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 black man was said to be the result of a gang initiation. Drive-by shootings were at a height when Wooten was killed. Programs like “Taking Back Our Community” and “Mothers Against Gangs in Communities” were formulated out of a desperate attempt to stop the violence. “Gang sweeps” by police officers and tougher penalties for youth offenders also emerged. But Wooten’s mother felt that the solutions only angered already rebellious youth. “What they need is love and attention,” said Myrtle Faye Rumph, Wooten’s mother. “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.”
With that, Rumph set out on a journey that would bring her many more sons, as well as daughters. She decided to open a youth center. Rumph started holding meetings in her home two weeks after her son’s death. She invited relatives and friends to help her develop her vision. As a result, the Wooten/Brown Foundation was founded, named after Al Wooten Jr. and Fredrick Brown, Rumph’s nephew, who was also killed in a drive-by shooting. Brown’s mother, Lillie Pearl Brown, left the organization after finding it difficult to cope with talking about her son.
Ted Hayes of Home for the Homeless was Wooten’s close friend. They had worked together as activists for the homeless. Hayes was instrumental in encouraging Rumph and her associates to take action. Hayes chaired the living room discussions and pointed out the necessity for sacrifice and diligence. Over a year later, after taking groups of kids on field trips, attending various community meetings and consulting with directors of other non-profit groups, Faye rented a small storefront at 9115 South Western Avenue in Los Angeles, next door to her moving and storage business, and started the Al Wooten Jr. Heritage Center. About 2 years later, the Al Wooten Center moved into a larger facility due to increased enrollment.
Presented as an example of “something positive” in the aftermath of the 1992 uprising in Los Angeles, the Al Wooten Jr. Heritage Center has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, People Magazine, Parent Magazine, Los Angeles Times, Wave Newspapers, on the Today Show, BET, VH-1, KCAL-TV, KABC-TV, KNBC-TV, KCBS-TV, KTTV-TV and a host of other media. In May, 1994 she was declared a Hometown Hero by the LA Times and the LA Dodgers. In 2010, President Barack Obama named Mrs. Rumph one of 13 recipients of the annual Presidential Citizens Medal, our nation's second highest civilian award.
The program is based on goals to counter idleness among youth, to supplement the public educational system, to foster family participation and to identify and meet family social needs.