Belinda Jackson built the country’s best rec center – the EXPO Center. As she retires, we pay tribute.

Photos by Summy Lam, Club COO, and courtesy Rec and Parks


 City powerhouse has retired. Without Belinda Jackson, there would be no EXPO Center, maybe the finest public recreation center in the country. Maybe the tens of thousands of City lives of all ages wouldn’t have been made as good as they were. Maybe the 2028 Olympics wouldn’t have an LA City place to come back to.

But all of those things happened because of the hard work she, her partners and her staff contributed.

Belinda Jackson retired in March. It’s time to pay tribute to a career dedicated to building incredible resources for the communities in which Angelenos live.

“There are individuals whose dedication and passion truly shape the fabric of communities,” Councilman Curren Price said at her City Council ceremony marking her retirement. “Belinda Jackson is one prime example.”

Alive! covered PlayLA extensively in August 2022

Believe it or not, that’s not all she accomplished. As Assistant General Manager, she oversaw the operations of more than 500 parks and more than 123 recreational centers throughout the City. And she played a pivotal role in securing the critical funds for PlayLA, a groundbreaking $160 million initiative which offers every child in the City an opportunity to engage in sports activities in their own neighborhoods. (Alive! covered PlayLA extensively in August 2022.)

“As we celebrate her retirement, Ms. Jackson’s commitment to the City of Los Angeles over the past 23 years of service has left an imprint through her innovation, and her extraordinary contributions in building stronger, healthier and more equitable communities,” Councilman Price continued.

In this issue, we honor Belinda for her amazing career, her incredible hard work and her passion for giving back to communities. •

The City Council paid tribute to Belinda Jackson in March before her retirement. Honoring her included Councilman Curren Price and Rec and Parks General Manager Jimmy Kim, Club Member.
Belinda Jackson (far left) and EXPO Center staff.
Belinda Jackson and then-Chair of the Friends of EXPO Center, Steve Soboroff, were honored at a gala fundraiser in 2019.


The 1932 Olympics’ headmaster headquarters now houses a ballroom in the senior center.

Youth Orchestra
The EXPO Youth Orchestra.
Teen Center
With Belinda Jackson (right) in the EXPO Teen Center are (from left) David Armenta, Facility Director, 8 years of City service, Club Member; Georgiamerica Monjarrez, Intern, and Jesus Calderon, Intern. The Teen Center is focusing on robotics at the moment, with its groundbreaking all-female robotics team and coding program.
Senior Computer Tech
The EXPO Center’s senior computer technology program now features more than 220 members. With Belinda is LaRonica Southerland, Sr. Recreation Director, 9 years, Club Member. 
Basketball Courts
The EXPO Center’s basketball courts.
Fitness Center
The EXPO Center’s fitness room.
Performing Arts Space
Robert Larios and Belinda Jackson in the EXPO Center’s performing arts space, which hosts theater and orchestra classes, and more.
Licensed Preschool
Belinda at the EXPO Center’s licensed preschool.

The EXPO Center’s second feature to open (after aquatics) was its licensed preschool. With Belinda Jackson (second from left) are Robin Dale, Rec Assistant, 20-plus years; Micha Mims, Child Care Director, 31 years of City service, Club Member; and Club CEO Robert Larios.


Belinda Jackson and Association CEO Robert Larios.

‘The Dream Job’

On May 20, Association CEO Robert Larios and Alive! editor John Burnes interviewed Belinda Jackson, Retired, Assistant General Manager over Recreation Services, Rec and Parks, 22 years of City service. Belinda retired in March. The interview took place via Zoom.

Hi Belinda! It’s great to finally catch up with you. Your life was very busy around your retirement a few weeks ago.

Belinda Jackson: It was! Good to talk to you, too.

First, I would like to thank you for all that you have done for the City. We want to honor you with this feature.

Belinda: Thank you.

What was your career path?

Belinda: Prior to working for Rec and Parks, I was the Executive Director of the Harbor City Boys and Girls Club where I built the first club in Harbor City, the Harbor Gateway. In 2001, I saw this amazing job in the paper for the Executive Director of the EXPO Center. At the time, it was called the Exposition Park Intergenerational Community Center (EPIC). We ended up changing the name to EXPO Center to make it more relatable to Exposition Park.

Her “dream job:” Belinda Jackson as the Executive Director of EXPO Center.

What was the interview process like?

Belinda: I was found through a national search from City Personnel and the nonprofit Board of Directors of EPIC. The hiring committee, which was made up of Councilman [Mark] Ridley-Thomas, the EPIC Board Director; the Chair of the Weingart Foundation; a rep from Cultural Affairs; and the General Manager of Rec and Parks. They were looking for a candidate who had a background in nonprofit management because there was a nonprofit board tied to the EXPO project.

My three interviews were very intense; I really had to make a big impression upon this very high-end hiring committee. On my second interview, I just flat out told the committee, “I am the person for this position. I’m feeling it. I’m ready.” I had prepared a PowerPoint presentation of what type of programs and services I could implement if hired. I know they thought I was crazy, but I could feel it in my spirit that this was my dream job. I know there were more than 150 applicants, and the committee interviewed five candidates. Boy I was glad they ended up hiring me.

This became very personal to you, a personal mission.

Belinda: Yes, very personal. I grew up in very humble beginnings. My dad passed away when I was seven, and I have six siblings. My mom worked two jobs – it was hard. Growing up, my family benefited from free programs and services at our local community centers. These types of programs, grants and scholarships for summer camp and other programming helped shape my life. I knew that I wanted to work in community service. As I looked at the impressive and well-connected EXPO Board of Directors, I felt confident that EXPO Center would be successful in providing unparalleled programs beyond Rec and Parks programs – our programs and services, which serve all ages 2 to seniors, have such a positive impact because of the grants and other fundraising by the Board. We could offer many of our amazing programs for free. 

I served as the Executive Director for 20 years. Because of the City’s early retirement opportunity, our department lost lots of staff to include executive staff. In 2022, the General Manager asked if I would apply for the Assistant General Manager position for the recreation branch. I interviewed for the position and was hired. I served as the Assistant General Manager for a short time – two years, as I had planned to retire in 2024. 


The Beginning of EXPO

What was the status of the EXPO Center when you came in? How did it get started?

Belinda: The recreation building was called the LA Swim Stadium, which is noted on the building as it was the site of the 1932 Olympics, so it’s an historic building. It was closed for years because of earthquake damage. There was lots of crime in the area – well more than 20,000 gang members within a three-mile radius of the center, and the department had no plans or funds to renovate the swim stadium. Roy Anderson, who at the time was the CEO of Lockheed Corporation and the Chair of the Weingart Foundation, had a vision to build a state of the art recreational center, so he reached out to Rec and Parks and asked if they were interested in a partnership to renovate the swim stadium and build new facilities that would have a positive impact on the surrounding community. Mr. Anderson said, “I believe we can raise the money, and I will develop a nonprofit board to get the project going.” The department agreed to partner with the nonprofit, and the project got started in 1999. The nonprofit Board was developed and they raised more than $20 million to get the project started. The City, through Councilman Ridley-Thomas, raised more than $13 million through public grants. 

This is very important – this agreement, i.e. the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for this particular project, was unique. There’s never been another one like it; it’s an original. Normally when public funds are used for any construction project, the City would have to manage the public grant funds, but in this case the Board was able to manage all the funds and had priority over the entire renovation project. Public grant funds included: Prop K, Prop A, Prop 12 and CDBG all managed by the nonprofit. Rec and Parks was jointly involved in the selection of the contractor and I served project manager for the City to assist with  managing the City public funds. I believe that’s another reason why I was hired because of my nonprofit experience and I had experience in a major construction project as I had built the Boys and Girls Club in Harbor City. Mr. Anderson had created a dream board made up of who’s who in the Foundation world. They were very passionate about revitalizing the area and turning it into a state-of-the-art complex, which it is today. EXPO is the largest recreational center in the State of California and the second largest in the nation built through a public/private nonprofit partnership. It was an amazing opportunity for me that I will never forget. At that time, I served as both the Executive Director for the Rec and Parks, and the Executive Director for that nonprofit Board. I had a dual role, which was very unique and challenging; normally the Director would not have a dual leadership role. That was my role for two and a half years. We opened the facility in phases, because the community was anxiously waiting for the facility to open. We did lots of outreach and marketing through many of the nonprofits in the area. 

How bad was the area? How much did the area need a revived recreation center?

Belinda: Roy Anderson grew up in the area and a graduated from USC, so he was very familiar with the area. He saw all the crime and boarded-up buildings, and he commissioned a study. The study revealed that there was no outlet for all the thousands of people who lived in the area. There was no park they could go to. That’s when Mr. Anderson developed his vision to revitalize the area. Mr. Anderson had some health problems and passed away before the Center opened. But, months before he passed his doctor allowed him to visit the facility – mind you; we were not open but we were able to give him a tour of the Swim Stadium. And I will never forget, when we were on the third floor of the building, I communicated to Mr. Anderson his vision plan to offer a host of programs and services that we were going to be offered to the community. He could not speak but he had tears in his eyes – I knew he was pleased with what I was saying. His vision was becoming a reality!

What opened first, the swimming pools, the basketball courts, or something else?

Belinda: As mentioned, the community waiting for the center to open, especially the pools. I called Anita DeFrantz, President of the LA84 Foundation, and Anita also served as Chair for EXPO Center Board of Directors, to request funds to open the pools before the Center was completed. Again, the facility was not completed, as we had not completed the locker rooms and many other requirements from the County of LA to open the pools. I was afraid if we did not open soon people would jump over the fence and get in the pools anyway. Anita was instrumental in giving me a $50,000 grant to install temporary showers on the deck and other requirements from the County to open the pools. The pools opened first in 2002, and the childcare center, senior center and recreation center in 2003. The entire project was completed in 2004. The sports fields opened in 2005. 

Club CEO Robert Larios with Belinda Jackson at EXPO Center’s LA84 Foundation/John C. Argue Swim Stadium.


A Family Center

The EXPO Center is sometimes thought of primarily as a sports center. But it’s so much more than that.

Belinda: We offer much more than sports. It’s an intergenerational center. Yes it’s a sports complex with aquatics, basketball, weights, adult fitness center, outdoor sports fields and much more. We have a senior center with technology programs and gathering spaces; a teen center for tutoring, technology/media, career/leadership programs and services; a licensed preschool; music and arts programming, afterschool enrichment program for youth ages five to 15, and so much more. We provide programs and services for every member of the family. We also have nonprofit partners that provide a host of free programs. 



Belinda, share some stories of how the EXPO Center has transformed people’s lives.

Belinda: Oh my God, I don’t even know where to start. Sometimes I get chills because when I am out shopping or at an event or wherever, I will hear someone say, “Hi. Ms. Jackson, do you remember me?” Sometimes I recognize the person, but they will always share with me how the programs and opportunities have made such a positive impact on them. I would say thousands of youths have participated in our programs. We raised millions of dollars in grant funding to support our leadership program, which includes, upon completion of the program, a paid internship opportunity with EXPO and the Natural History Museum as partner. Early on, our youths learn the importance of being leaders in the community, as there are requirements for community service built in the program. When we opened the Center, we did have a few major instances related to safety, so we created a membership program, with photo IDs, and it created a sense of ownership for our patrons. That changed the nature of the area – our patrons could feel safe again. 

Ask me about the orchestra!

Don’t let us stop you!

Belinda: When [LA Philharmonic conductor] Gustavo Dudamel came to Los Angeles, the Phil reached out to me to explore an opportunity to offer classical music classes to inner City youths. I loved the idea! “Let’s do this.” Initially, the program was just classical music lessons. The Phil partnered with The Harmony Project to provide all the music lessons, and the Phil provided all the free instruments, music books and more. EXPO Center provided the program space and assisted with the outreach of the program. After a year of lessons, the kids didn’t sound so bad. The Phil said, “What about putting together a little orchestra?” I’m not kidding, this is how it happened. We started out with 45 youths from the community and now there are 314 in the orchestra. We have a beginning, intermediate, and advanced orchestra. These kids turned out to be really good. Gustavo has been to EXPO so many times, and the kids have performed at Hollywood Bowl. They performed in London and had an opportunity to perform with in the Super Bowl with Beyoncé and Coldplay. It’s blossomed into something way bigger than what I thought it would be. 

You talked so much about how the EXPO Center has changed other people’s lives. Has it changed yours?

Belinda: Yes, it did, in a lot of different ways. I didn’t know that I could work that hard for something that I was so passionate about. During the construction phase, I really worked pretty much 14 or 15 hours a day. I’ve raised well more than $30 million for programming and $2 million for the renovation project. I’m always looking for partnership opportunities so that we can expand and enhance whatever we do. What does the community need and want – that’s the question!

I don’t take things for granted. I have a better understanding that hard work really pays off. I also have a better understanding of the devastation of poverty in our community. For example, we partnered with an organization that works with teens to produce documentary projects. Our teens were tasked with producing a documentary of their daily lives. The teens were taught how to film and produce video/film. One of our teens filmed his one-bedroom apartment where he lived with five other family members. I couldn’t believe it. He filmed his portion of a shared closet that was used by the entire family. There was a stipend for the teens that participated in this program. This teen was asked, “What are you going to do with your money?” The teen replied “I am going to buy my mother a stove – she always wanted one.” That was very humbling for me. We take so much for granted. 

Belinda with the students in the Junior Lifeguard Program.


Power of Partnerships

Talk about the public-private partnership that got EXPO built. It was unique at the time, and it remains unique now.

Belinda: Our partnerships are the key to the success of EXPO. I realized quickly that the City could not provide all of the needed services and programs, so I sought out partners that have great program and service to fill our program gaps. In many cases, we did lots of joined grants together, which was a huge benefit to EXPO. It’s much easier spending grant funds than City funds – less paperwork and you don’t need five approvals to make a purchase. To name a few partners – The LA Philharmonic was one, the Brotherhood Crusade was another. We partner with several other organizations that provide a host of cultural programs for all ages. We have a partnership with Best Buy, which supports our technology centers. We have a huge partnership with Angel City Football, LAFC, and LA84 Foundation – they provided more than 40,000 free swim lessons for youths. Our best partner in the park has been the Natural History Museum, which provides programming with our seniors and preschool, and hires our teens during the summer months. We are excited about our relationship with the Lucas Educational Museum [the George Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, set to open in the next few years]. There are so many partners that support EXPO, and I am grateful for that! 

Can other City departments follow your lead and do partnerships? Can it grow?

Belinda: Yes, it can grow. I have recommended that. EXPO Center has been a great example of how to partner effectively.


Olympics, Again

Will the EXPO Center play a role in the Olympics?

Belinda: Oh, yes. Our whole department is involved with our PlayLA Program

Sure, we did a whole story on PlayLA a few years ago.

Belinda: Right. There was an opportunity through the 2028 Olympic Board to apply for a grant to offer Olympic-type sports to usher in the excitement of the 2028 Olympics. That grant was $169 million. Rec and Parks was successful and received the grant. It made sense for us because we have the ball diamonds, professional staff, facilities and a great relationship with the community. PlayLA is going on right now – it’s free for youths ages five to 16 all over the City. Check out for a list of programs. 

I have heard rumors that the EXPO Center facilities will be heavily involved in some way. [[Readers – see the last-minute sidebar in this issue of Alive! – Ed.]]

At the cutting of the ribbon for the EXPO Center: Belinda Jackson (top center), Bernard Parks, James Hahn and Mark Ridley-Thomas


Not Just EXPO

The EXPO Center was just part of your City career. As the Assistant General Manager, you were involved in a lot of things. Talk about that.

Belinda: Well, one of the things I focused on as the Assistant General Manager was efficiency. The City has so many rules and regulations for everything; it sometimes prohibits you from being creative. I’m a troubleshooter, so I was able to troubleshoot a number of procurement procedures with the City Attorney. I was able to develop with my team a more equitable and inclusive process for minority small businesses to obtain contracts with Rec and Parks. And I was also instrumental in getting a lot of grants during my tenure – $3 million; we talked about that. Normally, securing grants would not be a responsibility of an Assistant General Manager.

And that was system-wide, not just EXPO Center.

Belinda: Yes, it was system-wide. Yes, it benefited the whole department.


A Passion

Belinda, what did you love about working in Recreation and Parks and public service?

Belinda: Let me say this: I love working with all the staff. I’m not from Los Angeles. I’ve worked in a lot of places. I have never met a group as passionate as the staff at Rec and Parks. I was so taken by the passion of the employees. [General Manager] Jimmy Kim started as a locker room attendant in Aquatics. That’s amazing! 

We know Jimmy well. He’s a Club Member.

Belinda: You can find people with great leadership skills anywhere, but it’s hard to find people with passion – you can’t buy that. I’m in awe that I had the opportunity to work with this group of people. They’re good at what they do and it’s disappointing that they continue to experience budget cuts. Their services are so vital to our communities. Another thing – our facilities are located in the heart of many communities, which gives us an opportunity to develop good relationships. Patrons come to our parks to have fun at many levels, sometimes for programs or just leisure, passive time etc. We also have some many other park assets – our museums and other special facilities. There is just so much to like about Rec and Parks! We keep our citizens’ hearts healthy. How can you not be passionate about that?

What’s the future look like for you?

Belinda: The Friends of EXPO Center, the nonprofit board, dissolved right after the pandemic. That almost killed me. I don’t know what happened. They just closed down. This facility still needs a nonprofit board because of the magnitude of the programs and services that we provide. With that being said, I am looking forward to working the staff at EXPO to develop a park advisory board for EXPO Center. I love to travel, so that’s on the agenda. And of course I plan to spend lots of time with my family in Massachusetts.

Tending to the EXPO Center’s Rose Garden included Belinda Jackson (top row, right), Wendy Greuel, Janice Hahn and Jan Perry.


Finally, Retirement

What are your plans for life in retirement?

Belinda: I have so many plans! I’m traveling next month to see my mom. She’s 96.


Belinda: I’m going to write a couple of how-to books, like “Your First Grant,” that sort of thing. I will be working with faith-based organizations to help to enhance services and build capacity through grants. And I hope to work with the City on some projects down the road. I’m always going to be involved with the community because I love it so much!

Well, with that, Belinda, on behalf of the Club we want to thank you very much for your time and all you have done for the communities of Los Angeles.

Belinda: Thank you for thinking of me! 


Club COO and photographer Summy Lam photographs Belinda Jackson, RetiredAssistant General Manager, Rec and Parks, in a gym at EXPO Center.