Congresswoman Maxine Waters, remembers, the Watts Riots, Crack Cocaine and Public Housing

Congresswoman Maxine Waters is considered by many to be one of the most powerful women in American politics today. She has gained a reputation as a fearless and outspoken advocate for women, children, people of color and the poor.

In November of 2014, Waters was elected to her thirteenth term in the U.S. House of Representatives with more than 70 percent of the vote in the 43rd Congressional District of California.

In observance of the Watts Riots of 1965, 50 years later, United States Congresswoman, Maxine Waters, on the second Sunday in August, 2015, graced the pulpit of the historic, Macedonia Baptist Church, Los Angeles. Waters, no stranger to the historic congregation, reminded them of the challenges the Watts community is still confronted with while providing them with a glimmer of hope for a bright future and imploring them to show up in oder to make a difference.

The text below are excerpts from the speech Congresswoman Maxine Waters delivered to the congregation on Sunday, August 9th, 2015.

IMG_1195“We came up with programs to deal with our young people at the height of the crack cocaine movement in this city and in this area. And I want you to know that I ask for office space in all of the public housing projects. And we created something called ‘Project Build.’ And we walked door to door and put out the flyers to all the young men just hanging. The first program stated was at Jordan Downs. Came to Jordan Downs. The line was around the block. The first thing we recognized was that people who said those folks don’t want to work, don’t know what they’re talking about. (Applause) And we went from Jordan Down to Nickerson, the Imperial Courts and now to Gonzaque Village.”

“And we created this program, not designed by Harvard or Princeton, we sat at the kitchen table and said let’s talk about the need of this community. What are we dealing with? Crack Cocaine was flourishing. We got into the investigative act. Found out where it was coming from. Nicaragua. Found out what Ricky Ross was doing and how he got connected. I went all the way and met with the Medellin`Drug Cartel folks. We had an investigation in the President of the United States to find out what was going. (Applause) We were seeing things that we’ve never seen before. We were seeing our children being abandoned. Our children were living in crack houses right in public housing. And so after dealing with the young folks who were abandoned, and the gang members who had flourished because they basically said, ‘nobody cares about us, we love each other.’

“We walked door to door and when shootings took place we went to police stations, we went to Martin Luther King, Jr. Hospital and we decided that we were going to do what formalized institutions don’t do, and that is understand your children, your people and what’s going.”

“Greg Brown stand up. When he came to my office, let’s say he was feeling a little good. But when he came he said, ‘I’m not going back to jail.’ He said, ‘I’ll kill myself before I go back to jail.’ And so I saw in Greg Brown a young man who loved his community who wanted to do something. I hired him. Aside from the work he did in Project Build, he took it on him self, to host parties for the children in the Nickerson’s. What ever holiday that came up he was doing something for the Children. He not only went on to work in this program, he bought a house!” (Applause)

“Don’t tell me what can’t be done. Because we can do whatever we put our minds to do. If we love ourselves, our children and our community. I’m so proud of Greg Sr. and Greg Jr. And there are more. I want you to know in the Nickerson, we’ve got two young men, Hank and Donnie. They were two of the one’s that we hired in Nickerson Gardens. They’re retiring next year! They’ve been there all of this time. (Applause) They went to work and they never looked back. They went to work. They were there every morning on time. They did their job. They’re respected and they’re going to retire.”

“We’re talking about what we can do on 103rd Street, to open up a business incubator where we will have stalls where young people and old people, whoever from Watts who want to sale their arts and their crafts; if they want to be retailers and if they want to go downtown and buy wholesale and come back and mark it up and sale it retale, I hope we will develope this space for them to do that!” (Applause)

“And so, here we are 50 years later talking about Watts. Yes we have the Maxine Waters Employment Preparation Center. But you can’t just do a building and think everything is ok. I just learned that my dear nursing program that we put there, now cost $10 thousand dollar to be able to go. That does not make good sense. (Applause) So we’re now researching, just like we have student loans for college level, why can’t we have student loans at the high school level? So when you have a program like the nursing program, at the Maxine Waters, where people can get loans and subsidies so they can complete their careers or start their careers there.”

“Now one thing about this nursing program, ladies and gentlemen at any day in this city we need 100 thousand nurses. And if you get education and trained, as a nurse you’ll never have to look back again. The salary is good. You can buy homes. You can send your kids to college. You can do whatever you need to do. Because nursing is a profession where we need nurses. And it pays well. And so, I don’t know how I”m going to do it, but I can tell you one thing, we gonna do it!” (Applause)

“Now with that program that we had, Project Build, we didn’t do a lot of fancy stuff. We brought young people in and we said, we’re going to teach you how to feel out a job application . We’re going to teach you how to do a job interview. And I’m going to tell you what people think about you if you’re pants are below your butt and you can’t speak the King’s English, I’m going to tell you, whatever you’re doing, that application goes in the waste basket.  I’m going tell you, how to get in there and present yourself in ways that will give you a chance.”

“And so at first the young people thought I was just another little old lady coming out here talking. At that time, again, drugs were running rampant in the community. So the first thing I did was in the program, I said I’m going to feed you when you come in. I’m going to give you a continental breakfast to get started with. And then at lunch time I’m going to see to it that you have lunch. Then I’m going to give you a little old stipend. It won’t be much, $10 dollar it was. But $10 dollars back in the day meant a lot to a lot of folks. And so we did the job application. We did the roleplaying on how to interview. We interviewed each other. And then we criticized each other on about what you didn’t do. And how you should do. And at the end of the day when I gave them the $10 dollars we had as exercise, ‘‘I’m not going to give my $10 dollars to the dope man today!” (Applause)

“And so I said what can you do with $10 dollars? You can get a hair cut. You can give your grandmother $5 because she’s keeping the baby for you. You can get some clothes cleaned. You can do something with this $10 dollars. We turned a lot of folks around. And on the day of graduation, I gave them five days, I flew down from Sacramento every day. And on the fifth day I want you to come like you’re looking for a job. They came dressed to kill! They looked good. They got their certificates and they brought their grandmothers with them. And they were proud!. All I had was love and respect for those young people they said were no good!” (Applause)

“There has to be an investment in human potential. First of all, young people have to know that you care about them. And you’re willing to take them as they come and where they come from.”

“As so we understood we had kids whose mothers were on drugs. We understood we had kids whose fathers were in prison. But what we understood was, that child was born into situations they had nothing to do with.”

“And so I’m saying you can’t job train without feeding people. You’ve got to make sense out of what you do.”

I ran into a lady the other day. who is a Social Worker, she has two or three degrees. She came out of Jordan Downs. The first people we hired over at Jordan Downs retired from Martin Luther King, Jr., Hospital a couple of years ago.”

“And so job training and jobs. How do you open up job opportunities? We went and we talked with Charles Drew and Martin Luther King, and all the other local businesses in big alleys between here and Slauson Avenue. And we took people on walks to say these are businesses in the community.”

“And there was another little thing we did that I really would like to talk about. On street projects and a lot of construction that was going on. We just went over and said where is the supervisor? Who’s in charge here? ‘If we can’t work, yall can’t work.’ It was as simple as that. So people got the message. And we got people laying some of that cable. But it takes a lot of work. And it takes love and concentration. It’s not something that you just wish. You don’t come out in your suit and say, ‘I’m your role model!’ You’re not anybodies role model! You get down there with them and help them to understand how life really works and what you’ve got to do to be successful. And who will stand by you. And the resources that are available to you.”

“And so as we look at Watts 50 year letter, yes, we’ve got to talk about continuing to develop this community.”

“The first thing is housing. We’ve got to make sure we’ve got decent housing. We’ve got to make sure the people who stay here for so long and who need a new roof, don’t get ripped off by these banks and financial institutions!” (Applause)

“We’ve got to make sure that the banks are lending money to people who can afford to pay it back. People work every day and can’t get a loan“We’ve got to make sure that the banks are lending money to people who can afford to pay it back. People work every day and can’t get a loan from the bank, whether it’s Chase Manhattan, Wells Fargo or Citi or any of them, they have to do better. And when they come before my committee we are giving them a hard time.  We’re pushing them. And we’re saying to them ‘you’ve got to make credit available in communities where people work everyday and can afford to pay you back. You have still been Redlining these communities.’  And we’re still overcoming all of the foreclosures that happen throughout our communities.”

“Just the other day we went to an 80 year old woman. Who they had sold the house, she had been there for 35 to 40 years. She raised her children there. She got behind in the payments because a lot of things happened in her life. We decided, even though they sold the house we weren’t going to let them have it. And do I went and found a program that we had funded and I said you’ve got the NSP program. Comes through the City of Los Angeles. Neighborhood Stabilization Program. We put $7 to $8 billion dollar in nationally. What are you doing with your program? Well I called the new owner, and I said ‘you can’t have it! I know that you bought it. Now we will give you market value for it because I got the NSP program which I funded and we’re going to buy it back from you. And he said he didn’t want to sell it. I said you better sell it or you won’t’ be able to live in it! (Applause) However I convinced him and we paid him a fair market price for it. But today this woman is in her house at 80 years old.” (Applause)

“Commitment! Elected Officials doing what they’re suppose to do. Resources. We have another problem. They wanted to get rid of 240 units of public housing. I said we can’t afford to get rid off  240 public housing units in South L.A. Rents are too steep. Competition to keen. Don’t tell me you’re going to give them no Section 8 Voucher. Because you’ve got people standing in line for vouchers for the next 10 years. and in addition to that in Palmdale and Lancaster they harassed them and don’t want them in the community. And so they run them out of the community. And the County has to take responsibility for that with the Sheriff’s Department.”

IMG_1187“So I went to the head of HUD and said ‘you’re going to get something that’s coming here from L.A. County talking about selling off 240 units in South Central. And if you let that happen don’t you come before my committee anymore. because we’re going to see to it that we tell folks what you’re doing and what you’re not doing. And we’re going to see to it that the president knows what you’re doing. He appointed you and you’re not doing what you’re supposed to do. And we’re going to try to get your job!”

“And so, you just have to stand up sometimes and push back.”

“Now, if you’re working on the very basic needs then you can talk about this kind of economic development. And we know we need spaces for non-profits and all of that. But at some point in time we’ve got to build some wealth you all! We’ve got to build wealth and we can’t just do it by just raising the minimum wage. We want to raise the minimum wage, but we want to earn some real money!”

“In the final analysis, you elect folks to office, and just as put them in you can take them out!”

“I just love when folk say this is not the days of the Civil Rights movement. That’s old school stuff! But when you look across the world and you see the protest going where they’re putting up thousands and millions of people in Syria and other places in the Middle East, that’s because they’ve decided to take control. You heard about the Arab Spring when the Middle East just exploded and folks were organizing. Organizing is extremely important. Show up at the City Council! If they don’t put you on the agenda there is a public comment section. You go to that microphone and talk until they make you sit down!”

“And so someone said to me at the Watts Festival yesterday. ‘Ms. Water’s you’re like my grandmother. You came to my school when I was in the 3rd grade.’ ‘I been around for a long time.’ And they said, ‘You’re still dancing and you’re still with us.?’ I said, yes, I’ve got lots of energy left! I ain’t going nowhere! I’ve got a lot of energy and I’ve got a lot of love. And I believe!”

“Lastly, whatever I know I learned in Sunday School. That’s where I come from. My grandmother and mother polished those shoe’s white on Saturday night and we got up and they took us to Sunday school.”

“We should know that we have power and with the power we have lets be sure that our families are safe and they’re taken care of. That are communities are safe, and that they’re taken care of. And the people that we elect are doing the job that we want them to do.”

“So if there is any one lesson, one thing I’d like to leave with you. When the call goes out to show up, show up! Show up! Because the only thing people in power understand is more people in power than them! Thank you very much.”



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