Officer Does His Best ‘Booking’ After Hours : Reading: Police commander joins tutors from all walks of life in the war on illiteracy at an Urban League program in the Crenshaw area.


On Wednesday evenings, Cmdr. Ronald C. Banks of the Los Angeles Police Department takes a break from the rigors of fighting crime to do battle with another intractable foe--illiteracy.

The 51-year-old commander of the department’s SWAT teams, helicopter patrols and disaster relief units is one of about 30 tutors who teach reading, writing and mathematics at the Los Angeles Urban League’s Milken Family Literacy Center in the Crenshaw area.

“It is a way to give something back to the community,” said Banks, who specializes in teaching reading to adults. “Most days I feel like I get as big a sense of accomplishment out of it as the people I come here to help.”


Since the center opened in February, more than 120 children and adults have walked through its doors seeking help with schoolwork and basic skills for the job market.

Tutors for the program include retired teachers, real estate salesmen and police officers. Many come from the affluent and working-class communities surrounding the Crenshaw area. Most of the students come from Southwest and South-Central Los Angeles.

John Mack, president of the Los Angeles chapter of the Urban League, said the center is trying to bridge two segments of the African-American community by encouraging middle-class blacks to help those who are less fortunate.

“We want to explode the myth that the black middle class is too busy escaping to help some of their less fortunate brothers and sisters,” Mack said.

The Urban League received a $750,000 grant from the Milken Family Foundation to purchase and remodel the center’s headquarters at 54th Street and Crenshaw Boulevard.

The program has received financial support from the Southern California Gas Co., Lockheed and Xerox. AT & T contributed 15 computers, and members of its black and Latino employee associations have volunteered as tutors.

Linda Williams, the center’s manager, said its resources are stretched to the limit, and there is a long list of would-be students waiting to get in.

“We could expand if we had more volunteers,” she said recently.

The center holds a two-hour workshop each week to familiarize new volunteers with the program. Volunteers are asked to contribute a minimum of two hours a week in tutoring.

The program has conducted a major drive for volunteers in recent months by contacting churches and employee associations.

Emmanuel Bediako, program coordinator for the center, said it “has gone a long way toward helping children to build their self-confidence while they strengthen their academic skills.”

Bediako, who holds a degree in electrical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, abandoned his career as an engineer to pursue teaching.

One of four full-time staff members at the center, Bediako said each student is given an individual assessment and a custom-tailored program to improve his weak subjects.

“So far we have had a lot of success,” he said. “We ran a class for students taking the SATs, and we tested them, and their grades improved dramatically, more than 130 points.”

In addition to basic reading and mathematics, the center offers training in clerical skills: typing, bookkeeping, computer operations and word processing.

Kahahlia Hoyle, 12, says she has seen improvement in her work since starting at the center. “They have really helped me in my multiplication and division,” she said.

Crispin Lazarit, a 16-year-old honor student at Crenshaw High School, finds joy in helping others. “I know I’m doing something good,” he said. “I live nearby and I feel I’m helping people.”

For Ralph Lee, 37, a clerk at a liquor store in the South-Central area, just admitting his problem was a major accomplishment.

Throughout much of his adult life, Lee, a graduate of Fremont High School, hid the fact that he did not know how to read. “I realized the only person I was hurting was myself,” he said.