LOS ANGELES — Every donated box represents the possibility of positive change.
That’s the perspective of Justin Mayo, founder of the Watts Empowerment Center.
As volunteers drop off food, clothes, and furniture to support the nonprofit situated in the Watts Housing Projects neighborhood, Mayo says the instability caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is nothing new for him and his team, as they are accustomed to overcoming hurdles.
“When the community center had different budget cuts and shut down a few years ago, the locals were like 'save the center!' And I was like 'guys, I got no money', and they were like, 'figure out a way.' And so, especially when it’s the Crips and Bloods asking you to do something, you at least try,” Mayo said.
Mayo gets his hands dirty everyday making space for donations in hopes to change the local statistic which indicates that life expectancy in Watts is 20 years less than a child born in Beverly Hills.
“The community deserves better, and for too long they’ve been overlooked and left behind. So we’re going to not give up, we’re going to keep on showing up, and we’re going to actually listen,” he said.
The impact of COVID has caused severe food insecurity, that’s why Mayo and his team of volunteers have stepped up to provide a free weekly market through the help of local donors. Even though the center is situated within a two-mile radius of 7,000 gang members, fear is no factor when it comes to the center’s generosity, which also includes a tutoring center to support distance learning.
He hopes the support will help decrease the 50 percent school dropout rate in the area.
“The way I look at it is, just showing up. These kids have changed my life.”
To support the Watts Empowerment Center, visit www.youthmentor.org/donate.