Watts Healing Garden Helps Gun Violence Survivors Grieve The Loss Of Their Loved Ones

P.Hilllip Lester stuck the shovel into the ground, grinned, and finally stuck it under the dry, hard soil into the dark brown fertile soil. “This whole lot was a junkyard,” said Lester.

Beside him stood the sycamore tree he was planting. Its pencil-thin trunk looked delicate compared to the tall, broad-shouldered Lester.

Phillip Lester is a Gang Intervention Specialist for The Reverence Project.

(Andrew Dubbins of LAist)

Nicknamed “The Rock,” Lester is a Gang Intervention Specialist for the Reverence Project, a Watts nonprofit that provides services and support to crime survivors. Its latest efforts are S.urvivor’s Healing Garden is a small patch of native California trees and shrubs designed to provide a place for survivors of Watts crime and violence to gather and reflect. The Reverence Project hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the garden on January 21st.

Healing from PTSD

At a tree planting event last fall, Cheryl Oya stood in the shade of a tall eucalyptus tree and spoke about the calming effects of nature.

“Many people we work with have PTSD because they are survivors of gun violence and gang violence,” said Sheryls, who leads the garden. Exposing them to space can help nurture their minds and reduce PTSD symptoms.”

Sherrills said that for years, Reverence Project staff had been driving vehicles to transport survivors to green spaces such as Kenneth Hahn Park, which is 30 minutes to an hour away from Watts, and the rose garden adjacent to the Natural History Museum. had to drive

A single plant standing in a desolate land. Behind it is a brown fence.Behind it is a rusty shipping container, smeared with graffiti

A rusty shipping container sits next to a garden

(Andrew Dubbins of LAist)

According to the United States Green Building Council (USGBC), Watts has just 0.65 parks per 1,000 residents, a shortage exacerbated by the neighborhood’s “solid” construction asphalt environment with minimal greenery along the streets. I’m here.


The vision for the Survivor’s Healing Garden began with Oya’s father, Akela Sherrills, a community activist who helped negotiate the historic peace treaty between the Bloods and Cripps in Watts in 1992. Twelve years later, his 18-year-old son Terrell, a theater arts student, was shot dead while returning home from college.

A dark-skinned woman in a dark pink T-shirt and pants, with a pink headband and necklace, speaks into a microphone and smiles. she is standing next to a tree

Oya Sherrill’s father had the original inspiration for the garden

(Andrew Dubbins of LAist)

“It was the same kind of senseless violence that my father was trying to stop,” Sheryls recalls.

Her grieving father embarked on a pilgrimage to holy sites around the world. Throughout his journey, he realized that the only way to achieve peace is for people to recognize each other’s divinity and treat all with respect accordingly.

It was the same kind of senseless violence that my father was trying to stop.

— Oya Sheryls on the murder of her 18-year-old brother

Upon returning home to Watts, Akela launched The Reverence Project to provide support, resources and treatment to urban crime survivors like Watts who are plagued by violence. This non-profit organization offers peer-her counseling, meditation, music instruction, writing workshops, massage-her therapy, aromatherapy, and other natural and holistic treatments to tailor services to each survivor. offers.

The Survivor’s Healing Garden is located on a 3,150-square-foot lot behind the organization’s offices, a single-story stucco structure with wooden shutters like a temple, and a Buddhist mural on the east wall. Sandwiched between two railroad tracks and adjacent to four housing projects, the site was filled with trash and rusty cars when Reverence Project took over.

With funding from the USGBC in Los Angeles, the nonprofit set up a rain garden to clean up trash and collect rainwater.

They planted Palo Verde trees with lime green trunks and yellow flowers, along with many native plants such as yarrow, buckwheat, and California fuchsia.

A man with dark skin and dreadlocks in a black T-shirt and gray shorts is digging a hole with a red shovel. Next to him, a woman in a beige floppy hat, white shirt, and jeans is also digging with a red shovel.

Philip Lester leads a healing circle to help survivors grieve

(Andrew Dubbins of LAist)

survivor rehabilitation

In parallel with land rehab, the Reverence Project continues its primary mission on the ground: rehabilitating crime survivors. Lester leads his circle of healing, where survivors come together to support each other, discuss community issues, brainstorm solutions, and share tools for healing.

“It’s a space where you get some kind of peace and quiet. A place where you can sit, breathe and relax,” said Lester. He teaches breathing techniques that help reduce and release stress and moderates group discussions.

Lester said the discussion was essential to his own personal healing. In 1993, his uncle was murdered in a gang shootout just ten minutes from him from his grandmother’s front garden in Leicester. Lester said loss is a common theme in healing circles, and Watts in general.

A woman with dark toned skin is wearing a sleeveless blue tie-dye dress, sitting on a chair and looking at the camera.She sits among dozens of empty folding chairs in the garden

Latania Hull, a Watts native and community activist, lost her son Brian in a hit-and-run car accident.

another form of healing

Latania Hull, a Watts community activist, sat in a folding chair in the garden, with red glasses on her head and a silver locket around her neck.

“Nature is something I’ve always loved,” Hal said, looking out over the quiet garden. She kept plants in her home, and from an early age she taught her son Brian to take care of her. She died in a hit-and-run at the young age of 28. “Since her son died,” she said. [garden] It’s another form of healing for me. ”

Sitting nearby in a crisp button-down shirt and pleated blue jeans, Anton Rankin reflected on his son, who was murdered two and a half years ago and shot in the back at age 21.

“Most likely they haven’t found the person yet. [the police] I feel like it’s just another young black man in the street,” said Rankin, who speaks in a slow, world-weary rhythm. “He wants to know where his father is,” Rankin said. “What can I say to him?”

A man with dark toned skin with very short dark hair and a mustache is looking at the camera. He wears a red and white checkered shirt and stands by a tree.

Anton Rankin murdered his 21-year-old son two and a half years ago.

(Andrew Dubbins of LAist)

find support in the community

Rankin credits The Leverence Project and its healing circles for getting him out of a severe depression.

“Instead of having nothing, there are five or ten people you can empathize with.

With each session, Rankin learns techniques to take home to ease family grief.

“Some days are rougher than others,” he said.

It takes time to heal, but it’s like planting a garden. “You have to plow,” said Lester. “It’s going to have to be taken care of. It takes work.”

In Lester’s eyes, the gardens and their upkeep show crime survivors that the community cares about them and never forgets their victims. I encourage people to plant trees in their memory. In doing so, he said, they feel responsible for the tree and develop a connection with it. For them, it’s almost like spending time with someone they love.”

Lester plans a tree for his uncle, Cheryl for his brother, and Hal and Rankin for their sons. Rankin may invite his son’s boy to help plant a tree.

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