The west side can seem worlds away from South L.A., and that's even more true for Loyola Marymount University (LMU), a four-year Jesuit institution located near LAX that sits atop a bluff overlooking Playa Del Rey and is a perennial contender on lists of the nation's most beautiful campuses. But taking a closer look, as LMU senior John Wilkinson did, can reveal surprising ties between two areas that couldn't be more socioeconomically different.
Wilkinson writes for the sports section of the Los Angeles Loyolan, LMU's student-run newspaper, and one of his recent in-depth features focused on LaRon Armstead, a senior forward on the school's men's basketball team. Armstead, a sociology major who now spends most of his time at 1 LMU Drive, grew up at 1801 East 53rd Street -- better known as the Pueblo Del Rio Housing Projects.
"It was good because we were a tight community," Armstead told OnCentral. He said after he moved from there to a place near Central and Manchester Avenues, he started playing basketball at the Salvation Army near Central and 76th Street. He went there "every day of his high school career" -- 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. during the summer, and after school until 8 p.m. during the school year. "It kept me out of the gangs and the streets because I was always inside."
As tight-knit as Armstead's community was, he still has more than one frightening memory of living in the area. "Now I look [back] and the circumstances we were in, it was dire, it was pretty crazy," he said. "My mom would tell us to go inside when the street lights came on. Everybody knew when the street lights come on, you have to go inside." Armstead recalled one particularly scary incident when he was around 10 years old, when some rival gang members came into his neighborhood and "started shooting everywhere." "I remember my mom just put us in the car and said we had to leave," he said. "Some guy just came up to the car with a gun and told us to leave. I was just like 'Wow.'" He heard gunshots as soon as he hit the corner.
That was then, though, and Armstead is hopeful for kids who currently live in South L.A.. "Just know there are more things out in the world than what you see in your everyday environment," he said. "Don't get caught up in all of the nonsense and BS that's around you. Find something you like to do, a hobby you like, and stay in school. … I know things can be rough, but stay positive and stay driving forward."
Wilkinson's profile of Armstead paints a picture of a scrappy, optimistic and grateful college athlete. Read it at the Loyolan's website.
Photo taken by and used with permission of the Los Angeles Loyolan.