Today we got on the Metro and rode from Pasadena to MacArthur Park in central Los Angeles. I’ve been to this park many times in the last 15 years, but on this trip I learned quite a bit more about it’s history.
Joe Colletti told us about the birth of a business and the rehab of a park. Joe rented a storefront office when MacArthur Park was infested with drugs, prostitution and gangs. He remembers scooting his old wooden desk up against the window looking out at the park and wondering what God was up to. The spirit was heavy on Joe’s heart to do something about the historic park, but what could he do?
He started by simply cleaning the sidewalk in front of his business. He swept and washed it down every morning. Still, he watched drug deals go down right outside his front door multiple times a day with no response from the police. After having the parking meters on the street removed there was significant progress made; this reduced the drug trade and made it impossible for people stop and make deals. His next step was to secure a temporary permit to hold a family festival in the park. In a 100 square foot section he and his wife handed out balloons and met the residents of the neighborhood – that was his festival. On successive occasions the festivals got larger and larger and attracted more people. Joe began “weed and seed” meetings hosting various faith groups and civic leaders. The community task force pressured the police chief to install cameras in MacArthur Park and soon crime had dropped dramatically. The 2005 census track revealed a reduction in crime greater than any other area in the country. Today the park is clean, safe and family friendly once again.
All through this process Joe was building a business. Together with Sandi Romero he identified the need to help illegal tamale vendors find a way to legally practice their trade. They opened a kitchen where vendors could come and make their tamales in a clean and state-approved kitchen. They also started an education center where vendors could learn business management, culinary skills and legal requirements for street sales of their products. The result is Mama’s Hot Tamales, a wonderful restaurant serving and catering tamales from all over the world.
Joe and Sandi (“Mama”) had a vision for an area of town that even the police had given up on, yet through the power of the spirit they realized a dream of revitalizing an entire neighborhood. Together, and with the help of many others, they heard the voice of God among his people and answered a call to meet the needs of neighbors, not through any strategic plan, but through persistent listening, unswerving patience and sheer determination on a day-by-day basis.