The Watts Labor Community Action Committee (WLCAC), a non-profit with nearly 50 years of history advocating for the nation’s most underserved, keeps our brothers every day.
WLCAC’s founder Ted Watkins lived what it meant to be a brother’s keeper. As a thirteen year old African-American he fled a Mississippi lynch mob, settling down in the Watts neighborhood of the City of Los Angeles in 1935 and never looked back. He worked hard at different trades, joined the United Auto Workers Union, and raised a family of six with his wife Bernice, a blonde-haired green-eyed Jewish woman whose family disowned her for marrying a black man.
His fight against poverty eventually led him to establish WLCAC in 1965. This was just before the Watts Revolt, when young men of color flashed in violent anger over law enforcement’s failure to protect its women and children. The lack of amenities such as transportation, health care, job training and development altogether fueled a seething frustration that cried out for real change. Under Ted’s leadership, WLCAC brought thousands of jobs to young men of color in Watts and for the first time, many of them became self-sufficient and became life-long wage earners in the process. New neighborhoods blossomed around single-family homes that low-income renters could buy with a long-term lease to purchase.
When revolt erupted again in 1992, young men of color were burning with rage at the injustice of the racially driven Rodney King Verdict and WLCAC’s seven-acre headquarters site was burned to the ground. Although 27 years of work, employment programs, records and history were destroyed in flames, Ted returned to work the morning after committed to rebuilding. When Ted passed away in 1993, WLCAC responded to the historic violence and racial injustice in the community with a renewed commitment to cultural enrichment as a means for documenting local history and then using the truth about the cultural experience to heal souls and further human potential. Interactive museums and exhibits help visitors explore the hatred of racial injustice and learn about constructive civil rights struggles and the promotion of healing through understanding. WLCAC’s seven acre headquarters site now includes a Civil Rights Tour exposing visitors to the trials of the middle passage,the darkness of the Reconstruction Eraand the light of the Civil Rights Movement with a photographic exhibit of Dr. Martin Luther King’s work throughout America.
With Timothy Watkins’ leadership, this cultural experience has become the catalyst for WLCAC’s Cultural Tourism initiative: A new economic development engine aimed at redeveloping the impoverished community by transforming the people who live there instead of transplanting them. But most important to WLCAC and to its leadership of old and new, are the people who live in Watts, a community that has been neglected and overlooked for far too long.
Along with leading WLCAC in providing social services to tens of thousands of souls every year, Tim is proud to hire ex-offenders and has held jobs for their return when recidivism claimed them. A willingness to reach out and to champion the rights of the disenfranchised is Tim’s personal passion and WLCAC staff reflects this same quality of care and concern towards the people we serve, particularly our youngsters, most of whom are young people of color.
As WLCAC continues to do all we can to be our brother’s keeper, we are deeply encouraged by and excited about President Obama’s demonstration of this nation’s commitment to standing up for those who are in greatest need of support.