“A child is born with a heart of gold; the way of the world makes his heart grow cold.” 

These touching lyrics from Earth, Wind and Fire’s 70s hit song “That’s the Way of the World” serve as an oft-recited daily motto for Millicent “Mama” Hill, an award-winning educator, poet and community activist who has devoted her life to teaching, supporting, mothering and “healing” at-risk children and troubled teens in and around South L.A., to help “bring them back to who they really are.”

“When they were born they were so sweet and innocent,” a reflective Mama Hill recently told The Tidings. “I do believe, very strongly, that there is no such thing as a ‘bad’ child. … I think that everyone has a core of goodness deep inside.”

Mama Hill will share her inspiring thoughts and discuss hands-on experiences as one of the featured speakers during the second annual OneLife LA event on Jan. 23. OneLife LA — a procession and community gathering, which begins at La Placita Olvera and ends at Grand Park — celebrates the dignity of all human life, during all stages and ages, from conception until natural death.

A former teacher with the Los Angeles Unified School District, Mama Hill worked as an English teacher and counselor, and also served as a mentor for students, utilizing her teaching skills and affable demeanor to help inspire them.

Following her retirement from LAUSD, she started using her own living room to help empower local at-risk youth facing abuse, abandonment, violence, gang involvement and more. Her home became increasingly known as a place of solace and peace in the middle of one of L.A.’s toughest neighborhoods: Watts.

By 2001, the small home-based after-school program had grown to become Mama Hill’s Help, a community not-for-profit that supports boys and girls of all ages, providing academic tutoring, gang intervention, music appreciation, job skills training, violence and molestation prevention, music appreciation, conflict resolution, and much more. To date, Mama Hill’s tireless efforts have positively impacted the lives of countless students, both in and outside of the classroom.

Mama Hill said she accepted the invitation to participate in the upcoming OneLife LA gathering in order to help “spread the good word that there are kind, loving people in the world, and that there’s always hope” — for everyone.

“Everything is part of a divine order and we are not to destroy what God has made,” explained Mama Hill. Rather, she continued, people of all faith traditions should always strive to respect “all of God’s creations,” especially the children.

During Mama Hill’s OneLife LA address, she and an associate will discuss how the program “respects life” by working to better the lives of kids, providing them with essential tools that promote self-respect and lifelong success. It will include an overview of the program’s gang prevention efforts, memorable stories, and a Mama Hill mentee will share highlights from her powerful personal journey.

Mama Hill, who has spent the last 45-plus years trying to make a difference, said she hopes her story can help inspire others to do the same. Despite being 75 years old and having a physical disability, Mama Hill said she “just keeps on going and helping” every day, and “never even thinks” about her age.

“My mind is still strong and that’s what counts,” she said.