When Jacqueline Avant, the late wife of producer Clarence Avant, moved to Los Angeles from New York, she started her philanthropic journey in the Watts/Willowbrook neighborhood of South Los Angeles. In the 1970s, she served as president of Neighbors of Watts, a support group for the South Central Community Child Care Center. She later explored ways to make a lasting contribution to the area. After her tragic murder in Beverly Hills last month, Avant’s family announced a memorial fund in her name benefitting the new MLK Children and Family Well-Being Center on the MLK Medical Campus in Watts.
The Center will provide at-risk pediatric and adolescent patients and their families with improved outpatient clinical services, hoping to serve as a model for community-based programs addressing the needs of those struggling with care for mental illness, substance abuse and homelessness. The Autism Wellness Center will be located on the second floor.
“It’s a way of turning something that was tragic into helping fulfill her dream and turn it into something that’s positive and sustainable for families and children for generations to come,” Chair of the MLK Health and Wellness Community Development Corporation (MLK-CDC) and longtime friend of the Avant family, Candace McKeever, told the Courier. “Her heart was in Watts, and so I just feel very proud to work with the family and to be able to continue that legacy for her.”
McKeever met the Avant family more than three decades ago while working at Motown Records after graduate school. “I couldn’t be prouder that I’m able to celebrate my LA mom,” she said.
Founded by Los Angeles businesswoman and philanthropist Linda Griego, MLK-CDC oversees 42 acres of development on the MLK Medical Campus, which encompasses the hospital, clinics, housing, urgent care, the Children’s Center and more. In recent years, the campus has seen a rebirth. After the distressed MLK Medical Center hospital was shut down by the county in 2007, it reopened in 2015 as a state-of-the-art facility and renamed Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital. Working with the County Board of Supervisors, MLK-CDC is helping to manage and modernize the campus into an “urban family-health campus.”
“We established the Memorial Fund because people from all around the world were asking, ‘what can we do?’…How can we celebrate Jacqueline?” said McKeever.
“There are just people who read about her, people who have known her or love the family, they’re all giving. While she’s incredibly missed, I’m buoyed by all the lives that she’s going to continue to touch for generations to come.”
MLK-CDC recently raised funds to renovate the trailers that currently house the MLK Pediatric Clinic HUB, which, according to the organization, serves approximately 4,000 Los Angeles children and teens in foster care each year. The MLK-CDC has also raised additional funds for new furniture, equipment, and personal needs such as clothing, hygiene products, school supplies, emergency food vouchers, and MTA cards.
In 2022, the pediatric clinic will move into the first floor of the new three-story, 55,000 square-foot MLK Child and Family Well-Being Center. The Jacqueline Avant Memorial Fund hopes to reflect her legacy by helping to raise money for public and private partnerships, providing healthcare access to kids from the city’s poorest neighborhoods, in a building dedicated to them.
The MLK Child and Family Well-Being Center is slated to open this June. Donations can be made to the MLK Health and Wellness Development Corporation (a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization) for the Jacqueline Avant Memorial Fund for the new MLK Children’s Center in Watts, California. To learn more or donate online, visit https://www.mlk-cdc.org/jacquie.