Tim Watkins, President of the WLCAC (Steve Porter photo)

New Yorkers could learn a lot by watching the new PBS docuseries “10 Days In Watts” because gentrification for our communities is not exclusive to your city. 

Created by actor and Emmy-nominated filmmaker Raphael Sbarge, the doc-series “10 Days In Watts” takes us into the urban garden named MudTown Farms (which is scheduled to open in Watts) that has been built and nurtured by dedicated residents who see more than economic hardship, social inequality, and environmental racism in their future. 

You really can’t talk about Watts and progress without giving credit to the Watkins family, and the series chronicles three generations of those activists. The four-part series also features 

students, farmers, and other community leaders committed to healing past social injustices, of which there are many. 

At the risk of sounding redundant, there are important lessons in how the MudTown Farms, a project of the Watts Labor Community Action Committee (WLCAC), came to life, and it was not without struggles. In Harlem in particular, there are many small community gardens and pop-up stands that sell fresh fruits and vegetables. This is essential because we all know we are what we eat, and in America, what we eat is toxic. 

There is a plethora of studies that link a long list of health issues that are attributed to poor food choices. Poison in, poison out. Watts community leaders listened to the needs of the residents and MudTown Farms was conceived to be more than just an agriculture park. It also has 

open space for community gardens, orchards, and reading gardens including a community center for teaching, training, and events. 

If you know local government then you have an idea of just how difficult the journey was and is for this community. The MudTown Farms journey was beset with delays and cost overruns. This series begins ten days out from the Farm’s opening and at the center, the sage elder telling the story is Tim Watkins, president of the WLCAC, who shares a vision of a family’s dedication to their beloved community. As the farm moves towards its opening, a patchwork mosaic of resilience emerges, focused on honoring its citizens and determined to see the next generation thrive. Mr. Watkins is a superhero in my mind. Take a moment and look at this YouTube clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dHeS9SVaCvo.

Sbarge, whose production company Wishing Well Entertainment is behind the docuseries, offered this: “We were given an opportunity to speak with residents, many of whom had spent their lives in Watts. They shared their journey, stories filled with complex and difficult experiences, but they also expressed genuine gratitude that someone would be interested in hearing their stories. 

“What I discovered was that the community was filled with extraordinary individuals, all committed to helping others, despite the many challenges they had faced. We gathered those stories that were shared with us in audio interviews, and then filmed over 10 days leading up to the opening of Mudtown Farms, and then a few days after. The farm’s very existence is rooted in a legacy story, and its significance within the community tells a story within a story of ordinary heroes.”

Here’s what Watkins had to share about  “Ten Days in Watts,” which airs on Sunday, Feb. 12th. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

AMSTERDAM NEWS: I was sent the first two episodes and I was hooked. Your legacy in Watts, along with your family, is serious. Tell us about you

TIM WATKINS:  Well, first of all, I am 69 years old, and a proud lifelong resident of Watts. 

I was born in Watts. I was raised in Watts and I intend to make my transition [in Watts] when I move on to what’s beyond. 

AMN: Copy that. 

TW: I’m never gonna move out. I love the community, for a lot of reasons, of course, because it’s where I was born to a very humble family, in 1953, as a result of the marriage of my mother and father, a Black man from Mississippi, who came here when he was 13 years old to escape a lynch mob. 

AMN: And your mother?

TW: My mother, who was a white woman from San Francisco, and her family were survivors of the great earthquake when most of San Francisco burned. She was the descendant of Russian Orthodox Jews. 

AMN: The pairing of those two, in that period of American history, is just—wow!

TW: Yeah, so I was the second born to that couple. I was born in the Palm Lanes Housing Project. And it was the poorest public housing in the area. Watts is home to more public housing than anywhere else west of the Mississippi. And they were there today, there are five major public housing developments within the immediate vicinity of Watts. Palm Lanes was the sixth housing development. 

AMN: That definitely gives me an idea of your perspective. 

TW: My background is humble. My father, Ted Watkins, founded the Watts Labor Community Action Committee and all of his achievements and developments that he accomplished in his lifetime gave rise to my burning need to extend his legacy. 

LAS: What a tremendous legacy, indeed. 

TW:  It’s not my job to try to follow in his footsteps exactly, but certainly to extend the work that he did. And to continue to operate. We’re operating the same mission that we did when this was founded 57 years ago. 

AMN: That’s inspiring me because a strip of land is just land without the vibrancy of the people. 

TW: Along the way, what I fell in love with was the unfaded hopefulness of people, that the people of Watts continued to hope for and wish for and dream for a better way of life. 

Join the conversation on social media using #10daysinwatts and @kcet, @pbssocal.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *