Eastside resident shares creativity and life lessons through workshops

Black and white photo of art in the background and a small child in the foreground

Bobby Ramirez’s son, Noah, contributes to artwork. Photo by Bobby Ramirez.

Bobby Ramirez, who grew up in El Sereno, had a cousin that graduated from Columbia Law School and another doing life in prison.

Which cousin’s path would he follow?

The right choice seems obvious but it wasn’t easy living in a neighborhood with gang violence, drugs, and criminal activity frequently happening outside your doorstep.

Most kids fell into it without really making that decision. They felt they needed the protection that comes with being in a gang.

Not letting yourself fall into it required actively making that decision — weekly, daily, and sometimes, hourly.

The streets of El Sereno posed even more of a threat to Ramirez because he lost his father at age 3 and his mother, who also had a newborn to care for, struggled to stay on top of it all.

Still, he said she did all she could.

“My mother was really strict with us,” he recalled. “She knew about the streets and tried to shield us from that.”

As a timid boy, playing baseball, football, and basketball pushed Ramirez out of his comfort zone — and kept him off the streets.

He also focused on his passion for music and found other distractions.

“My friend and I would run to the (trading) card store, rather than being affiliated with what was going on in our neighborhood,” he said.

When he was in his mid-twenties, he struggled to make ends meet because of his low-paying job at a bakery. On top of that, a breakup with his girlfriend meant he couldn’t see his baby very much, leading him to spiral downward.

That’s when the hustle of the streets caught up to Ramirez.

 “I was at a point where I was just done. I was tired of the fighting, work was bad, I was missing my son. I couldn’t live with being away from him. It all hit me at once and I didn’t want to deal with it anymore,” he said. “They say crime pays and money is the root of all evil, right? I was at a point where I was so frustrated with my life and my job that I felt I had to resort to crime just to make ends meet.”

That led to even more arguments with his son’s mother.

He contemplated a different life and tried to talk it out with his ex-girlfriend.

“I’m tired of that job,” he told her. “I want to do what I love, create something where I can work for myself and enjoy it.”

“That isn’t going to get you anywhere. You need to have a real job,” he recalled her saying.

Not getting the approval he thought he would for the ideas of his future almost broke him down: “It hurt, really bad. I felt that I had no one supporting or understanding what I thought, and felt. I couldn’t let that stop me though, I had to make something happen.” 

Then one day shortly after, he was spending time with his son, and fully appreciating the joyfulness of youth. It reminded him of the times when life was simple and his greatest pleasure was creating art.

Photo of Bobby Ramirez and his son, Noah at the workshop yard. Courtesy of Bobby Ramirez.

That’s when it clicked. Art, and sharing his love for it with young people, would be his new calling.

With that in mind, he created an organization, Workshops with Noah B.

He found a space, a yard once owned by his great-great grandfather in Lincoln Heights on Workman Street. He got permission from his family to use it to offer space to allow folks in the community, especially young people, to express themselves artistically.

He uses the space to offer workshops and activities, not just in arts and crafts, but any form of creativity: Growing plants, dancing, making music, and reading and public speaking.

He holds events at this yard free of charge to the community, as often as he can since he is still working full-time at a towing company in the city to support himself and spends other time helping care for his son.

He notes that he has no workers, no funding, and no team. He’s just one man trying to make a change in his community.

Since he has spent up to $400 on some of the events for supplies such as panels, boards, and wood tiles, he started an online fundraiser to help pay for some of the activities.

“I see it as a sanctuary where kids and adults can come and be creative, however they feel is best for them. There are no limits to creativity in the mind and that’s how I want this space to be,” he said.

He believes that there are more ways than just the conventional routes to success in life that everyone is taking. He understands that though these paths to success seem to be normal, that it’s okay to not be normal.

“We may have the next Picasso here in Lincoln Heights. You never know,” he said with a big smile on his face. 

Some events that Ramirez has held so far are a career day, where adults from the community came in to speak to the kids about their careers and how to start their own businesses.

There was a performing arts day, where the kids from the community were able to express themselves through performing arts of their choice, including dance, poetry, and music.

He even invited a local tattoo artist to speak to the community for an artist’s day event.

His purpose is to keep children off the streets so they can avoid his mistakes and to expose them to more options for their lives and careers than he felt he had at certain points in his life: “I don’t do this for my profit. If I look at it that way, I have already failed. I do this to see the joy in the kids when they learn something new about themselves: ‘Hey, I can do this or be that.’ Seeing them realize they can be anything is what I do it for.”

Community News produces stories about under-covered neighborhoods and small cities on the Eastside and South Los Angeles. Please email feedback, corrections and story tips to [email protected].