Seven years ago, when the Los Angeles Police Department launched a youth football program in the city's oft-troubled Watts neighborhood, the team attracted just one participant to its first practice.
Today, the Watts Rams, with financial support from the NFL's L.A. Rams franchise, boasts 85 members, and serves as a beacon of hope and pride for the community. Watts players joined the pros on field for the national anthem during the Rams' Monday Night Football contest versus the Baltimore Ravens last week.
The two-minute film below, from TBWA\Chiat\Day L.A., director Renato Jabuka and production house BeGrizzlee, puts the project in perspective. Rapper, activist and Watts native Brandon "Stix" Salaam-Bailey composed and performed the hard-edged, poetic narration, adopting the perspective of that first kid who showed up for the program in 2012.
"Knock, knock. Who's there? It's me, Fate," Salaam-Bailey begins, over images of strife-torn streets and headlines screaming about riots and crime. We see police officers knock on doors and hand out flyers for the team. Often distrusted by local residents, the cops find just one youngster willing to take a chance on the program.
"But is Fate my friend?" Salaam-Bailey asks. "A friend who will protect me from the loud sirens I hear outside? A friend who will stop the arguments between Mom and Dad, or Granny and Mom, or a friend who understand my pain, my suffering?"
Notions of freedom, escaping despair and belonging to something greater than oneself abound, punctuated by images of the flyers flitting across city streets. "I just need time to get away," the voiceover continues. "I just need a ride to a place. A place that feels free."
The story concludes at the Rams Family Thanksgiving dinner, during which retailer Albertsons/Vons/Pavilions—which co-sponsored the film—surprised each Watts player with a $500 gift card.
"We family, we family," Salaam-Bailey says near the end. "I own the world, yeah, we own the world. I like the taste of that … I got the power. If we ready, come on in."
Ultimately, the film—titled "What's Watts?"—succeeds by showing the potential for personal transformation, and the effect that can have on a community. It never overreaches to portray the Watts Rams as some preternatural force for good. No local sports team or program, in and of itself, can solve complex inner-city problems. Such initiatives can, however, provide hope and focus for young people, helping them break the cycle of desperation and form ideas to generate change. That's a lot to be thankful for.
Salaam-Bailey's street-wise take—world-weary, honest and empowering—seals the deal.
"I wanted to metaphorically assert how having access to free resources or free programs like the Watts Rams can cure cases of trauma in underserved communities," he says. "Trauma caused from environmental or geographical circumstances becomes normal to individuals growing up in places like Watts, and all they need is someone to offer a chance to see what would be seen as abnormal to prove there is more opportunity outside of the ghetto."
LOS ANGELES RAMS FOUNDATION
WHAT'S WATTS- "A Story of Transformation"
Molly Higgins - Vice President, Community Affairs and Engagement
Marissa Daly - Vice President and General Manager, Media
Lexi Vonderlieth -Vice President, Partnership Marketing
Rod Stephens - Account Manager, Partnership Activation
Taylor Gilkenson - Managing Producer
Sandarvis Duffie - Video Producer, TV
Sam Aherns - Video Trainee
Todd Davis - Vice President of Legal Affairs
Joanna Hunter - Senior Director, Corporate Communications
Chase Isaacs - Corporate Communications Specialist
Zach Kinkeade - Manager, Community Affairs and Player Involvement
Jonathan Franklin - Manager, Community Affairs and Engagement
Erica Sherman - Manager, Community Affairs and Player Involvement
David Weingarten - Coordinator, Community Affairs and Engagement
Jacques McClendon - Director, Player Engagement
Laurie Raymundo - Marketing Director
Rick Williams - Area Vice President
Melissa Hill - Director of Public Affairs and Government Relations, The Albertsons
Thank you to Captain Pags and our Watts Rams coaches for their tireless commitment to
transforming the lives of our Watts youth through the game of football-
LAPD Captain Lou Paglialonga
LAPD Officer Zarren Thompson
LAPD Officer Otis Swift
LAPD Officer James Holliman
LAPD Officer Jose Soto
LAPD Officer Joshua Juneau
LAPD Officer Grant Goosby
TBWA\CHIAT\DAY - Los Angeles
Erin Riley - President
Renato Fernandez - Chief Creative Officer
Michael Claypool - Managing Director
Fabio Brigido - Creative / Creative Director
Paulo Cruz - Creative / Sr. Art Director
Renato Jabuka - Director / Editor
Anh-Thu Le - Director of Content Production
Michael Schroepfer - Producer
Robin Rossi - Director of Business Affairs
Dessiah Maxwell - Director of Traffic Operations
PRODUCTION COMPANY - BeGrizzlee
Javier Jimenez - Managing Director, Content Production Studio
Alex Kim - Sr. Producer
Joao Padua - Director of Photography
Carla Duenden - Assistant Director
Danny Kim - Assistant Camera
Brandon Gong - Swing
COLOR - The Mill - Los Angeles
Matt Osborne - Colorist
Blake Rice - Color Producer
Logan Highlen - Color Assist
SOUND DESIGN/AUDIO - Barking Owl
Kelly Bayett- Creative Director
Matt Keith - Sound Designer / Mixer
KC Dossett - Producer
FLAME - CarbonVFX
Matthew McManus - Executive Producer
Anwei Chen - VFX Producer
John Price - Flame Artist
Ujala Saini - Flame Artist