Seeing green in South L.A.

Toni Ann Johnson, a screenwriter, community activist and blogger, uses her blog to document her efforts to bring more green to her neighborhood in South Los Angeles. It's been a two year struggle but she's finally achieving visible results. Partnering with Million Trees L.A., the Southwest Los Angeles Neighborhood Council and Ralph's super market, Toni Ann gathered with over 100 volunteers to plant Ginko Biloba trees in front of Ralphs supermarket at Western and Manchester on Saturday, January 23, 2010. If you review the video above, you'll see that Los Angeles Councilmember Bernard Parks made the event.

Not content to rest on her laurels for a moment (sorry I couldn't resist), Toni Ann gave Native Intelligence a quick interview.

How did you feel after the event and as you were putting in the trees?

Right after the event I was delighted, gratified and very tired. Later when I reflected on what we'd accomplished and how long it took to reach the goal, I was profoundly grateful and feeling very connected to God, very blessed.

As we were putting in the trees I was joyful. Many of my very dear friends and neighbors came down to help out and it was pretty amazing seeing them work to make the community better. It moved me. I enjoyed digging the dirt and seeing the roots of the trees, thinking about how they were going to reach down into the soil and become a real part of the landscape. I love the idea of an urban forest!

What was the toughest obstacle in this process?

The toughest obstacle was actually what motivated me the most and I'm grateful for it. It was when the director of store operations for Ralphs told me that they wouldn't allow the trees to be planted. He said there were no plans to green that location and that there probably never would be. Knowing that all the other Ralphs in Los Angeles had trees, the fact that he said no infuriated me and propelled me into action. I made as much noise as I possibly could, determined to be a pest until they'd install the trees just to shut me up. I gained momentum in 2009 when an op-ed that I wrote was published in the Los Angeles Times. The forces against me allowed me to develop strengths and skills I hadn't cultivated previously, so I appreciated the challenge.

Did the result match your vision?

Honestly, not yet. : ) The trees are Gingko Biloba and they're going to be spectacular! However, they look bare right now because the trees are dormant and they have no leaves. They look like Charlie Brown trees. We pitched this project to the community telling them that there would be an immediate visual impact, because they were 24-inch box tree, which are pretty large. Had these been evergreen trees, the "immediate visual impact" would have been true, but since they're deciduous and it's winter now, the visual impact is significantly reduced. But, I anticipate that in a couple of months, the result will absolutely match my vision. I am thrilled about the trees, even the way they look now.

How long did it take to put in the trees?

Not long at all. It went much fast than I expected. The event began at 8:40am and we were pretty much finished by 11:30am. We had a ceremony, a dance show, and a tutorial prior to the planting, so I'd say the entire planting time was only about two hours. We had more than enough volunteers-- well over one hundred people. There were 20 trees and each tree takes 5 people to install. There was a demonstration before we all went off to our respective trees and people seemed to follow the instructions very well. Also, there were "team leaders," representatives from The Los Angeles Conservation Corps, who helped and guided all of us.

What's next for your group?

There are going to be two more phases of tree-plantings along Manchester Avenue, I'm happy to report. So, hopefully by 2011, much of that commercial corridor will be green! It's very exciting.

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