for the Black community for far too long.

“Every morning I get up, I strap on my gear, and I come to work because I know the young people here, they need us,” Harris said.