The Jacqueline Avant Children and Family Center Unveiled in Watts: “It’s a Safe, Clean, Beautiful Space”

Jacqueline Avant, the late wife of music executive Clarence Avant, was a brilliant bouquet of things: mother, philanthropist, community activist, art collector. But during her life — which was tragically cut short in December 2021 — she was also quietly a bridge between the palm tree-lined streets of Beverly Hills and those of South Central as president of Neighbors of Watts, a support group for the South Central Community Child Care Center where she committed her time and resources to at-risk youth.

“My mom was almost the ambassador to South Central,” Nicole Avant, daughter of Jacqueline and Clarence Avant and former U.S. Ambassador to the Bahamas, told The Hollywood Reporter. “She lived in Beverly Hills all her life. The first time she touched down in LA, [she and my dad] moved to Beverly Hills. That was it.”

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What was once known as The MLK Child and Family Well-Being Center has now been renamed the Jacqueline Avant Children and Family Center in honor of the philanthropist. Located in the Watts-Willowbrook community of Los Angeles County’s Second District, the center sits on the 42-acre MLK Medical Campus, which serves the medically underserved in the greater South Los Angeles area. (The campus is also home to the MLK Behavioral Health Center, the MLK Outpatient Center, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital, The Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science, and the King Drew Magnet High School).

On Friday morning in Watts, the official naming ceremony and unveiling of the new Jacqueline Avant Children and Family Center was celebrated by Nicole Avant, daughter of Jacqueline and Clarence Avant, Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Los Angeles County Supervisor Holly J. Mitchell, the MLK Health and Wellness Community Development Corporation, and other special guests including Clarence Avant, Alex Avant, Ted Sarandos, Jimmy Jam, Benny Medina, LA Reid, Jerry Moss, Quincy Jones III, John Platt, Suzanne de Passe, Holly Robinson Peete, Rick Caruso, and others.

(L-R) Jerry Moss, Clarence Avant and Ted Sarandos
(L-R) Jerry Moss, Clarence Avant and Ted Sarandos

“This center specifically, my mom was very focused on — she knew it was going to be rebuilt. She knew the city was going to put a lot of money into it, and God bless Supervisor Mitchell because she really led the charge for this to happen,” Nicole Avant says. Thanks to the late Avant’s dedication, conversations surrounding renaming the building in her honor first bubbled up some five years ago, preceding her untimely death.

The 55,000 square foot center is designed to provide physical and mental health care to children and families in South Central LA; it will provide mental health evaluations for approximately 4,000 children and teenagers who have been exposed to violence, and pediatric care for children in the foster care system, along with outpatient clinical services for at-risk pediatric and adolescent patients and their families. Run in association with the MLK Health and Wellness Community Development Corporation, it also houses the MLK Pediatric Clinic, an Autism Wellness Center run by the Special Needs Network, and a clinic run by Saint John Well Child Center.

Since 2016, Supervisor Mitchell and the City of Los Angeles have been working to revitalize the campus’ facilities and expand healthcare services. And since 2019, given Avant’s active presence at the center now being born anew under her name, MLK-CDC has worked with LA County on the construction of the updated building. (For 40 years, the center existed in 50-year-old trailers, so was due for a refresh.)

“My mom’s dedication was, ‘Listen, we’re not here to save everybody — I can’t do that. But I am here to serve and I am here to create opportunity… we’ve been blessed with so much that it is my duty to be down here,'” Nicole Avant shares.

Nicole Avant
Nicole Avant

Donations made to this $55 million city investment project in Jacqueline Avant’s honor upon her death — “it was like half a million dollars, immediately,” Avant says — have gone toward sustaining these efforts which were already underway. Now, with the help of these funds, the center’s first floor is open, the second floor is expected to open this summer, and the new third floor is expected to be completed by the end of 2023. The new space more than doubles the center’s former size, allowing for increased outpatient clinical services.

“It broke her heart knowing that children who didn’t know where they were going to sleep sometimes would then obviously never get the right medical care, because they’re bouncing around homes,” Nicole Avant says. “And so they never got physical, emotional, spiritual care, all of that. For my mom, mental health was spiritual health. Mental health was physical health. All of it was one thing to my mom.”

Though the center is primarily concerned with physical and mental wellness, it is also dedicated to healing children’s emotional trauma in the aftermath of abuse, neglect, and more, in the form of curated art spaces (featuring work by local artists) and a recreational space. The donors provided medical equipment, “but also the creative things — the art, the books — tools that help children heal,” Avant says.

Jacqueline Avant Center
Jacqueline Avant Center

Earlier this week, Shonda Rhimes shared the origin story of how Queen Charlotte, her Bridgerton prequel, came to be at the show’s premiere in Los Angeles; Ted Sarandos, Nicole Avant’s husband and co-CEO of Netflix, was inspired his late mother-in-law (who’s favorite historical figure was Queen Charlotte and was an owner of one of her letters) to tell Rhimes about the importance of her legacy. “Ted called me, and my brain started humming, and the show was born,” Rhimes said Wednesday night. “So this is a show about Queen Charlotte, but it all started because of another great queen, Jacqueline Avant.” (The first episode of the new Netflix series is dedicated to her).

“The beauty of this week is that there’s so much synergy and energy about my mom and her passions, her commitment to service and her commitment to creativity and culture,” Nicole Avant shared. “Three ways I always described her, is the ‘triple-D:’ she was a very disciplined woman, a very determined woman and a very devoted woman. The combination of those three is exactly what we’re seeing.”

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