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Teaching my students about South Africa as a farewell

During my last English class, my teacher allowed me to do a short presentation about where I’ll be living and what I’ll be doing next year. My students are pretty interested in it and actually know where I’m going (although South Africa isn’t that hard of a country to remember). I even got them to recite greetings in isiZulu in unison!

Here’s the short presentation I did:

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20120608-103857.jpgSouth Africa is known as the “rainbow nation” because it is so diverse and so many languages are spoken

20120608-104003.jpg They were amazed that I won’t have running water and I might not have electricity. They told me to watch out for animal “droppings” and asked questions about how I’ll survive without electricity.

20120608-104111.jpg I explained to them that I am joining a government service organization that’s kind of like how you give years to military service for America, but instead I’m giving my time to help people.

20120608-104229.jpgThis slide generated a bunch of “ews” except one student said the sausage (known as Boerewors) reminded them of chorizo.

20120608-104534.jpgI’ll be honest, I can pronounce these greetings as well as my students, but we all tried together!

20120608-104607.jpg “You know how I always tell you to get out a pencil or pen? Well, this is what I’m going to have to say when I ask my new students to get one out.”

20120608-104646.jpg Sala kahle: goodbye. I can’t speak isiZulu yet obviously, so I added it into some English. The third isiZulu phrase means “see you later”

20120608-104832.jpgI made my students Hertzog cookies from scratch, a famous South African cookie I found online. I’m not sure if this is really village food, but apparently it’s a cookie that’s made often in the country (maybe urban areas or both? I’ll have to find out when I get there!) The cookie is a vanilla cookie with coconut, apricot and powdered sugar filling. The students enjoyed them and ate seconds!

An end to my first year of service: a reflection to never forget

My worst nightmare has come true. Our last day at Markham Middle School was on Wednesday (actually, one of my students said his “worst nightmare would start on Thursday” because City Year would no longer be on campus).

I can barely write a blog post because so many emotions have been going through my mind this week — I’m anxious that I’m leaving the country in 33 days, depressed that I am leaving my students for good, excited for the future, but not ready to say bye to everyone I’ve met this year.

This year has truly been amazing. I have learned so much from my school, my students and my teammates. At the beginning of the year, I really didn’t have expectations. I didn’t know if this year would be bad, so-so, or great. It exceeded greatness. Why? Well maybe because I learned so much:

  • Markham Middle School and Watts showed me a reality so many others aren’t aware exists.
    I feel privileged to have been given the opportunity to experience an urban and struggling school like Markham, as well as a community like Watts. I saw the issues facing our public education system upfront. To name a few, students violently fighting about anything and everything (gangs, gossip, family issues, community issues) before school, during school and after-school. Obviously that affects any learning environment for students — being surrounded by violence at school of outside of school. For example, just the other day when my class was coming back from a field trip on the metro, a rider was walking up and down the train yelling with a gun in his pocket, and then just five minutes later a group of men trying to fight each other at the metro station by Markham. The day after I watched my teammates break up a crazy fight between a boy and a girl before school that was related to outside family/gang retaliation. Scenes like that in the neighborhood and at school I know would make me frustrated and mad, so I’m sure students feel that way.

    I saw how the public education system has failed so many students: so many are behind grade level and unmotivated to keep trying because the work is too hard for them to complete. I witnessed prostitution and alcohol and drug abuse in the community — every morning driving or walking to school. The litter, graffiti and homeless camps throughout the streets with boarded up buildings are a familiar sight. I learned that my student’s parents sometimes work three jobs to support them and traveled as far as 50 miles one-way on public transportation to get to the jobs. I faced the hard reality that some students I knew were foster children due to substance abuse in the family.

    The neighborhood of Watts is also just a bunch of houses, housing projects and convenient stores, soooo, where are the jobs for the struggling families and the kids turning to gangs and violence? The area is forgotten because so many in Los Angeles don’t really realize the extent of the problems here and that it’s a reality for many people. Now that I’ve worked in this reality for ten months, I will never work a day in my life that isn’t dedicated to a cause that will help change this stark reality so many people face in poverty-stricken areas of major cities. Granted I’m not sure if I’ll come back to Los Angeles, but every city has its Watts and that’s exactly where I belong.

  • My students showed me that I have empathy and compassion I didn’t think I had.
    Due to various situations I’ve dealt with with my family, I thought I lost all sense of being empathetic. I usually just think, “Well, that’s your fault for the way you are and you can change if you want to” or I refuse to deal with someone I know won’t change. But that’s not the case in all situations. I found even the worst behaving students in my class to hold a special place in my heart because I saw them outside of their behavior problems and caught them in their squishy moments — i.e. one student always talking about how much he loved his baby brother. That one always got me: “You want to be a role model for your brother, right? Start behaving in class! He’s depending on you.” My students gave me the hope that people do change and will change; now I can believe.
  • It’s chance that my students were born into or moved into Watts and went to school there.
    They have dreams too, just like any other Los Angeles kid. However, it’s going to be much harder for them to succeed based on their reality. Life may never be fair for minority students and students of such communities, but at least we can work to bring some justice to these communities through work like City Year or just teaching in these schools.
  • My team was so incredibly diverse and I tried my hardest to not have first assumptions about people, but let’s be honest, everyone has first impressions of people.
    Everyone is amazing in their own way and every person on earth has an interesting life story. Give people a chance and they’ll surprise you. My team ended up being the most hilarious, intelligent, inspiring and caring group of people I’ve ever met all at once. I vow to not make any assumptions about everyone I will cross in South Africa, whether that be another Peace Corps Volunteer or someone from my village.
  • Time apart shows you who your real friends are.
    This year has been so crazy busy that I lost contact with many people. The best part about losing contact with people is when you see them again and it’s not awkward you know it’s a real friendship.
  • Keep calm and never doubt.
    There were countless times this year that I wanted to give up. I was working toward improving issues that are bigger than myself. I realized that the only way any work would get done at school is if I was calm about it and never doubted the situation. I still doubt a lot of things, but I added a couple of points higher on my positivity scale (special thanks to the teammates and roomies Marissa and Daniel for teaching me this).
  • Changing the world isn’t as easy as it sounds.
    Change doesn’t come overnight. Any work I did with my students may show in a couple of months or years or maybe even never. You come into City Year thinking you are going to change your student’s academic abilities so much, but you don’t understand how patient you have to be with this process. Maybe I didn’t change my student’s academic levels, but I know I made a difference because students looked up to me and the rest of City Year as friends, mentors and role models.
  • I now know what I stand for.
    I stand for the voiceless of the world. I am here to be a voice for the voiceless through my writing and volunteer work. Whether it’s a neighborhood like Watts or a rural South African village, I will be that voice that forgotten communities lack.

I’ll never forget this year and the students I got to work with; I’ll carry the memory of Markham Middle School with me wherever I go in life and it’ll definitely be a factor in choosing my final career path. Everything I learned will serve me well in South Africa and this year has prepared me more than ever for my Peace Corps adventure.

It still hasn’t really hit me that I won’t see my students next week. I think it’s going to take at least two weeks for it set in that this year is actually over.

One of our students wrote a letter to us and read it aloud after-school when all the corps members and students were saying goodbye (yes, many tears were shed):

Dear City Year,

I hope you guys visit us and I hope you guys find a good job. I will always remember you guys, you guys are like my big family. I hope you guys have fun in your new job and I hope you guys have fun in your life.

Thank you Markham Middle School for changing my life. Next year’s Markham team really has to uphold everything we created this year. My team built the foundation for next year’s team to succeed because City Year wasn’t at Markham last year and it seemed like the school was apprehensive about having us back, but now they can see it worth it and that we really made an impact. The students trust us and love us — next year’s team needs to carry over our love, passion, dedication and care. I have faith they will.

Sadly, we graduate City Year tomorrow, but it’s not goodbye, it’s a new beginning. Three more weeks in Los Angeles. Seriously? Gotta make the best of it.

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Keeping the USC spirit alive. I wrote all of my students letters and gave them a Fight On pin so they hopefully remember to never give up on their dreams.

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One of my students begged my teammate and I for our yellow bomber jacket. My teammate Chariya is giving him one of her yellow jackets. I hope he’ll look at the jacket and always remember what we taught him.

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Got my kids to sign my boots because I’m bringing them to South Africa with me. “I’m gonna miss you bitch” oooohhh Markham; words like this mean the kids really do love you.

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My team leader made pictures of all of us and put them on the wall in the City Year room for students to sign. Once again, to show love, one student wrote “you ugly” on everyone’s, but mine was even more special. “don’t know you, but you still ugly.” Oooohhh Markham.

What will I miss about Markham the most you ask? Based on the pictures above, I’ll miss the hilarity.

Although I’m graduating tomorrow, I’ll still be “yours in service” (South Africa in a month),

Liz

Summer blast off event at Markham: it’s summatime!

Today City Year at Markham Middle School hosted a school-wide event for students and parents to play games, win prizes and most importantly, find things to do during the summer! My teammates Daniel and Becky worked extremely hard putting the event together and invited a lot of community based organizations in South Los Angeles and Watts like the local library, gang reduction programs, UCLA’s summer UniCamp, among others. City Year put together four booths with different themes — literacy over the summer, summer games, academic games for over the summer and fun and free things to do in Los Angeles.

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We made handouts that showed students why summer reading is so important — research shows student who don’t keep up with reading over the summer will fall behind grade level. The handout also included calendars to make a summer reading schedule as well as crossword puzzles and games. We raffled off a bucket of school supplies and a dictionary to look up words they might not know while reading.

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The students also got to play two games at our booth — one that made them separate fiction and nonfiction books and another that had them spell out as many words as they could with the letters given. If they played they got a free snack or book.

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All the community organizations that showed up before students visited the booths.

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Students racing at the “Summer Games” booth.

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Some light refreshments at the lemonade stand.

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Students learning about fun and free things to do in LA this summer with a pamphlet and map my teammates made.

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An academic twist on a water gun carnival game.

Next week is our last week at Markham. I don’t even know what to think and cannot believe I will be writing my year summary blog post soon. This year went by way too fast…stay tuned for my final City Year post and a South African bake day/presentation for my students next week to teach them about where I’m moving to!

Happy Summer!
Liz

Week 33-34: Celebrating completing the CST!

All Markham students have been testing for the past two weeks. Four days out of these past two weeks school ended at 12:50. Our after-school program runs until 5 p.m., so we had to come up with some fun things for the students to do for that four hour stretch. Thanks to my teammates Charlotte and Melanie who are in charge of our after-school program there were some pretty darn cool activities:

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We played an Olympic-type of game where students split into teams and competed for a prize. The first challenge was to assemble a puzzle of the United States

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My team – One Krew – prepping for the challenges at Ted Watkins park in Watts with my teammates Daniel and Ricky

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One of the challenges was to get a hula hoop down the line without using hands

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My teammate Tessa’s mom is an actress and was the lead role in Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves. The students watched the movie and then got a surprise visit from a celebrity in the movie! They had a Q and A session with her and were really interested in what she had to say.

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We made silly putty! (which I had no idea was so easy to make)

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“Around the World in Four Hours” — students made foods from different cultures, presented them to the rest of the group and got to eat everything while watching a movie about Africa. My group made Alfajores, which is a caramel cookie made in Spain.

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Made in China

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Field trip to the California Science Center! Checking out infrared light

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Looking at the exhibits

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Just for clarification — he wasn’t looking at the fish, he was yelling at them to scare them

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Oh — and we made piñatas that the kids will break open next week

A picture to sum up my first year of service

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A picture of me taking picture of a teammate fake posing with a student. I’m trying my hardest to not take a picture of the student’s face because he doesn’t have a LAUSD media waiver form signed.

Story of my life this year: writing about my teammates, making my teammates and our students pose for fake pictures and sneaking around the LAUSD student + media rules. Yes, that would be my first year of service summed up. I’m not complaining – it was a good transition from journalism school to the real world; I’ll always love reporting!

The former student journalist,

Liz

Finding beauty in Watts: Cinco de Mayo

A majority of the population in Watts now is Latino. Therefore, Cinco de Mayo is widely celebrated among our students. On Saturday, I ventured out to Markham with a couple of other teammates for an event a couple of teachers hosted at our school. The turnout was decent and the decorations were so vibrant. Students and families could play games and win tickets for Mexican food and drinks. There was also a student dance and singing performance. I had a great day and so did my teammates! I love experiencing a culture different from my own (hi, Peace Corps!)

20120508-123046.jpgMarkham students before they perform a traditional dance

20120509-120821.jpgBringing families together to celebrate

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Markham students celebrate the end of the carnival by dancing on stage together

Week 30-31: remembering the 1992 Los Angeles Riots

I took a break from blogging last week because:

1) I’m sick of writing about my students right now because of the way they’ve been acting and treating me.
2) I had a sub for three weeks. What could I honestly blog about besides complaining about my student’s behavior and how most of them probably only wrote a total of five sentences over the span of three weeks?
3) These past couple of weeks have been the exact same.

I’m thrilled to share that my teacher has returned! I survived! I tried to prep my students for that big ol’ standardized test that’s coming up in two weeks, but I hate to say that I failed because my students refused to do any work (except a select few). Instead of getting frustrated, I’m at ease because I know I tried to teach them while their teacher was gone. When I asked them what they learned this month, they said “nothing”. At least they were honest…

I’ve been delaying working on a project for City Year communications because I got really caught up with Peace Corps stuff. The project is a photo and audio slideshow showcasing South LA: The community we serve. I’m supposed to get interviews with community members, students, teachers, corps members, etc. and take lots of photos that illustrate our community. The theme of the project is to show all the good things about South LA because so many people stereotype it as a “bad” neighborhood and associate it with the LA Riots.

The 20th anniversary of the uprising and the peace treaty between the bloods and the crips was this past week, which motivated me to actually make progress on this project. Yesterday, I went to Watts to take photos for the project. I stumbled upon a community resource fair hosted by the South LA Community Coalition on a lot at 81st Street and Vermont Ave that is still vacant due to the 1992 uprising. The vacant lot is soon to become a park. The Mayor and community organizations and activists spoke.

It was moving to see so many South LA residents working together for a common cause: To rebuild South LA. Ironically, unemployment has risen in South Los Angeles, which was one of the sparks for the 1992 Riots. According to a LA Times article, a post-riots report said the area needed an investment of about $6 billion and the creation of 75,000 to 94,000 jobs.

The federal and state governments spent as much as $768 million, according to a 1994 estimate, but the private sector has not invested much in South Los Angeles, which is where the jobs are. Larger businesses don’t invest in South Los Angeles because of crime and poverty –will people break into my store? Will people have the money to purchase items from my store? Unfortunately, this type of investment is what South Los Angeles needs. Reading up on the LA Riots this weekend reminded me about a couple of interviews I conducted over the summer about the riots. My radio reporting professor, Judy Muller, was my favorite interview. She covered the LA Riots as an ABC correspondent. I found an awesome radio story she reported for KPCC Los Angeles public radio that brings you back to the moment the riots started.

During my last semester at USC, I had to write a paper based on the play Twilight, which is a collection of interviews about the LA Riots. My professor asked me to do a similar style of interview and find those who experienced the riots or focus on race. I compiled a list of interviews I conducted, which make me question so much about society and Los Angeles today.

Like Tiki TorchesJudy Muller, former ABC correspondent who started reporting in Los Angeles in 1990 after moving from the east coast; she is now a professor at the USC Annenberg School of Journalism. Short blonde hair with bangs, wears glasses, slender, dresses stylish. In her late-50s. Eccentric personality, welcoming, very intelligent. Caucasian. We talked over the phone because she is away from Los Angeles at the moment on vacation in Colorado.

ABC News hired me as a TV correspondent
and based me in Los Angeles.

My first thought was, ‘oh boy, this is a desert
 nothing will happen there.’

And then Rodney King got beat up and we were off running.

So I covered both the criminal trial of the cops and then the federal trial
 for violating Rodney King’s civil rights.

But it was after the first criminal trial, 
when the cops were acquitted by an all-white jury
 in Simi Valley.

I will never forget it.

I was in the newsroom; we had just reported
 the verdict.

And we looked up at the monitors of the news screen and within a couple of hours
 the city was coming apart.

It was ugly.

Very few of us actually went into the areas where there were rioting.

It would have been just foolish to walk in with $6,000 camera. 

A lot of coverage was from the helicopter.

And when things quieted down, 
we were able to go back into the neighborhoods.

I’ll never forget it.

Never forget palm trees on fire
 like tiki torches.

Anybody who did go out got a bullet-proof vest.

Our news director said we don’t have enough 
for everyone.

Some things have not changed.

The high unemployment rate in areas where minorities live, 
Watts, South Central.

The opportunities for young people 
aren’t there.

And as long as you have that, you’re going to have a lot of resentment…
should there be anything to torch that flame, ignite that problem…

Jobs, jobs, jobs we should be looking at.

The police department is no longer what it is.

It used to be an occupying force, 
us against them…
predominately white, racist. 

The face of the police department looks more like 
the people.

A lot more Hispanic, African American, gay officers.



Complicated.

I was going to say diverse.

But [Los Angeles is] more than that,
 it’s complicated.

And that’s what I love about it.
 I keep discovering new things about it.
I feel like I just arrived.


This isn’t just about a bike lightLuis Garcia Rico, a USC student majoring in political science and American studies. Large Hispanic man wearing baggy jeans and a black zip-up with a red shirt and matching red and black baseball cap. He is sitting at a table with other panelists, including an African American USC Department of Public Safety officer, white Los Angeles Police Department officer and a young Hispanic woman and man who are serving as the moderators of the discussion. The blackboard reads, “Bridging the Divide.” Garcia discusses a time when he was pulled over on his bike by LAPD around the USC campus on his way to get dinner at Wing Stop.

It became kind of blatant at that point.

I said, ‘okay, this isn’t just about a bike light.
‘I couldn’t help but think – were they looking for someone?

Did they just want to mess with someone?

It’s kind of hard to trust the judgment that they are doing 
the right thing.

Police officers are humans, tooAsst. Capt. John Thomas of the USC Department of Public Safety, former lieutenant of the LAPD – Thomas grew up in South Los Angeles and is a graduate of Crenshaw High School and the University of California at Los Angeles. Prior to coming to USC, he served as a lieutenant in the LAPD. He is a short, big-boned African-American male in a beige DPS uniform. He has a black mustache and bald shiny head. Helpful, and has a friendly personality. He is one of the panelists at the same event Garcia spoke at.

The riots were a wake-up call.

You can actually look at the racial percentages
 in Los Angeles and they will
 mirror the LAPD.
The officer is thinking, ‘Am I going to stop all
 these people on their bikes, versus just south 
or west of campus where people know they are 
supposed to have lights on their bikes?


[admits that officers may racial profile because they are looking for someone to keep the community safe]


This is why officers are aggressively doing stuff. 


There’s an LAPD policy that if a person files a complaint that isn’t frivolous
 the department will investigate it.

The worst [a victim] can do is ignore your feelings
 and say nothing happened.


As long as police officers are recruited from
 the human race these situations will continue.

Police officers are humans too,
 you’re going to get good
 and bad. 

Our goal is that the community
 does not think
 [these incidents encountered], 
reflect the entire force.

We’re still rappin’ and flappin‘ – Linda Guthrie, A former Los Angeles Unified School District middle school teacher who has also been an officer the United Teachers of Los Angeles (the teacher’s union). She ran for president of UTLA in 2003. Wearing a khaki button-up shirt over a orange t-shirt. Sitting at a table with other panelists. She spoke at an event that discussed the “the myth of a post-racial society” in America – and specifically – Los Angeles after Barack Obama, the first black president, took office. She is an African American woman in her late 50s.



It’s mythology that propels us forward.

It’s the mythology we have to contend with
so when we have the myth of a 
Post-racial society.

You have to approach it in a different way.

Black women and children,
 they are raised at the bottom of 
the heap.

Still in L.A. Unified, you can still see that black children 
are consistently under-performed. Resources aren’t directed toward them.

The suspension rate is 300 times as much as 
other children.

But we live in a post-racial society
 where it doesn’t make any difference.
America is a spin over substance.

Post-racial is the latest slogan to find its way into the popular culture.

It’s the gist that racism has occurred in the past. 

My feeling is that when I mean, when I heard the term
”post-racial” 
I wanted to know what they were smoking,
 and where they live.

 [Audience laughs]
Every morning when I get up,
 I’m acutely aware of the fact that I am a black woman 
in America.

As I told my students in a multicultural class,
 as a black woman in America,
 that I am at the bottom of the heap.
When I have students approach me 
and automatically approach me
 and act a certain way, 
when they see the color of my face then I know we don’t live
 in a post-racial society.


When I turn on the TV and see black women
 referred to as ‘bitches’ and sexualized in a way
that as akin to what happened during slavery.

I cannot say that we live in a post-racial society.


When you ask children what black people are about, 
we’re still rappin’ and flappin’.

Within our own races. Jessica Wallace, a 28-year-old outspoken African American woman. Big-boned and slightly overweight. She is wearing a black t-shirt and red bandana. Stood up in the audience during the public comment portion of the post-racial society event and spoke loudly with many hand and arm movements. A student at Cal State Los Angeles.

It used to be white people were racist with you every day.

This and that.

And then there were the people racist on the top
 were also white.

But now we have interracism 
within our own races.

That’s the colonial racism…
that people have.

Maybe Latinos have against black 
that is your have a darker skin than me
 so I’m going to be racist against you.

We have, sadly enough,
 is that you weren’t born here 
and we were born here.

And that’s how they do it.


So, based on these interviews, the question is, even if the LAPD changed, has much else changed? Do we live in a post-racial society or is that a myth? If we live in a post-racial society, then why are the schools that struggle the most like Markham full of only minority students? Why are minority students getting a second-rate education? Why are we still fighting against different races? Why is unemployment even higher than it was in 1992? Why is violence still prevalent in our communities? I wish I knew. What do you think?

City Year Los Angeles’ deputy director sent all the corps members an email last night about how things have changed since 1992: there is more discussion among people and our civic leaders are diverse, but people still live in poverty and violence that circulate through the schools we serve.

We serve in these neighborhoods that were affected by the riots to help prevent anything like that again. We encourage our students to be leaders and receive a decent education so they can come back later and help their home neighborhoods. We are those who are finding a solution to the problem.

Our deputy director said that after our service year, we have to share the story of these neighborhoods and vote “honor the legacy of those we served.”

I will do so. I will also push to be my best in my last five weeks of service.

Yes, we really have only five weeks left…

Yikes.

-Liz

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Mural in South LA