A Little Spot of Light
A group of teenagers and adults from East Los Angeles dedicate every Sunday morning to bringing joy to their community through songs and faith.
They open each session with a circle of strength. They hold hands and pray to motivate each other. They inspire each other to help others.
As they close their eyes and recite the prayers together, one thing is clear - they love what they do.
“We have a mission here,” said Norma Hernandez, a Church Jesus Juda Choir singer. “I can’t tell you how many stories about drugs I’ve heard in this park.”
Hernandez and about 25 other singers and preachers meet at Hollenbeck Park every Sunday afternoon to perform and preach in front of whoever is there to listen. There are six other groups from their church who do the same thing at different locations in Los Angeles.
“There are lost people who come here every week to listen to our message,” Hernandez said as she handed a slice of her pizza to a woman walking by asking for food. “These people need our help. They need us here.”
Hernandez has been performing at the park every Sunday for 10 years. Others who participate in the church’s sessions have been doing the same for 29 years. Many people have asked her what keeps her doing the same thing, singing the same kind of songs for so long, she said.
She often tells listeners that she believes in miracles because, as a baby, she was diagnosed with a liver disease, and doctors said she only had a few days to live. Her family had already said their goodbyes when her heartbeat suddenly began to normalize.
"Of course I don't remember this experience, but my mom always used to tell it to me," she said. "And I could always see in her eyes that it was a real miracle."
Another reason Hernandez continues to sing with her church's choir is because she wants to set example to her two children, she said. And so, she brings her 11-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son with her to Hollenbeck Park every Sunday. Her daughter is learning how to play the piano, and constantly asks to play during the choir's performance.
All of the choir's participants speak Spanish. And most of the people living around Hollenbeck Park do too. So the choir sings and preaches mostly in Spanish.
Throughout their two-hour weekly session, they alternate between songs and preaching. The songs mostly speak about life and God, as does each few-minutes preaching.
Many residents from the area bring their children to the park to play, and find themselves listening to the Juda Choir in the background. Others show up specifically to listen to the choir.
Manny Fe, a 36-year-old homeless man, usually takes public transportation to come to Hollenbeck Park and listen to the choir.
“I ran into one of their performances about a year ago, and I’ve been showing up ever since,” he said. “It’s cool. It’s calming to hear them.”
Manny Fe, 36, made it a rule for himself to attend the choir performances at Hollenbeck Park (Lior Haykeen).
So Fe shows up at Hollenbeck park every Sunday with a burger he buys earlier that day, sets up a blanket on the grass and stays at the same spot until the choir is finished with its performance. Often, his friends join him.
“We don’t have money for a house, which means we definitely don’t have money for music shows,” said Daisy Perez, Fe’s friend. “So this is good for us. We need music in our lives too.”
Perez said that she often looks up free attractions on the newspaper and that they sometimes keep her going. She feels thankful that there are people who realize not everyone can afford culture.
"I always wait for the Christmas stuff," she said. "They're my favorite free events of the year."
At times, there are only a few listeners at the park on a Sunday. But at other times, dozens arrive. It really depends on the season, and what else is happening in the area at the same time, said Hernandez.
But the number of people listening to her does not make a difference in her eyes.
“Yes, I’d like to help as many people as possible,” Hernandez said. “But even if I reach just one at a time that’s OK, too. Seriously, isn’t it a lot to help even one person?”