"I see my son in the eyes of every child I meet."
Myrtle Faye Rumph, Wooten Founder
In January 1989, Alton “Dunnie” Wooten, Jr. was killed in a drive-by shooting near Adams and Crenshaw in South-Central Los Angeles. The murder of the 35-year-old man was said to be the result of a gang initiation. Drive-by shootings were at a height when Dunnie was killed. Community members started programs like “Taking Back Our Community” and “Mothers Against Gangs in Communities” out of a desperate attempt to stop the violence. “Gang sweeps” by police and tougher penalties for youth offenders also emerged. But Dunnie’s mother felt that the solutions only angered already rebellious youth.
“What they need is love and attention,” said Myrtle Faye Rumph. “They need to stay busy. They need to have more confidence. They need to have their attitudes changed. If somebody had taken more time with the person who killed my son, maybe my son would still be alive.”
Alton "Dunnie" Wooten, Jr.
With that, Faye set out on a journey that would bring her many sons and daughters. She decided to open a youth center. Faye started holding meetings in her home two weeks after her son’s death. She invited family and friends to help develop her vision for a positive response to her son's murder. Ted Hayes of Home for the Homeless was Dunnie’s close friend. Dunnie had his own troubles before meeting Ted and changing his life. In his last years, Dunnie worked with Home for the Homeless attending public meetings and protests. Ted attended Dunnie's funeral and repast. There, Faye told him she wanted to honor her son in a way that would make him proud. Ted agreed to chair the weekly living room discussions, where he pointed out the need for sacrifice and diligence.
Our founder Myrtle Faye Rumph (far left rear) at LA City Hall on our first field trip after the center opened in 1990. Our current executive director, Naomi McSwain, Mrs. Rumph's niece, is far right rear. Councilman Robert Farrell is center rear. Our first four students are pictured in overalls: Brett and Lamar (front 3rd and 4th from left) and Devlan and Jason (rear 4th and 3rd on right).
After three months, the group started taking kids from a local church on field trips. They also attended various community meetings and consulted with directors of various nonprofit agencies to see what else was being done. Finding only five youth centers in the city, including People Who Care and four Teen Posts, in 1990 Faye rented a two-room storefront at 9115 S. Western Ave., next door to the moving and storage business she owned with her husband. She called the people from her living room discussions to help open the youth center they had dreamed about. The group helped clean and furnish the building, also forming a board that later named the new nonprofit agency the Al Wooten Jr. Heritage Center to remind people of the legacy that led to the center's existence.
The Wooten Center's first field trip was to Los Angeles City Hall with Councilman Robert Farrell, who had provided buses for the trips before our opening. Due to increased enrollment, after two years helping with homework and reading, taking kids to the local bowling alley, playing board games, celebrating holidays with families, and holding discussions about tagging, drugs and gang violence, the center expanded into a second adjacent building. The civil unrest in Los Angeles in 1992 drew many more caring people who became long-time supporters, including several of our current board members and volunteers.
Today, the Wooten Center is housed in six storefront buildings across the street from our original site. Presented as an example of “something positive” in the aftermath of the 1992 unrest, the Wooten Center was featured in the Wall Street Journal, People Magazine, Parent Magazine, Los Angeles Times, Wave Newspapers, on the Today Show, BET, VH-1, KCAL, KABC, KNBC, KCBS, KTTV and other media.
In 2010, President Barack Obama named Faye one of 13 recipients of the Presidential Citizens Medal, our nation's second-highest civilian award, for her work founding the Wooten Center.
Twenty years after her son's death, Faye retired as board president in 2009 at age 79. She was still involved at the center attending events and visiting and encouraging students until her homegoing on January 7, 2015 due to heart failure. The center dedicated the Faye Family Room in her honor shortly after.
"My mom was an absolutely amazing woman. I saw her rise from her grief over the loss of my brother to becoming this strong, determined woman who was committed to make change happen,
not only for herself but also for other mothers and fathers.
She didn't want any parent to suffer her pain."
Barbara Clark, Founding Member, daughter of Mrs. Rumph