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South LA's Cleanup Protests: 'Don't Wait For Anybody To Tell You When To Do It'

Sheila Pharris-Moweta, from Neighborhood Housing Services of L.A. County, hopes to get a cleanup of her own started. (Caitlin Hernandez/LAist)
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By Caitlin Hernandez and Giuliana Mayo

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Back in June, in the midst of Black Lives Matter protests, Dime Jones put up a post on Instagram asking people to come help clean up South Central Los Angeles. It was a huge success. More than 400 volunteers turned out. Then came thousands of social media posts, followed by Jones' forming Clean Up South Central, a nonprofit organization dedicated to continuing the work.

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And now Angelenos have heeded Jones' Instagram call to action for a second time. Dozens of volunteers gathered their gear and cleaning supplies on Friday to do the work, this time in Watts.

Kelly Helmich and other participants clean up under the I-105 freeway on Central Avenue. (Caitlin Hernandez/LAist)

Many had been there for the first cleanup. Since that June event, Jones shared in a post that she'd "received a DM every day to do another cleanup." The event Friday was smaller in numbers, but still drew a crowd with some attendees saying they want to plan their own similar movements.

"At the time of protest, it was a great idea to not just protest, but to do some stuff, so, we've been following her and we decided to come out today and join her," said Sheila Pharris-Moeta of the non-profit organization Neighborhood Housing Services L.A. County.

Sky Bennike and her friends scrubs walls to remove grafitti along Central Avenue. (Caitlin Hernandez/LAist)

Pharris-Moeta, who stood out in a bright orange shirt and wide-brimmed straw hat, hopes that she and fellow coworkers could "get some ideas about how to do smaller socially-distanced cleanups." They hope to gain support to clean up more cities.

Lasoye Oladapo wielded an orange leaf blower as crews headed down Central Avenue. It was his second cleanup with the group.

"I'm just grateful for what I have," Oladapo said. "I've got a stable job, a roof over my head, healthy family and friends so I just decided to give back."

Oladapo noted that there were no words to express how it felt to see people make a direct, positive impact on a community.

Jones echoed his sentiment.

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"Honestly, it's taken on a path of its own and I'm just happy to be a part of it," she said.

Tamia Matthis attended the first Clean Up South Central action, which was right down the street from where she lives. She says the streets are staying clean, something she hopes will be true for Watts.

"It's nice to have it not directly in South Central," she said. "But in Watts -- I feel like Watts is kind of overlooked in Los Angeles."

Tamia Mathis came to clean up as an alternative form of protesting, but noted that more neighborhoods still need help. (Caitlin Hernandez/LAist)

As for what she sees in the cleanups, Matthis said it's still an alternative form of protest. But just like with people standing in the streets -- signs in hand -- it's drawing fewer numbers on a regular basis, though the problems are still there.

"Well, one thing is that [Jones'] first event had such a bigger turnout, and I'm really disappointed because I feel like people are done doing the work and the work is not done," she said. "I need people to continue to come out and clean up because there's so many neighborhoods in Los Angeles that kind of just like need that little boost, that little uplift."

She said she's heard of more cleanups happening independently organized by other groups.

As for when Jones' next Clean Up South Central event may be, she was unclear, noting "don't wait for anybody to tell you when to do it, just do it."