Rising From the Watts Riot, Now With Roots in Santa Clarita

Fifty years ago this month, the Watts riots began.  Three years ago, I wrote how the community where I grew up rose from the ashes excelling athletically, allowing some of us to move forward “transplanting” to the Santa Clarita Valley.  Written just before the 2012 London Olympics, we are now just 12 months before the 2016 Rio de Janeiro games.

I know some of you may have read this, but I hope it will be a reminder how far our nation has come, and how we continue to positively move forward.  Originally, this was in the West Ranch Beacon (now the SCV Beacon), and has been posted here with an additional comment.

Reflections from a transplant

The air was filled with smoke, and on occasion one could hear gunshots.  It wasn’t in a foreign warring country, but in 1965 Los Angeles where the Watt’s riot seemingly wanted to control our destiny.  We were under curfew and martial law, putting a damper on evening activities.  Being young middle-school teenagers, we tried to make semblance of the violence seeking normalcy listening to Dodger games and following the news.  From this reality and once rioting ended, our community moved forward.

Three of my friends parted, moving to separate local high schools where they all became student body presidents their senior year, reflective of the caliber and character of our “village.”  

Albert Hearvey, who grew up around the corner, ran the 100 yard dash (not meters) a tenth of a second off the world record, and Robert Pullard pole vaulted 16 feet 7 3/4 inch to set a national high school record.  To say the least, our Los Angeles High School track team won the California State Championship my senior year.

Seated in the stands at UCLA Drake Stadium that fateful day were many athletes who were a part of our team effort including Ed Dorio (my brother), Lloyd Harvey, Paul Felix, Richard Leathers, and Cal Peterson.  Without them pressing our stars forward as part of the team, the State title would not have been within our grasp.  Yet, four years after the riots and from those ashes, our “village” survived and captured a team victory no one would have thought achievable.

Fast forward to 2012, and the Santa Clarita Valley.  The London Olympic games are beginning, and we have four athletes participating on this world stage:  Alysia Montano (Canyon High) in the 800 meters, David Smith (Saugus High) in volleyball, Anthony Ervin (Hart High) 50-meters freestyle swimming, and Allyson Felix in the 100 and 200 meter runs.

Five years ago the SCV Senior Center held 5K runs at Magic Mountain for fundraising  and there, Allyson Felix, a teenager of Olympic ability, would come out to encourage those who could barely cross the finish line.  I spoke with her and found a truly affable, mature, and altruistic young lady not seeking attention and only there to engage those in fulfilling their spirit in tending for our elder senior population. 

With the last name Felix not being common, I asked if she knew a Paul Felix…and she replied he was her father!   Not only that, he was a professor at The Master’s College in Santa Clarita.  Small world.

With our roots in Los Angeles, we both “transplanted” into the Santa Clarita Valley…his role to heal the spirit, mine to heal the body.  Yet we both realized our responsibility not only as leaders, but also as “support” for those in this community.

The Santa Clarita Valley is full of “transplants” coming from diverse backgrounds and regions to create a “village” that produce Olympic athletes.  Beyond that though are our children who have reached outside this valley to achieve more than a gold medal, but to move society forward.  Each of them bring a unique background that carries human qualities and characteristics molding the American future.  We can only be proud.

Sometimes it is hard to fathom the intricate matrix life presents, and the role each of us must play.  But the results show anyone can rise from the ashes and move forward contributing to this success, and we, as a nation, have always done this as a team. 

We wish our Olympic hopefuls the courage to endure and the strength to win.  But for whatever glory they might achieve, they have already brought pride to this community, and we will be forever thankful.

There is no doubt in the future, from this valley will come those who “transplant” to other areas bringing them our same good fortune and success.  My hope will be when they are asked “Where did you grow up?” or “Where did you come from?”, their sincere and grateful response will be “the Santa Clarita Village.”

Gene Uzawa Dorio, M.D.

Postscript:  Allyson Felix has won 4 Olympic Gold Medals for the United States, and will again compete for a position on our 2016 team.

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