Discovering Los Angeles

by Tracy Prouty

Approximately 30 miles from Azusa Pacific University lies a world-famous city of industry that is simultaneously thriving and dying. Los Angeles, known as the center of business, fashion, and filmmaking, overflows with diversity, wealth, and culture. Yet it is easy to be blinded by the bright lights and high rises and not see the injustice that rests below.

Recently, I had the opportunity to join 14 other APU students and two student leaders for L.A. 101, a program through the Office of Ministry and Service (MAS) that guides its participants through multiple districts and societies in Los Angeles. L.A. 101 hopes to challenge worldviews and raise awareness to social justice issues that lurk in our own backyards.

We began our four-day adventure with various preconceptions of the city, only to have them shattered in the best and worst ways possible. Our first experience was a walk along Skid Row, residence to a large portion of the homeless population in Los Angeles. One of the most fascinating and heartbreaking realizations about the structure of the city of Los Angeles is how abruptly the socioeconomic status changes. One moment you are walking by luxurious condominiums and a block later you find yourself in one of the poorest neighborhoods in L.A. We met up with Misty Jo Wise, a former APU student who works for the Central City Community Outreach on Skid Row. In addition to its weekly church services, this organization offers a program specifically for children and is the site of another APU M.A.S. opportunity, S.A.Y. Yes.

The second day of activities challenged us even more than the first. We toured two portions of the Twin Towers Correctional Facility. Our team was greatly affected by a wide range of emotions in response to what we saw. Afterward, a visit to the encouraging and uplifting Homeboy Industries reminded us that the city was also the home to amazing people and programs. The Homeboy Industries mission statement declares that the program “assists at-risk youth and former gang members in becoming positive and contributing members of society though job placement, training, and education.”

The final day of the trip opened our eyes to the issue of sweatshops in Los Angeles. Junior Sam Hotchkiss and senior Rochelle Younan, members of APU’s Students for a Sweat-Free Campus movement, joined our group to guide us through the fashion district. Dilapidated buildings as high as 15 stories jutted from the busy sidewalks and contained multiple floors of these workplaces. Having never before thought or acknowledged sweatshops as a problem in the United States, many of us were shocked by the working conditions. It was at the end of this day that I truly understood the phrase, “ignorance is bliss.”

Each day was filled with discussion and debriefing to help each of us sort through all we experienced. Though the days always finished with discussions, the doors of communication were constantly, eagerly open among the students on the trip. We wrestled with issues including immigration, gentrification, and poverty, each student benefiting from the varied opinions and personal experiences.

Team leader and graduating senior Damaris Pereda ended the trip with a discussion of what this experience means for us as professing Christians. “Sometimes we need to love through our actions. It is easy to say it and to feel it, but, if we are really modeling our lives after Christ, we need to act out love.”