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Published May 13, 2019 12:09 PM


Heroine in the Hood

Jorja Leap

On the meanest streets of Los Angeles, she walks freely. A shoulder to cry on. An outstretched hand to a better life. They call her “Little Mama,” and for young men and women trapped in the gang life, UCLA anthropologist, adjunct professor and internationally renowned gang expert Jorja Leap ’78, M.S.W. ’80, Ph.D. ’88 is not an academic. She’s a lifesaver.

This mother of a teenage daughter and wife of a retired LAPD captain has been studying gangs up close and personal for almost 20 years, and she’s achieved an almost legendary reputation among gang members, who regard her as family. Leap is the author of Jumped In: What Gangs Taught Me About Violence, Drugs, Love, and Redemption and Project Fatherhood: A Story of Courage and Healing in One of America’s Toughest Communities.

“I felt safe as a white woman trying to work and help in the community,” she says. “I was not seen as a threat, nor was I seen as part of the gang wars. Gang members do not want to kill outsiders — they want to kill each other. It’s tragic, and it’s true.”


Jorja Leap is conducting a five-year longitudinal research study of Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, arguably the foremost gang intervention and reentry program in the nation.

In 2011, Leap was named one of Los Angeles Magazine’s Action Heroes for her policy work and gang intervention efforts in the Los Angeles area. In 2012, the magazine named her one of the “50 Most Influential Women in Los Angeles.”

“If these young people had been born on the Westside, or Encino, or Palos Verdes, they would have grown up to be lawyers and accountants and anthropologists and professors,” Leap concludes. “They’re us. They’re our children. And we need to understand that.”


Screen Kings and Queens

Film & TV Directors

Some of the most indelible stories of our time have been brought to screens big and small by UCLA alumni who have challenged the conventions of film and television as we know them.



With The Godfather, Apocalypse Now and so many other films, Francis Ford Coppola M.F.A. ’67 became a poster boy for New Hollywood, a movement that brought about unconventional ideas and infused contemporary filmmaking with new complexity and psychological depth.

Ava DuVernay’s career has been full of firsts. These include being the first female black director to have a film nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award (Selma) and the first woman of color to direct a big-budget feature (A Wrinkle in Time). And that’s not even counting TV, where she collaborated with Oprah Winfrey and created, executive-produced and directed groundbreaking series that include Queen Sugar and When They See Us.

Since winning an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for Milk, Dustin Lance Black ’96 has become one of the country’s most respected LGBTQ role models. The son of a Mormon missionary in Texas, he learned firsthand how hard it can be to be gay in America. A founding board member of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, Black was a key player in the repeal of California’s Proposition 8, and his play 8, based on the trial that overturned it, has been staged around the country. Black hopes his miniseries for ABC, When We Rise, which tells the story of the modern LGBTQ movement, will help with the continuing march toward justice for all.

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