Providing Showcase for Talent and Hope : A theater program is an alternative to gangs, but it is also part of a healing process for its founder.

There was always music and performers around when I was growing up. My mom ran Soul City, a Central Avenue gathering place for musicians. I guess it was natural that I met some of the top stars at the time. I met Johnny Otis, Nat (King) Cole, Tina Turner, Ray Charles, Mel Williams and many others. The singing group the Young Hearts rehearsed in my home; my Uncle Will wrote for them.

I got asked to sit in on background vocals. I loved to listen to them come by the house to relate the details of their adventures in the Big Time.

Back then, I didn't have the vision to ask for an opportunity to get into this type of life myself. I did start a girl group, the Happenings, and it was Williams who gave us a chance to audition at the Grand Prix nightclub, which was at what is now Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Figueroa Street.

I left the group later. I thought I'd do something with my hands for a change. I began a correspondence course in nursing. I could sew, make jewelry and I tried it all, but nothing worked.

You see, I kept on having children. I had my first child at 13. By the time the Watts riots broke out in 1965, I had two children. I was 15 then. I was 19 and had four children and one on the way when I had the accident. That was in 1969.

I was letting my boyfriend drive me up and down the freeway at 100 m.p.h. I loved the freedom; I lived dangerously and didn't even realize it. I miscarried and was in the hospital for three months. My leg was so badly damaged they wanted to cut it off. I wouldn't let them; I told them I would drag it.

People who I thought were friends thought I was comical. They called me Hippity-Hoppity and used me. I tried to blend in with what people were doing--drinking, dropping pills. I hated being alone. I had been an only child. Now, with my leg crushed, I felt ugly, unwanted--damaged as a woman. I turned to friends with low morals and started doing beer and pills.

This pattern kept repeating in my life. Drugs, violence, brushes with the law--I even shot a man in self-defense once. I saw my mother turn away, my children taken away, and people were laughing at me. I had never prayed much, but I remember my grandmother telling me, "If your mother and father forsake you, then God will take you in. . . ." I only knew the Lord's Prayer and the 23rd Psalm. I prayed. I was hurt and I couldn't even explain the pain.

One day I was walking down the street when a Mexican man stopped me and asked, "Can I help you?" Something told me, "Trust this man." When I got in his car, I saw that he was handicapped and had a specially equipped car. His friend in the back seat said, "We all have to help each other."

This was in 1977. I started seeking and going to church services everywhere. Things were not perfect; I had problems with my mother. She couldn't stand me talking to people about the Lord, reading the Bible. My life was changing, but that didn't bring us closer. My mother died in 1983.

I began to work with my own and the neighborhood children. I played the "Gong Show" with them. That's where it began. The shows got larger, better. I've even taken on my own stage name, Lady Treva. Now we're in the process of buying a place. People have warned me we're in a Crip neighborhood. These kids could be gangbanging, fighting . . . anything, but they come here.


They start to rap and sing, learn dancing. The kids have always been crazy about it. Just last week, one of my sons saw three of the first kids that I taught. They said, "Tell your mother we got to see her again. That was the best thing we ever did." They'd never had someone take the time and help them learn something they could enjoy and be proud of.

Another older student who has won a few trophies in our competitions calls all the time to tell me, "You are making my mantle beautiful!" They are all so proud of their awards.

I had some experience in entertainment, but now I have to start learning the business end. I took my knowledge of show business to teach children. I plan to help them learn to form their own shows. I've dealt with a lot of adults who wanted to make money on the program, but this is not for profit.

I don't make any money on this. In fact, some nights I give out 12 trophies; it costs $250 every two weeks to pay for trophies, prizes and certificates of participation for the children and young adults. In exchange for the use of our performance facility, we assist the building owners with renovations and maintenance.

My children always help. One of my oldest daughters is even showing some talent as a singer. She helps the young ones, and some of the industry volunteers have given her advice too.

The next step for me is cable television production. I hope to take production classes and be able to use public access to present the children in a regular showcase.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World