From ESPN.com Blogger Bruce Feldman's March 13, 2008 posting about Pete Carroll and A Better LA:
The news of Jamiel Shaw's shooting hit USC coach Pete Carroll hard. He cringes every time he hears another story about a kid being gunned down, football player or not.
Shaw, a star running back at Los Angeles High School, was shot and killed March 2 in what appears to be an act of random gang violence.
Tragedies like Shaw's death are what motivated Carroll to do something to help. Disturbed by the violence in Los Angeles, Carroll created the A Better L.A. program in 2003 to try to remedy the gang problem.
The idea for the program sprouted in Carroll's mind after he listened to sobering newscasts detailing gang violence during the week leading up to the USC-Notre Dame game in 2002. Carroll's heart sank. But he didn't know what he could do. He called one of his mentors, Lou Tice, a motivational speaker from Seattle.
"I've got to do something about this," Carroll said. "Can you help?"
In April 2003, Carroll and Lou and Diane Tice gathered Los Angeles' community leaders together at USC's Heritage Hall to launch what has become "A Better L.A.," a nonprofit group working in conjunction with other local organizations to reduce gang violence by fostering change in individuals and communities.
Among the programs are a 32-hour training course which, according to the group's Web site, is designed to "assist participants with their approaches to problem-solving, increase their causative power, and improve their communication and empathic skills."
"What we're involved with," Carroll said, "is a cutting-edge journey back into the community to find guys from the community who are of the community and will stay there and do the work, creating a peace corps of workers that can give us a voice and presence that simply doesn't exist right now."
Over the past few years Carroll and his friend Bo Taylor, a former gang-member-turned-activist, also have spent many nights visiting some of the roughest neighborhoods in L.A., often coming by twice a week for their midnight pilgrimages.
In the wake of Shaw's death and other shootings in the past few weeks, Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton has acknowledged a spike in homicides. According to the Los Angeles Times, the 74 killings so far in 2008 mark a 27 percent increase over the same period in 2007. However, The Associated Press reports that police statistics show that gang-related violence, including homicides, is down this year in Los Angeles. Nonetheless, the recent attacks have shaken the community.
Taylor, who founded his Unity One program in 1992 after the L.A. riots, was enraged after the Shaw tragedy.
"Why does it have to take so long for people to get it?" Taylor asked.
He says for far too long too many people have seen the gang problem as someone else's headache.
"It's really sad, but we've got a big problem in this country and people are running from it," Taylor said. "Not one of these [presidential] candidates are talking about these homegrown terrorists. This country is in disarray with its young people, and they don't care."
That mind-set needs to be changed from the inside out, Carroll says.
"We're seeing innocent bystanders becoming victims and the effect it has on everyone is very much like terrorism, where a few people frighten a lot of people," Carroll said. "What you have to understand is it is a handful of people causing all of the problems and part of that has to do with economics and the business that's involved."
Carroll bobs forward and back in a leather lounge chair as he talks about a part of his life that now taps every bit of the leadership savvy he uses on the football program, but for a much larger cause. A few feet away on his desk sits a California license plate that reads "I'M IN," which is one of Carroll's mantras for the brotherhood mind-set he covets from those inside his program. In reality, the license plate is symbolic of something bigger too.
"The people I'm involved with, we see a way that you can change it, and it hasn't been supported systematically in any way yet by the city and by the structure that can bring the influence to create that change," he said.
"But from some of the times that I have been in that community, you can see that there is at least a way to communicate with the guys that are right in the middle of all of it. What's obvious is that everybody is scared, but if they had a legitimate way to turn their lives around, they'll listen."
Carroll says he is just a football coach and he doesn't have all of the answers. Many others -- social workers, police officers, teachers -- are on the front lines, but he can move people. He can get them to believe.
"There is a lot of awareness right now," he said. "There's a lot of influence that needs to be tapped and that's really exciting because we have the chance to do something. This needs to be an emotional movement from the inside out of these communities and it needs to be supported. And until it's an emotional movement, it's not gonna capture enough attention and focus that people are going to be able to create change."
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