As a graffiti writer, Abraham Hernandez learned to appreciate South LA, where he was born and raised, by tagging buildings late at night—a way to stake his claim in a place that he saw disappearing, and develop his dream of being a visual artist. “It gave a sense of pride, and sense of where I come from, even though I wasn’t sure what was going to happen next,” he says. “But unfortunately there was no future it for me.” Hernandez watched two of his friends die while tagging—one in a gang-related incident, and the other in a dispute with a local storeowner. He started looking for a new life plan, one that included a stable job, safety, and the chance to have a voice within his community, despite four years of unemployment and few job prospects.
“I didn’t really have the skills or maturity to move forward,” Hernandez says. “I couldn’t speak for myself, let alone make big changes.” Last year, he joined RePower LA—a job-training program with LA’s Department of Water and Power that teaches people from low-income communities of color how to install simple upgrades in residential homes and small businesses that would cut back the city’s overall use of coal power, lower customers’ electricity bills over time, and generate viable opportunities for long-term employment for those hit hardest by the economic depression.
“But more than anything, I enjoy listening and talking to my neighbors about the problems we face.”
Since joining the training program, Hernandez has learned how to rebuild air ducts, add insulation and replace windows. “But more than anything, I enjoy listening and talking to my neighbors about the problems we face,” he says. “This job gives me the chance to do that, and working with SCOPE has taught me that there’s power in those conversations.”
For the past 20 years, SCOPE has been guided by the voices of South LA’s residents knowing that they have the solutions to the economic disparities that plague their communities. Members, such as Hernandez, become empowered to act on that knowledge by learning how to wield the political process, lead the path toward new opportunities, and encourage others to engage in conversation every day. He remembers working in the home of a woman with a son roughly his age. “He had died the year before,” he says. “Something about me reminded her of him, and we started talking about how to create second chances for young people. That’s what this job is about for me. It’s about stability, about working with my neighbors and not for someone else, and feeling like an insider who can make a difference.”