Tuesday, July 15, 2014

And Where Do You Where To?: BOWL for BLOOM

While the 2014 BET Experience took over L.A. Live the last weekend in June with scores of events, concerts, exhibits and the highly anticipated BET Awards Ceremony, I attended another very important event that was quietly happening at L.A. Live, in the midst of all of the bustling action. Tucked away at Lucky Strike, BOWL for BLOOM Presented by California Community Foundation took place Saturday, June 28, hosted by actor Larenz Tate and Buffalo Wild Wings franchise owner Karim Webb.

The afternoon affair brought celebs like Ludacris, Seattle Seahawks’ Terrelle Pryor and Washington Wizards’ Trevor Ariza together to support the BLOOM program and its participants, known as BLOOMers. Created by the California Community Foundation, BLOOM—which stands for Building a Lifetime of Options and Opportunities for Men—is an L.A.-based, five-year initiative launched in 2012. It provides a variety of professional and educational opportunities for young men living in South L.A. who have been, or currently are, under L.A. County Probation Department supervision.

From left to right: Larenz Tate's brother, PCF Management Partner Edward Barnett, Larenz Tate, Karim Webb and Larenz Tate's brother. 

“BLOOM takes young men who are 14-18 years old and have had a brush with the probation department and attempts to divert them by helping them graduate high school and/or get a GED and get job placement,” Karim, pictured above, second from the right, explained to me in a brief chat we had at the event. “As importantly, we really find out what’s wanted and needed in terms of the gaps in their lives—either from a family perspective, from a mental health perspective, or in any way in which they need to be supplemented, in terms of getting what they need to be successful members of society moving forward.”

Webb went on further to share that the program already has 200 BLOOMers participating and plans to expand to 600 within the upcoming year. According to the I am BLOOM website, the goal is to serve 2,000 youth by 2017. He says that the program had a 98 percent success rate in reducing recidivism in its initial year.

I had a chance to talk with some of the BLOOMers who were at the event, including Joseph (pictured below), who had recently relocated from Oakland to Los Angeles. At 18, he had already experienced a lot, including being shot multiple times, and was now looking forward to putting his past behind him to pursue a career in the music industry. BLOOM works with other nonprofit organizations, including the Community Coalition for Substance Abuse and Treatment, L.A. Brotherhood Crusade, L.A. Urban League, Youth Justice Coalition and Youth Mentoring Connection.

“BLOOM gives us an outlet to get engaged,” said Webb. “As you can see, we’ve got young men here. We’ve got bright eyes and bright futures, and we’re committed to making sure that they are exposed to and have all the opportunity to accomplish whatever they’re willing to work for.”

Throughout the afternoon, BLOOMers, celebs and supporters bowled, networked and ate complimentary appetizers. There were about 80 guests in attendance.

Sports figures, like Trevor Ariza pictured below, took tons of photos with BLOOMers.

At one point, Ludacris joked and told BLOOMers: “One thing I know, I’m glad that y’all aren’t getting strikes in the system, but I heard that none of y’all are getting strikes on the bowling alley.”

Towards the end of the event, several key figures addressed the crowd and specifically BLOOMers, encouraging them to continue their pursuits. Speakers included Webb, Ludacris and California Community Foundation Vice President, Programs Nike Irvin, pictured below with Larenz Tate.

Larenz Tate also shared a heartfelt story about how his brother previously had a run in with the law but fortunately had the much-needed support to rebound back, similar to what the BLOOM program provides.

“We truly are appreciative,” Larenz told BLOOMers in a final address. “We have not forgotten about you; we will not forget about you, and don’t forget about each other. All I can say is I love you guys—y’all keep y’all heads up. Peace and blessings.”

For more information about BLOOM and its initiatives, visit its website.

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