A Better LA
WHO WE ARE
A Better LA, founded by NFL coach Pete Carroll, is a nonprofit organization that supports community based solutions to restore peace, save lives and link individuals in the inner city to resources they need in order to thrive. A Better LA works with trusted partners to bridge racial divides, create safer environments for children and families, and empower individuals to create better futures for themselves. By partnering with community-based organizations, A Better LA enables sustainable transformation to take root from within, offering people reason to hope for a better tomorrow.
Over the past two decades, the City of Los Angeles has become the “gang capital” of the nation. Today, there are more than 450 active gangs in the city of Los Angeles alone. Many of these gangs have been in existence for over 50 years. Together, they have a combined membership of over 45,000 individuals.
In Los Angeles, gang homicides account for the majority of homicides among 15 to 24-year-olds - 61 and 69 percent, respectively - and are the second leading cause of death among people aged 15 to 24. African Americans and Latinos account for the majority of gang-related fatalities, fueled by growing black-brown racial tensions. Changing demographics, a downturn in the economy, gang turf battles, language differences, and racial and cultural bigotry have all contributed to this phenomenon.
While homicides dominate the headlines, however, simply living in gang-ridden communities affects the health and welfare of families. “Invisible lines” drawn by gangs to designate their turf cause children to live in a constant state of fear, wondering if walking to school or crossing the street puts them in harm’s way. Many families lose one or both parents to violence or jail, leaving children and estranged family members subject to emotional and physical abuse, hunger, and neglect.
It’s no wonder, then, that those living in areas of Los Angeles plagued by gang violence have a higher prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than troops returning from combat zones. Their experiences are similar, with one significant caveat: theirs are combat zones they also call “home,” and cannot, therefore, escape.
Studies show that low-income youths, like the 300,000 living in Los Angeles' gang "hot zones," are at the greatest risk. 90 percent of these children and teens have been victims or witnesses of felony-level violence. A fifth of the youths living in these areas suffer from clinical depression, and fully one third have PTSD. In addition, chronic stress from growing up in violent neighborhoods produces elevated levels of certain chemicals and hormones that impair brain development in children. Specifically, the areas of the brain impacted are those responsible for learning, memory, concentration and regulating emotions and actions.
Exposure to violence not only has serious mental health consequences, but is also linked with a range of chronic illnesses, including heart and lung diseases and diabetes. Neuroscientists have found that this type of trauma changes how chromosomes form, and can shorten a person’s life expectancy by 7-10 years. The secondary effects of violence, therefore, can often be as damaging as the violent acts themselves.
Gang violence deprives children and families of their lives – both literally and figuratively. Those who survive must grapple with the emotional effects of living in a violent atmosphere they cannot escape. ABLA seeks to change this reality, by supporting community-based solutions that enable individuals living in these areas to lead safer, more fulfilling, and hopeful lives.
In 2003, Pete Carroll was driving to USC football practice, when the radio station he was listening to announced that yet another child from Los Angeles – the seventh that week - had been victimized by gang violence.
Pete felt compelled to do something to help stop the violence. In April 2003, he invited LA community leaders to gather, collaborate, and envision a new identity – one of peace, cohesion, and prosperity - for LA’s toughest neighborhoods. Their goal, in short, was to build “A Better LA.”
Today, A Better LA supports community-based organizations and individuals who work to reduce and prevent gang violence. ABLA-funded entities are led by individuals who grew up in or around gangs, engaged in gang activity, and ultimately turned their lives around to become positive agents of change in their own communities. ABLA seeks out partners who believe that “saving lives” involves not only reducing violence, but also creating opportunities that enable individuals to prosper.
Gang prevention and intervention
ABLA’s gang prevention and intervention strategy focuses on working from the “inside-out” - that is, working within a community to effect change, rather than from the “outside-in.” This approach capitalizes on the power of long-term relationships, a shared identity, and trust. It also enables ABLA’s partners to connect with their community members in ways that others cannot. Many of ABLA’s outreach workers are drawn to this work, because they feel compelled to right the wrongs committed by them or the gangs they were previously affiliated with. By setting a positive example for the next generation, they are able to use their experiences to save and transform lives.
Becoming an ABLA outreach worker, however, is no simple feat. Those seeking ABLA’s support undergo a lengthy and rigorous vetting process. They usually come to ABLA through recommendations from trusted sources, are interviewed by law enforcement, undergo background checks, and then embark on an 18-week intensive training program. Once trained, ABLA determines whether they meet the rigorous standards required for partnership and funding. If so, ABLA provides ongoing support, training, oversight, and mentorship, which enable outreach workers to commit all of their attention, time and efforts to bettering their communities.
ABLA’s outreach workers are trained in gang intervention and prevention protocols and best practices. ABLA literally saves lives, by facilitating truces and mediating disagreements between gangs before they erupt in violence. ABLA’s strong community relationships enable outreach workers to open lines of communication between rival gangs, and reach out to law enforcement when reinforcement of peace-keeping measures are necessary.