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Looking to a brighter future: Living in Jordan Downs

By Bethany Mollenkof

The apartments lining the narrow streets in Watts wear a faded coat of peach paint, the clotheslines are rusted and creaky. Airplanes crisscross the sky above the South L.A. neighborhood, but their hum is drowned out by the ice-cream truck nearby blaring music. Children play in a yard, their shrieks and giggles bounce off the walls. These are the sounds of waiting.

From left: Natarsha Blackmon, Shanell Blackmon, Darnell Jeffrey, Imani Earl and My'king Clayton sit outside of the Blackmon's home in Jordan Downs Housing Project.

From left: Natarsha Blackmon, Shanell Blackmon, Darnell Jeffrey, Imani Earl and My’king Clayton sit outside the Blackmons’ home in Jordan Downs housing project.

Welcome to Jordan Downs.

Built as a temporary shelter for factory workers during World War II, Jordan Downs was transformed into public housing in the 1950s. Now one of the oldest housing projects in L.A., it has never fully shed its temporary feel.

For generations, the families who live there heard promise of change, new homes, new playgrounds — jobs. But just this year, redevelopment plans unraveled when the city of Los Angeles lost out on a $30-million federal grant it had been counting on.

Shanell Blackmon, 19, twirled the end of her headphones and sipped from an orange soda as she reflected on what it’s like to grow up in Jordan Downs. “I’m not a typical girl around here,” she said. “Most typical girls have children … dropped out of school … they don’t do nothing.”

Natarsha Blackmon aspires to be a fashion designer in hopes of making enough money to one day own her own home and move away from the Jordan Downs.

Natarsha Blackmon aspires to be a fashion designer in hopes of making enough money to one day own her own home and move away from the Jordan Downs.

The David Starr Jordan High School graduate admits that she hasn’t always had this perspective. During her first two years of high school, she didn’t care much about class and ditched most days. But after failing classes, she rallied back to graduate in June 2013. She hopes to go to college eventually with dreams of becoming a nurse or perhaps a security guard. But for now she is working odd jobs while living at home.  “If you don’t do nothing for yourself,” Blackmon said. “You going to be waiting for nothing. It’s like you are waiting to die, basically.”

Her 26-year-old sister Natarsha “TaTa” Blackmon also can’t help but think about life after Jordan. The aspiring fashion designer hopes that creating custom dresses, bathing suits, skirts and sweaters will give her that chance.

With her sewing machine pinned under her arm, Natarsha wove her way through the crowd along the sidewalk in the Fashion District. Her machine’s needle was in need of repair and grabbed shiny buckles and ribbon; she needed to transform a simple pair of heels into something more flashy. Natarsha has recently started a small pop-up retail shop called Expensive Taste, where her designs are available.

“I don’t want to be just living here, I want to live my life and do something with myself,” she said. “I want to go to New York for fashion. London … Italy …  be adventurous.”

Shanell Blackmon, right, hangs out with friends in the parking lot of the Jordan Downs Housing Project.

Shanell Blackmon, right, hangs out with friends in the parking lot of the Jordan Downs housing project.

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