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Community organizations join forces to keep liquor out

Juliana D. Norwood | 4/20/2011, 5 p.m.

For decades, residents of South Los Angeles have suffered from an over-concentration of stores that sell liquor. While many community-based organizations have sought to address the problem, few have been successful.

This history, however, did not discourage local resident Bruce Patton from fighting the attempt by Sonsonate Grill--a restaurant in close proximity to his home--to secure a liquor license that would allow them to sell a full line of alcoholic beverages.

"This started back in 1992, when the Community Coalition helped to get a liquor store on 51st and Western's liquor license revoked. That place was truly a thorn in the community," said Patton.

"From that arose the idea that individuals, if they push hard enough, can make change."

Through their activism community residents have successfully removed or prevented liquor stores from being opened on Western Avenue between 57th Street and Vernon Avenue.

"Sonsonate Grill originally applied for a license to sell beer and wine a few years ago, and we fought it then but we lost. This time they wanted to expand and we just couldn't sit back and let this (alcohol) come back into the community," said Patton. "There are three elementary schools in the area and the community has just recently started to get to a point where these kids can (safely) walk to and from school; gang violence is at a minimum, and the biggest problem we have (now) is that the area has become a hotbed for prostitution. We are planning to have a town hall meeting to address that issue soon."

As a result of Patton's efforts, members of the MA'AT Institute for Community Change, 50th Street Block Club, Community Coalition, Lewis Metropolitan CME Church and local residents gave public testimony, which led to the City of Los Angeles denying Sonsonate Grills' petition to expand their alcohol sales.

The MA'AT Club began organizing in the area surrounding the restaurant last year and has already begun improving the quality of life for residents.

"When we started talking to residents in 2010, the area was overrun by prostitution and drugs," said Kokayi Kwa Jitahidi, founding secretary and treasurer of the institute. "Under the leadership of local leaders like Patton, we have a real chance to improve the Western corridor. It was a small, yet very significant first step to improving this community."

Patton also mentioned how upset he was that councilman Bernard Parks didn't just come out and deny the petition outright instead having a 30-day deliberation period. "He should have just said no," said Patton. "Nevertheless we are overjoyed at the outcome."

In its efforts to help educate and unite the community, MA'AT holds monthly empowerment workshops to inform and organize the community about other critical issues. In the past, MA'AT has held workshops on Obama's healthcare plan, the history of Black power in Los Angeles and economic development in South Los Angeles.

The organization's monthly empowerment workshop is normally held on the second Wednesday of every month at the AFIBA (African Firefighters In Benevolent Association) Center at 5730 S. Crenshaw Blvd. in Los Angeles.

"A challenge (the organization faces) is that many members of the community believe that activism doesn't work anymore. So, we have to work on getting past that mindset," said Jitahidi. "Whatever we have gotten up until this point, is a result of someone struggling and fighting for it."

MA'AT Club for Community Change was founded in 2009 in South Los Angeles as a project of Imara Institute and Investment Group. Its founder, Jitahidi, is a veteran grassroots and political organizer, who saw a need for the development of an Afro-centered, organization that worked to address the specific needs of Los Angeles' Black community.

For more information, visit the MA'AT web site at www.maatclubforchange.com.