Simply put, Thursday Mornings was a series of weekly summer breakfasts for the community and invitations were open to all residents. I launched Thursday Mornings to bring neighbors from other blocks together with the neighbors around the Towers and just start a dialog. The inspiration for this program was, in part, based on my greater understanding of the dynamics of Watts and also a conversation I had with a really great friend, Anthony Carfello, Programs Director at the MAK Center. Anthony and I were chatting about the nature of community engagement when he posed a rhetorical question, “What does the word ‘community’ mean and what is it really? We recognize ‘community’ as a place or gathering of people/things but the term is actually something generic and can be applied to just about anything.” What Anthony was really asking was what makes Watts a community…what ties it together, specifically?
A realization about the hardened relationships between residents in Watts had begun much earlier for me – isolationism. Given Watts’ troubles during the 80s and 90s, I could understand why neighbors didn’t speak much to each other. The prevailing wisdom on 107th Street was, ‘If you get too close to your neighbors they’ll see what you have and want to take it when you’re back is turned.’ Isolationism created disunity and it separated neighbors block by block, street corner by street corner, and house by house. Great stuff that was happening on 108th lead by a couple of residents who had just moved in, yet it was completely unknown to the residents on 107th and it was just a block away! I wanted to challenge the prevailing philosophy directly and the best way I knew I could do that was through food. I took a page right out of Fallen Fruit, a wonderful organization run by outstanding artists (David Burns, Matias Viegener and Austin Young). I invited local government officials, folks from the Maxine Waters Employment Preparation Center, Watts Towers Art Center, WLCAC and the residents in the area to breakfasts on Thursday mornings. People showed up! They connected and they started talking – informing each other about local politics, news, and the best places to buy carne de res and tortillas. It was heartwarming to know that a red/white/blue sprinkled sugar donut, a 100% whole wheat bagel covered in cream cheese, cup of coffee or swig of orange juice could serve as a seed for building community.