In my opinion, Oakwood produced three larger-than-life personalities who were instrumental in improving the lives of residents, especially the children, in the Oakwood community. Vera Davis and Pearl White are no longer with us and, now, Melvyn Hayward Sr. has joined them.
The following is from an article based on an interview with Melvyn during an observance of Black History Month that was published February 2nd, 1995 in The Argonaut.
“The Black History program at Westminster School will help African Americans and Hispanics relate,” says Venice activist Melvyn Hayward. “Each group will put an emphasis on its cultural background to help other kids understand where they are coming from. A lot of kids don’t even know their own culture.”
Melvyn, an 18-year resident of Venice, is a mentor.
“I always felt that my expertise was with kids,” he says. “I always wanted to be a youth counselor.”
The importance of mentoring young people was recently emphasized by County District Attorney Gil Garcetti. In a closing statement to a group of law enforcement officials and business people, the district attorney said, “If you don’t remember anything else today, just remember the importance of being a mentor to at-risk youth.”
Melvyn was influenced early in life by his family. He grew up in a large family with seven brothers and three sisters.
“I had a nice childhood,” he says. “My parents instilled good family values. We were taught that if you do for people, you will be rewarded.”
A work ethic was inspired by Melvyn’s father, who at times worked up to three jobs at once. His desire to make a service-type career his life’s work was inspired by his oldest brother, who had polio.
Melvyn has fond memories of a Teen Post at 39th and Figueroa Streets that offered great programs for youths. After he graduated from Dorsey High School, he learned structural assembly at the Skills Center at 150th Street and Vermont Avenue before going to work at Douglas Aircraft. He then volunteered for the Army.
After his discharge, Melvyn took a couple of courses at Santa Monica College and attended UCLA on a scholarship. He was in an advanced academic program.
Melvyn’s first job after graduation was at the Venice Drug Coalition, where he began as a family group counselor and then became a counselor for an adult program and, subsequently, the first counselor in a youth program. He followed the program when it was taken over by the Didi Hirsch Community Mental Health Center.
Melvyn has definite thoughts on drug programs available in our area.
“A lot of the agencies are large and get funded by a of lot money, but I don’t think they serve the community,” he says. “They don’t have outreach workers who will come into the community. It’s great that (these agency workers) get a college education, but I think they should do internships in the community so they would be able to understand the people they are dealing with.
“Young kids know more about drugs than the professionals who are trying to teach them to stay off drugs. It is dangerous on the streets, and the agencies don’t understand that you must have people who can blend into the community in order to understand what has to be dealt with.”
Melvyn has trained interns from Pepperdine, Loyola Marymount, UCLA and USC for their community service credentials.
“I speak in regard to gang activities because I feel that I am an expert on the topic,” he says. “I know the kids who are involved and I know how they think. You look at them as a menace to society. I look at them in that sense, too, but I want them to do well and I want them to go back to school and get an education.
“But the kids can see that they are at odds with the government, law enforcement and the courts. So as hard as [these groups] are on the kids, the kids are hard on society. They project the same image as how they are treated.”
Melvyn now works as a counselor in the African American Collegiate Program at Santa Monica College one day a week. Four days a week are spent at the Venice Skills Center counseling formerly incarcerated youths in vocational and educational programs.
“I want the young people to be productive citizens of the community,” he says. “Once they get out, they need somebody who can really help them. That’s me.”
One of Melvyn’s favorite activities has been coaching sports for 17 years at the Oakwood Recreation Center. He is also second vice-president of the Santa Monica-Venice branch of the NAACP (National Association of the Advancement of Colored People), board member of Oakwood United and coordinator of the Oakwood Owners and Tenants Association.
The Pearl White Theater is Melvyn’s pride and joy. Although the theater has evolved since its conception, one constant has been the lack of funding. Father-and-son actors Lloyd and Beau Bridges have been theatrical “angels” for the theater.
“They are the only people who have ever put any money into the theater,” he says. “The only public money received in the last 18 years was a California Community Grant.”
The goals of the theater are to develop acting skills, self-esteem, discipline and the ability to work with others of all ethnic and racial backgrounds.
Melvyn credits actor Dick Williams with introducing him to acting, which has become a major part of his work with children. He has helped 43 youths get into national commercials — with Magic Johnson, Michael Jackson, George Foreman, Patti LaBelle and others — and in programs with Debbie Allen, Robert Townsend and Gregory Hines. He gets agents for each of the actors and personally accompanies them to auditions, even though he has to hustle rides because he doesn’t drive.
Melvyn’s accomplishments have been noted. He was invited to the White House to receive a Presidential Scholarship and met with President Gerald Ford. He has met two other presidents ñ Richard Nixon at the 1972 Republican National Convention and George H. W. Bush when Bush visited Venice several years ago as part of his “1,000 Points of Lights” program. In addition, Attorney General Janet Reno, on a recent trip to Los Angeles, invited Melvyn to represent the Oakwood area in a White House meeting with President Clinton.
Please join the Venice community in celebrating Melvyn’s life at a 1 p.m. memorial service Friday, July 11th, at the First Baptist Church, 685 Westminster Ave. in Venice.
See obituary on page 35.