Sometimes being a community activist, teacher or just a concerned citizen can weary the best-intentioned of us. I taught school in inner-city Los Angeles and after five years I knew I’d given all I could give. But there are those among us who not only find joy working under difficult circumstances but they also flourish. Maybe that’s the secret, the magic of Tisha Marina’s Hula Hoop love.

Tisha Marina, a woman of such diverse cultural backgrounds you really could call her a child of the world, invented and maintained a South Central after-school program for middle-school students for more than five years. Called Afro Hip-Hop, it’s more than just hip-hop; it taught culture and life skills along with funky Hula Hoop moves.

“It became a safe haven for middle school- and high school kids to hang out,” she says. “I took 30 to 40 hoops out there a week. Boys and girls hooping! Being innocent youth. Being free for those couple hours of their lives. Hula Hoops saving the lives of young people.”

When she lost her funding, instead of shutting down, Marina decided to take her program global. She landed in Chiapas, Mexico.

“I chose to take Hula Hoops to the Zapatistas,” she says. “They are my heroes as far as revolutionaries go, and that was what I felt needed to happen. If you know anything about the Zapatistas living in the jungles of Mexico, one does not just go stay with them. It is a serious process.”

Marina is back in the U.S. these days and still hasn’t given up the hoops. She’ll be featured in the upcoming documentary The Hoop Life, “a film on all the lives the Hula Hoop has drastically changed in the last several years,” she says.

“I want to take the hoop movement to those in need of freedom. Third World countries. Juvenile Hall systems. I am also going to make sure the White House gets hoops in there!”

I bet she will. And anyway, how could Obama not dig her community spirit? Recently, Marina was named the recipient of the 2009 Local Hero Annual Award from Common Peace, Center for the Advancement of Nonviolence and the Agape Spiritual Center. She has also joined forces with Safe School Ambassadors to take the message of nonviolence and hooping to students and teachers countrywide. You keep hooping, girl.


Click here for a complete list of L.A. People 2009.


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