By Taylor Sitomer:
Our theme in Los Angeles is power—more specifically, the power of connection. When discussing this theme, Billy has posed a few questions such as who has power and who doesn’t, the perception of power, how people get power, and what it takes to give it up. Today, we expanded upon this idea to include the power of the family one is born into, addiction, food access, and location.
This morning, after experiencing some true Los Angeles traffic, we arrived at our first destination: Beverly Hills. The group speedily hopped off of the bus and we began our stroll down Rodeo Drive. After witnessing the clean streets, extravagant stores, luxurious cars, and wealthy people, we convened by the bathrooms to discuss what we saw and didn’t see. We did not see diversity on Rodeo Drive. We did not see public transportation, homeless people, children, or garbage. During our discussion, Max related our visit to Beverly Hills to East Egg from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s book,The Great Gatsby. He read the description of The Buchanan’s old money, “Georgian colonial mansion” in East Egg and compared it to the gated houses and communities we saw behind us.
After taking in our last moments on Rodeo Drive, we got back on the bus and made our way to an authentic food truck lunch and a taste of Beverly Hills. After a turkey melt and smoothie, I was stuffed!
Once we finished lunch, we continued on to Participant Media where we met with Lynn Heymont, Executive Director of Human Resources, Shelly Hance, Vice President of Human Resources, Elise Pearlstein, a documentary film producer, Erik Andreasen, Vice President of narrative films, and Carolyn Henderson, who works on Participant Media’s advocacy & social impact film campaigns. They gave us great insight into what it takes to make films and documentaries with a social action component. The movies that Participant Media makes address contemporary issues in our society such as water conservation and the food industry. Some of the movies that Participant Media has made include Oceans, The Help, Lincoln, Citizen Four, and Food Inc. Mr. Andreasen explained that Participant Media’s goal is to make an impact in the world and force you to look and learn about something differently than you had before.
Once we finished our meeting with Participant Media, we drove just three and a half miles away from Beverly Hills, to South Central. I was expecting South Central to be dirty, vacant, and to have an unwelcoming appearance, yet that was not what I experienced. Similarly to Beverly Hills, South Central also had means of protection. But instead of gates to the entrances of houses, there were bars on the windows of the houses. All of the buildings were painted in bright pastels by the Los Angeles government in an attempt to make the neighborhood look nice instead of addressing the underlying issues that the neighborhood faces. The group spoke about the Rodney King case, riots in Compton soon after, and the history of racial tension in the area. We also discussed how South Central is similar to the Valley of Ashes in the Great Gatsby in that the overall color of both of those places is gray. However, South Central’s gray was painted over with pastels. Billy posed the question to get us all thinking: is fair that our chance of success is based off of where we are born, rather than who we are? This concept lead us into conversation about the glass ceiling in regard to race and a free market society.
Our next stop was the best and smallest farmers market I have ever been to. I bought a carton of strawberries, found an empty stand, and all I could do was eat. We were all told that the strawberries at this farmers market were the best, but I didn’t believe it until I tasted them. I like to think of myself as a strawberry connoisseur, and these were the sweetest and juiciest strawberries I have ever tasted; I was pleasantly blown away. Among the best strawberries that I have ever eaten, there were also many stands with fresh produce and farmers happy to tell you where the food was from along with anything else you wanted to know.
Next, we spent an hour at Venice Beach. It was the perfect day to spend time soaking in what the beach has to offer. It was what most would view as perfect weather—a slight breeze, no clouds in the sky, and the sun beaming down on you in just the right way. I walked with two others down the beach and dipped my toes in the water. To finally be on the West Coast, after weeks of anticipation, felt momentous to me. We watched the skilled skateboarders show off, shopped, got ice cream, watched some surfers, and admired the colorful scenery. Once we absorbed all that we could in an hour, we took a group picture and hit the road.
Our next and final stop of the day was Beit Teshuvah Synagogue. We spoke to six people who are part of the recovery program there. Each of them told us their life stories and how they overcame their addictions. They spoke sincerely about the power of a person’s story, as well as the power of taking back one’s life. Most of what the speakers opened up about struck a personal chord with us because we saw so much of ourselves in them and their stories. After years of listening to people tell me why I shouldn’t do drugs and drink alcohol, I sat for the first time in a room without judgement and listen to people who were personally affected by addiction. They didn’t tell us not to do drugs, but just the power of their stories was far more persuasive than anything else I’ve ever been exposed to.
After everything we did today, I am exhausted. Tonight, we all made sure that we have our stuff packed (three days worth of clothing) for San Francisco, as we will not have our beloved Earle and bus with us. As the 22-day mark quickly approaches, everyone is realizing the limited time we have left with each other. We are savoring each moment with our friends who are only staying until the 17th.