In a former role as the head coach of the University of Southern California’s Trojan football team in 2003, Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll grew sick of the radio reports he heard on his daily drive to work. Like a broken record, stories of out-of-control gang violence – of kids killing other kids – filled the Los Angeles airwaves. It was estimated that there were an average of 700 gang-related deaths in LA per year at the time. Since Carroll worked directly with football players of a similar age to those affected, the high youth fatality rates owing to gang violence in LA hit him hard.Carroll first encountered and experienced The Pacific Institute’s curriculum when coach of the New York Jets NFL team. He recognized not only the education’s power to fundamentally transform a culture, but also that the education had a universal application, from sports to business to wider society. It had become apparent that a culture of gang violence and youth fatalities had been normalized and accepted in LA. Carroll wanted to create a “new normal.”
He knew The Pacific Institute’s education was the right foundation for an initiative that eventually became known as A Better LA; one of the world’s most successful and effective efforts to curb gang violence. So he contacted friend and mentor Lou Tice, co-founder of The Pacific Institute, to get the ball rolling. After a series of meetings in which interested and passionate parties agreed to help, Tice and his wife, Diane, immediately established A Better LA as a non-profit organization and donated the resources needed to get it up and running. Off the back of Tice and Carroll’s commitment and investment in the project, A Better LA has grown to become one of the world’s most successful and inspiring initiatives aimed at reducing gang violence.
The organization’s mission is very much predicated on The Pacific Institute’s belief that a transformation in one person can often spread throughout their immediate peers. And recognizing that key individuals within gang culture are extremely influential, Carroll knew that A Better LA had to reach them directly.
“There must be an extraordinary group of leaders in this culture that we need to tap into, because if they can move these kids and change their lives and draw them into the danger zones that they live in; think if we could turn that into a productive leader,” said Carroll at the LA Gang Conference in 2004.
The organization’s name was coined by Gary Mann, a deputy sheriff from the LA Sheriff’s Department, and The Pacific Institute’s John McNeil, inspired by Tice’s 1989 book ‘A Better World, A Better You.’ Thanks to the profile, investment and effort of Carroll and the Tices, A Better LA encountered no difficulty in drumming up support throughout LA and reaching the people that needed it the most.
The Pacific Institute’s curricula formed the core of A Better LA’s education, and the company believed so fervently in the cause that it donated considerable resources towards its implementation. Many of the Institute’s staff members provided their time to facilitate, train and coach LA government-agency staff, police and parish members who directly interfaced with at-risk youths. Co-founder Diane Tice provided materials, accommodation, airfares, meals and more for the volunteers. In 2008, The Pacific Institute’s programs (including PX2®) were replaced by the video education ‘Win Forever,’ a collaborative effort from The Pacific Institute and Carroll.
While it’s difficult to attribute results directly to A Better LA’s activities, a number of key gang-crime indicators have decreased over the 10 years the project has existed. For instance, in the time since former LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s Summer Night Lights program began – an initiative conducted in partnership with A Better LA and utilizing The Pacific Institute’s education – there’s not been a single death in the LA parks that were once gang-violence hotspots. In fact, the 32 areas in which the program operates recently reported a 73% reduction in gang-related crimes and an 85% reduction in shots fired and aggravated assaults over the six years it has operated.
A Better LA celebrated its 10th anniversary on May 2 this year. The Pacific Institute is proud of the role it has played in establishing and supporting A Better LA, and also the tremendous good the organization achieves every day. Without a doubt, LA is certainly a better place thanks to its efforts, and it will only continue to improve.