'My parents paid a lot of money for me to go through Journalism school and all I have to show for it is this blog'

elson_montageHi – my name is Elson. I’m the Filipino kid who grew up listening to black music in an Armenian neighborhood where people spoke Spanish and ate Thai food.

Once upon a time, I wanted to be a writer. A newspaper reporter, to be exact. That interest led me to being the Editor-In-Chief of my high school newspaper and graduate with a Print Journalism degree from USC. Part of that dream came true with a summer-long paid internship at the Los Angeles Times. But even in the booming ’90s, newspapers were displaying their first signs of economic distress, as the first wave of full-time staff was cut from the paper. Long story short, I eventually fell out of the media loop.

In between stints in web design and the I.T. field, I somehow picked up community organizing along the way, years before our president’s former profession became a buzzword of sorts. Inspired by a community cleanup day in the Echo Park area, I wanted to duplicate this in my neighborhood, whatever it was called. So I put put announcements in the community paper, knocked on doors, talked to people. Without too much thought, I decided to give my community a name – “East Hollywood,” a nearly century-old moniker for this area, eroded by history. But it made the most logical sense – it was Hollywood but not “Hollywood.”

I started a community improvement association in 1996 and we soon had our first cleanup day. We planted trees, got a few people interested in neighborhood affairs and got the participation by our city council office, the LAPD, LA City College and other institutions.

In 2001, when the citywide system of neighborhood councils started in Los Angeles, I decided to organize one, parallel to our community improvement association. Eventually it became a more important priority and six years later, in 2007, the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council was finally certified by the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners.

After being formally elected by the community to its inaugural governing board, I became its first president, establishing the culture and basic workings of our neighborhood council. I helped to start up its committees, created our meeting format and got us to do things other neighborhood councils never did before – namely in embracing technology, outreach to our diverse ethnic groups and largely avoiding much of the same mistakes and misgivings that have given certain other NCs a bad name.

So a lot of what I’ll be writing about here is my community organizing exploits. Not necessarily to toot my own horn, but as a way to transcribe my notes, document my efforts and see how it all fits in with The Big Picture.

But if there’s one absolute thing about me, it’s that I can’t exactly be pigeonholed. In addition to community organizing, I’m a singer and musician, and music plays a huge part of my life. Once in a rare while, my music and community paths intertwine.

As a native son of the City of Angels, my life plays out in the vibrancy of this city of 4 million others.  Whether it’s work or play, some aspect of my life is affected by the goings-on in this town, and that’s what I’ll be writing about.

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