Community Engagement Spotlight: How KIPP SoCal Built a Coalition To Get Rid of A Crime-Ridden Motel

This summer, we are spotlighting KIPP regions doing exemplary work in their local communities engaging families and through their advocacy work. These regions are a part of the KIPP Foundation’s Advocacy Fellowship and Community Engagement Community of Practice, where Community Engagement practitioners from across the KIPP network come together to address challenges they face by:

  • Serving as a platform for practitioners to learn and share best practices for community engagement
  • Allowing time for real-time consultancy to help practitioners troubleshoot one another’s current challenges related to community engagement
  • Providing a structure for shared thought partnership with the Foundation FACE (Family, Advocacy and Community Engagement) team to build and grow KIPP’s long-term strategy for community engagement

In this month’s spotlight, learn about how KIPP Southern California Public Schools are partnering with local advocates and families to center and elevate community needs and concerns in Los Angeles.

KIPP SoCal has 23 schools, and four community engagement managers overseeing each region. Bera Portugal manages community engagement in the south-east region of Los Angeles which encompasses six schools. “I make sure that I am present in conversations with local advocates, not just representing KIPP, but representing the community that we serve by listening in and making sure that whatever programs they share we have families participating in. So truly being a partner to these other organizations sharing benefits or resources to our communities,” said Portugal.

KIPP SoCal Students walking

This year, the region is celebrating having a safer space in one South LA community now that a crime-ridden motel that sat between KIPP Empower Academy Middle School and KIPP Academy of Opportunity Elementary School is being purchased by KIPP SoCal Public Schools. The purchase was made after years of complaints and a breaking point year of relentless negotiating, protesting at city hall, and gathering community awareness.

The activity at the hourly motel had impeded KIPP SoCal’s dedication to establishing a secure, healthy, joyful, and academically excellent environment for its students for years. Parents dropping off their kindergarteners at 7:30 a.m. often had to walk by people involved with drugs and prostitution.

Despite attempts to acquire the motel and collaborate with authorities to address the issue, there was no significant progress. However, when KIPP SoCal families had to bring their children back home due to a shooting incident involving an officer at the motel in September 2021, they finally reached a breaking point and demanded immediate action.

Prompted by the increasing demands of KIPP SoCal families to clean up the area, Chinedu Udeh, School Leader of KIPP Empower, and John Coleman School Leader of KIPP Academy of Opportunity, in collaboration with KIPP Empower Academy Community Advocate Alvaro Mendoza teamed up to start an outreach campaign that united community advocates together to tackle the issues surrounding the motel. The newly formed coalition named themselves Keep Our South LA Community Safe*, and included:

According to KIPP SoCal’s The Promise of Tomorrow* report, one of the survivors of human trafficking who joined the coalition was Kia Dupclay, an alum of a KIPP middle and high school in Northern California. Dupclay, previously a program director at Restoration Diversion Services and now a trainer for CAST LA, reflected on her own experience and the risks children face being in proximity to the Palms Motel.

“I know for a fact that a hotel used for trafficking is not only dangerous for kids, it’s creating a place for recruitment to happen,” said Dupclay. “I know what it’s like to be recruited from a vulnerable place. It just puts our kiddos in such a danger.”

In May 2022, the coalition also got the attention and support of South LA Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson after organizing a demonstration at City Hall. This motivated the council member to request a city council hearing about the motel.

KIPP SoCal is currently working on reinventing the old motel into a space where community is at the center. “Right now, we are doing focus groups. We want to make sure that the space truly is what we are naming it, a community space. So, we are talking to all stakeholders…our elected officials, our neighbors, our families, and our students, to determine what the purpose of the space will be,” said Portugal.

Demolishing Palms Hotel

Activity-wise, the space will be more of a resource hub, meeting the needs of our families and community members. “We do have something in the works of gardening, like a community garden area. We’ve partnered with CORE who brings on all those resources. It’s looking like there will be multiple things within the space while keeping the community at the center,” said Portugal.

The coalition is continuing its commitment to keep South LA safe and is working closely with neighboring churches and community groups to shut down the New Bay Hotel on South Figueroa.

“The ultimate goal is to show everyone the power of community. Together, we can continue to make a difference and positively impact our communities,” said KIPP SoCal Chief External Impact Officer Joanna Belcher.

By: Choyce Miller, Senior Manager of Communications, and Brittney Cousins, Senior Manager of Community Impact at the KIPP Foundation


*Source: The Promise of Tomorrow Executive Report