General Jeff is an eclectic dude. For instance, when we followed him on Instagram, the app suggested we also follow Michelle Obama and Eminem. Moving on to the real world—a talent for acting earned him a Screen Actor Guild card during his youth. He later became a pioneer in the world of West Coast L.A. Hip-Hop. None of which pointed toward becoming a resident of L.A.’s Skid Row, where he has now lived for 10 years.
While on Skid Row, he became a community activist. He was elected to the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council for six years. He’s also a state-appointed official on the Office of Health Equity Advisory Committee and a chairman on its homelessness subcommittee.
He currently is campaigning to help Skid Row form its own, independent neighborhood council.
What’s the dent you’re trying to make in the universe?
First, let me start by saying it is all human beings’ nature to continue to survive. That’s why I strongly believe in human evolution. And from that, when one analyzes the ever-evolving, modern-day human species, it is easy to observe that there are multiple levels and rates of speed. While there are many humans around the world who move and think at tremendous rates of progress, there are also many who struggle in all forms of forward progress.
This, then, concerns me because it is this latter group who threatens to slow down the overall pace of human evolution. And in understanding that, I am doing all I can to advance any and all evolution paces that exist in the proverbial “back of the pack.”
Being born and raised in Los Angeles, it was a quick and simple decision to help in Skid Row, which is commonly known as “the homeless capitol of America”.
When I Google “Mayor of Skid Row,” one name, and one name only, shows up – yours. Who gave you the title – and why?
In November, 2009, a writer for the Associated Press interviewed me for a story which was called “Amid Skid Row bedlam activist makes a difference.” It was picked up by a number of media outlets, including the Huffington Post.
In this interview, Christina Hoag called me “The Mayor of Skid Row”. That was the very first time anyone referred to me as such. This same article was seen by producers at CNN, who immediately wanted to do a feature interview on me and instantly picked up on the “Mayor of Skid Row” title. And from there, the moniker firmly attached.
How did you become a resident of Skid Row?
In my early thought processes of possibly becoming a community activist for homeless people, I knew I needed more experience in the world of homelessness. I willingly chose to reduce myself to a state of homelessness, first in South Central Los Angeles where I was born and raised, staying in abandoned houses, abandoned warehouses and the like. After getting a little experience under my belt, I arrived in Skid Row in August, 2006 with two pieces of luggage and have lived here ever since—first on the streets, then in a mission, then in SRO (single room occupancy), low-income housing. I am still residing indoors to this day, 10-½ years later…with NO intention of leaving!
Do people generally have a hard time seeing Skid Row as being an actual neighborhood?
Yes, because Skid Row has historically been depicted as a transient area in which people with no ties to the community come and go on a constant basis. The missions, shelters, and low-income housing are considered “transitional housing,” and the majority of their funding streams have been labeled as such. In the last decade, newer low-income housing units have changed their identity to now be “permanent supportive housing.” This means the formerly homeless residents can reside there as long as they need to and also receive the healthcare services they need to stabilize their lives. It is hoped that this newer structure will help to reduce and/or prevent constant “in and out” battles of homelessness. And because Skid Row is commonly known as “the homeless capitol of America,” the common negative stereotypes remain.
How will Skid Row benefit by breaking away from the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council to form its own council?
Skid Row will greatly benefit in numerous ways with the creation of the Skid Row Neighborhood Council. Most importantly, with the official certification by the City of Los Angeles, Skid Row will instantly become an “official community,” thus removing all “temporary” identities which then would help to move the conversation forward regarding homelessness and viable solutions. Just like any other community in the City of Los Angeles, the residents will have a say in what happens in their neighborhood where they live, as opposed to now where people outside of Skid Row simply overlook the collective voice of our community members. And from this, many other benefits will begin.
What’s your favorite thing about Gladys Park (a Skid Row park famed for its 3 on 3 basketball league that he and others are helping to revitalize for residents, with an emphasis on being family friendly)?
The fact that in 2008 a Skid Row resident created a $500,000 revitalization project that included partnerships with the City of Los Angeles’ Recreation and Parks, Department of Water and Power, NIKE, and LA84 Foundation.
Who are some of the other major contributors in the effort to improve Gladys Park and Skid Row?
Fellow activists in Skid Row who have each contributed to “positively change the energy” in Gladys Park include Manuel Compito, aka “OG”; “Coach” Ron Crockett; and Deacon Alexander.
What are examples of their contributions to the community?
OG founded the 3 on 3 Streetball League and helped start “Operation Face-Lift/Skid Row,” a resident clean-up campaign. Coach created the Fun Zone Reading Club for Homeless Kids and the highly successful Feeding Homeless Vets program. And Deacon founded the Skid Row Chess Club.
There’s also the Los Angeles Poverty Department, a Skid Row theatre group that writes, produces and performs its own stage plays. Lastly, every night for over 25 years, an Alcoholics Anonymous group called the “Skid Row Drifters” holds meetings in Gladys Park and provides an outdoor setting with coffee, camaraderie, and fellowship. There are many other efforts, from feedings to prayer services which all combine with the previously mentioned “positive programming” efforts to make Gladys Park the “headquarters” of the Skid Row Resident’s Positive Movement.”
Are you more of a checkers or a chess guy?
I cannot play chess, nor do I ever intend on learning so that automatically makes me a checkers guy. But when it comes to being a community activist, many have said my efforts are calculating with the equivalence of a master chess player. I’ll take that compliment as recognition of my relentless and dedicated service to my community.
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was extremely young, I wanted to be an astronaut because of my fascination with outer space. As I got older, I wanted to be the first-ever professional athlete to play in three major sports. As a child, I also loved to travel. Now that I’m grown, I still consider myself to be a big kid. I’ve been “halfway around the world” and at some point would love to see the other half.
What life lessons did you learn from your mother and father?
My father was never in my life, so the only lesson I learned from him was that if I ever have children to ALWAYS be in there lives! Of the many lessons I learned from my mother, the one that has stayed with me in my efforts in Skid Row is, “Before you invite company over, you first must clean your house up.” And as it relates to Skid Row, I have dedicated my first 10-½ years to “cleaning up Skid Row’s house.” It still is a way from being “in order,” but I am so very anxious to begin “inviting company over”.
What did you eat for breakfast this morning?
I don’t eat breakfast in the morning. I eat before I go to sleep. That way when I wake up I already have the energy I need to complete my tasks for the day. I adjusted my personal beliefs many moons ago by realizing that I don’t need to eat three times a day. I don’t eat on a pre-determined schedule. I eat whenever my body tells me I’m hungry. So based on that understanding, I don’t eat breakfast until 5 or 6 in the evening, and I eat whatever I feel like having at that moment.
What is your secret vice?
Don’t have any. I’m a pretty basic guy. Focused on my commitment to Skid Row.
Who inspires you?
“The Heavens” inspire me and motivate me to do the very best I can on a daily basis.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
Absolutely nothing! I’m of the firm belief that if I changed anything, even one thing, I wouldn’t be the person I am today….and I love the person who I am!
What are you reading right now?
I’m not currently reading anything. My mindset is in a good place mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, and I don’t want to do anything to change that. Reading would influence that and take me away from where I am now and possibly into a state of existence less than where I am now. The risks outweigh the gains. That said, I look forward to catching up on a lot of reading once I am done in Skid Row, and it is a completely improved community…and the “company has been officially invited over”!!!
Because I am a first-generation Hip-Hop pioneer who used to write, produce, and perform rap music, I don’t enjoy listening to music and haven’t in decades. Once in a while, I’ll listen to classic R&B songs, but my favorites are funk songs. I don’t listen to the radio.
I don’t watch TV and because of my hectic schedule can’t commit two hours (or more) to watch a movie at the theater. There are a lot of great films I would love to see one day, but I am very aware of how my time is spent and it’s mostly spent on solving Skid Row’s issues.
Don’t have a favorite color. When I was a child, my favorite color was blue. When I was an older teenager/young adult, I had a “black phase” where my entire wardrobe was the color Black. Now, I simply don’t give it much time, energy, or thought. As a bachelor, I’m just happy to have clean clothes…lol.
What’s one question you’d like to ask yourself – and answer?
How much longer are you gonna put your personal life on hold while you keep doing this “Skid Row thing”?...because I really want to know!
How should people connect with you on social media?
On Facebook, “General Jeff.” On Twitter, “@GoSkidRowGo.” On Instagram, “@SkidRowGeneralJeff.” My email is email@example.com, and you can also reach me via the Skid Row Neighborhood Council website.