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A drive-by shooting near Adams and Crenshaw in South Central Los Angeles claimed the life of Al Wooten Jr. in January 1989. The 35-year-old Wooten's murder was allegedly the result of a gang initiation, and happened a time when drive-by shootings were at a height.

Various community programs, gang sweeps by police and tougher penalties for youths were were implemented to try to counter the violence, but Wooten's mother – Myrtle Faye Rumph – felt those measures would only aggravate already-rebellious young people. Rumph instead proposed something that would keep them busy, empower them and change their attitudes, which led to her opening a youth center named after her son in 1990 in a two-room storefront at 9115 S. Western Ave, according to the center's website.

More than three decades later, housed in six storefront buildings across from its original location, The Wooten Center's mission continues under the guidance of Executive Director Naomi McSwain and many others on the organization's board. McSwain's efforts to further that cause are why she was recently recognized as the Rams' ninth "pLAymaker" honoree.

"My first thought is playmaker, you know, that makes me think of a playbook, you know, with a coach with a playbook out there, having a strategy and a plan and all that," McSwain said. "And it makes me think back to when we first started, in 1990. We had a very simple plan, which is to help keep the kids out of gang violence so that they didn't suffer what my cousin suffered. And so that that was our idea. That was our plan. We've since developed a lot more strategies now, having more kids and being more strategic about the academic enrichment. So I feel like you are recognizing us for that – for the plans that have came to fruition, that grew out of my cousin being killed, just the silver lining."

According to its website, the Wooten Center "provides free and afterschool summer programs to help students in grades 3-12 attain grade-level proficiency and promotion, high school graduation, and college and career access and success." The nonprofit agency's afterschool services includes CollegeTrek, a hybrid online and onsite college and career preparation program that includes private tutoring, homework assistance, i-Ready online diagnostics in reading and math, performing and visual arts, leadership and life skills development, college tours and scholarships, and field trips, among many other services.

This past summer, the Wooten Center also hosted a hybrid Summer Fun Camp that featured virtual private tutoring and a virtual playground, as well as onsite activities exploring the five types of engineering.

"Our mission is to provide a safe and nurturing environment committed to good citizenship and academic excellence," McSwain said. "So the good citizenship came out of the gang violence beginning that we have, and academic excellence because we believe that education is a pathway to success for everyone. You don't know what you don't know, right? And so we always talk about exposing the kids to a world of opportunities so that they can make the choices. It's hard to make choices if you don't know what they are."

When McSwain thinks about inspiring change, she thinks about the word change and the word revolution, given revolution means change. She said that oftentimes people look at revolution as a negative, but when you have something as horrific as gang violence, or a child not performing at their grade level – i.e., a fifth-grade student who is testing at a kindergarten level, or a middle school student who can'r read – it is needed.

"To inspire change is something I personally strive to do," McSwain said. "I want people to look at what we're doing and realize that we started, we didn't know what we were doing in the beginning, we just wanted to make change. And we came together and we found some people who did know what they were doing, we took classes, we learned how to do it and here we are. So I just hope by our example, our grassroots example, that people can look at us and hopefully be inspired to make the change, the kind of revolution that we need to once and for all make major impacts in our area, especially in terms of gang violence and illiteracy and grade-level proficiency."

In that vein, McSwain likewise said people can inspire change in their own communities by being an example.

McSwain is a part of different collaboratives like Community Response System of South L.A. and co-chair of the education committee which has been training different agencies in how to do high-dosage tutoring, the recommended method to make up for the learning losses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. She said there are not a lot of agencies in South L.A. that are doing it, but through those trainings, they are learning about it.

"So to inspire change, on the one hand, it's being an example, but also doing some coordination and actually taking the steps that are needed to make it happen," McSwain said. "Because it's not always enough to just inspire, you know? You actually have to help actualize those things. And whether or not it's you making a donation, or you being on a committee to coordinate some type of activity, (it's about) doing your part. When you think about the Bible, it says, 'One is the hand, one is the foot,' I always think about that, and I share that with people. And I say, 'You have something to offer. Whatever you can, give that. Ad don't worry about what you can't give, just give what you can.'"

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