From July 6-18 I was working at the Markham Summer Camp in Watts. I was hired to teach young boys and girls from the inner city of LA about photography. I’m writing this little blog post on my flight back to Brooklyn (gotta love inflight wifi) I had never been to Watts even though I lived in LA for 12 years. Truth is I had no reason to ever go to Watts. From what I had heard it was a very rough part of the city and the flash point to the Watts Riot in 1965 It’s been a place that has certainly been underserved with more than it’s fair share of poverty and violence. Still within this area the Markham Summer Camp exists on the grounds of the Markham Middle School.
When I first met my campers I was not sure what to expect. I was told that I would have as many as 20 kids. I’m actually glad that not that many campers ever showed up. I think the most I had at any point was 8.That does not seem great as far as attendance goes but in fact it was a great number to give some really dedicated attention to and so the kids that did show up had a great time and really took to photography. The camp does not have a lot of money for photography and the technical elements that go along with it like cameras, computers and printers but we managed to make it work. Don’t get me wrong, there were far more campers then what showed up in my photography course. The camp offers theater, sports, photography, Dance and many other options. Campers just pick what they want to participate in. Each week they offer new options for the kids to do.
It’s really amazing because the camp is offered totally free of charge to kids and they are provided with snacks and food. It’s a great way to keep them off the street in the summer and help them to socialize in a healthy and productive way. They also get an opportunity to engage in some activities that they would normally not have the opportunity to do.
Even though the camp is free they still find it difficult to get campers to attend, odd considering all they get but life can be tough for many of the kids and it’s not always easy or even safe for them to get to the camp.
The staff was amazing and caring. I want to make a special shout out to a few like Grace, Dhakir, Robe, Amelia and Catherine. There were many more but it was these individuals that I worked with on a daily basis and selflessly worked long days to make sure the kids were well taken care of and enjoying their time.
The school is just around the corner from the famous Watts Towers an amazing man made sculpture created by one man over the course of 33 years. An Italian immigrant named Simon Rodia spent the better part of his life creating this work of art. It reminds me of Opus 40 in upstate New York and Harvey Fite who spent 40 years of his life building it.
One of the nights after camp a handful of the staff and myself went along to a housing project for an event they call summer night lights designed to help give kids something to do to keep them off the street and away from gangs. “The Summer Night Lights program is a public and private partnership undertaken by the City of Los Angeles Mayor’s Office of Gang Reduction & Youth Development (“GRYD”) and The GRYD Foundation” The goal was to tell the parents about the camp and encourage them to take their kids to the camp.
So that was two weeks in the inner city of LA. If you ever get a chance to see the Watts Towers I highly suggest you do. I should say that most of the images in this post were done by the campers. It’s once again rewarding to give back and help out. Try it, you may like it!