The Black community has been so quiet in its response to the need to get out and fight for the late Billy Higgin’s “World Stage” being declared a historic landmark and Leimert Park Village being preserved and maintained as a center of Black cultural art, it seems necessary to reiterate the need to fight, and outline the bigger picture.
Many of us have become virtual scholars when it comes to Black history. We can quote chapter and verse all of the atrocities that have been perpetrated against Black people since the beginning of time. We can also make reference to all of the illustrious Black kings, queens and warriors of the past, and cite everything that Black people have accomplished throughout history. But what’s the purpose of having all that knowledge if we don’t use it to move ourselves forward? We’re not doing that. We tend to just sit back and watch the white establishment mount one assault on our culture after another, and then use our knowledge of Black history to say, “Well, there they go again, just like during Reconstruction.”
What good is that doing us? We need to use our knowledge of history to defend ourselves against repeated cultural assaults just like every other culture in America. The fact that we’re not doing that explains why we’re on the very bottom of the socio-economic ladder, and newly arrived immigrants step right over us to become our bosses and economic superiors. That’s also why whenever anyone needs a victim, they single us out, because they know we’re not going to do anything about it but complain. If we’re the product of greatness, let’s prove it instead of just talking about it. This is no time to talk. It’s time to either show what we’re made of, or shut up, because at this point, those very same illustrious ancestors that we like to point to with such pride, would be holding their heads down in shame at what we’ve allowed ourselves to become—victims.
Now, I realize that life is a struggle for Black people, and many of us have given priority to our personal dreams for the future, but if we fail to give priority to our culture as a whole, we won’t have a future. If we don’t have a strong and viable culture, we’re going to be disrespected and marginalized as individuals, and plucked off one at a time as we’re already seeing in Ferguson, New York, Los Angeles and all across this country. America is rapidly becoming the new Beirut. So we’ve got to wake up and get on top of this, folks, unless we’ve completely given up on ourselves as a people. Where’s that greatness that we’re always talking about? There’s got to still be some vestiges of it left in us somewhere.
The latest issue regarding the raping of Leimert Park Village in particular (since this seems to be the latest assault on our people), has yet to garner the attention of the community, community leaders, politicians and clergy alike. We’ve got to do better than this, Black people, or your children’s future will be null and void. In fact, in another generation, we, will be null and void. Look around you. They’ve already dragged us back fifty years. It’s gotten to the point where a young Black man needs a hall pass just to walk down a city street. For the police, just being a young Black male constitutes “probable cause,” and if they kill him, the nation’s juries view it as a public service.
So what does that have to do with Leimert Park Village? What’s going on in Leimert Park is the latest assault on our culture, so it’s past time to come together, organize, and fight back, and in a proactive way, instead of waiting around and reacting after we’re displaced, marginalized, or another young life is lost for simply having the audacity to come into the area. At this point, the future victim is probably a toddler who was born in Leimert Park, but by the time he’s a teenager, Leimert Park will be off limits to “his kind.” So now is the time to get on top of this, because the next young life that’s snuffed out, just might be a life that you brought into this world, and then, all the demonstrating in the world won’t bring him back.
I would have thought people would have been falling all over one another to defend our cultural heritage, but I guess many Black people are not up to fighting for their culture. We only tend to react when something goes desperately wrong, instead of being proactive in an attempt to ensure that life and justice works in our favor. That explains a lot about our position in society, and why our children have to go to Google (if they have access to a computer) or the public library to dig for self-esteem. We’ve got to do better than this. If we don’t, within a few years Black people will only be a memory in Leimert Park and many other Black communities across this nation. We’ll be dispersed, filtered into, and hopefully tolerated, within the communities of others, and without one scintilla of political clout.
That’s why Los Angeles’ Leimert Park and it’s environs is much more than just a neighborhood; it’s also a cultural and political stronghold that’s worth fighting for. Without it, the Black culture and our political clout will be effectively erased in the city of Los Angeles, and that’s exactly what many forward-thinking social manipulators have in mind. You see, the demographics are changing, so the powers that be are out to dilute the impact of as many minority voters as possible. So this issue is much more important than sharing recipes online. This is probably the most important issue that the Black community has ever faced in this city.
Many of the problems that the Black community is facing across this country is a direct result of our tendency to be reactive rather than proactive. Take Ferguson, Mo., for example. The Black community could have avoided the problems they had in that city by simply voting. The Black population in Ferguson is 67 percent, yet only 7 percent turned out to vote. As a result, the police department is 94 percent white. In the last election they corrected that problem with record Black voter turnout, but it was a little too late for Michael Brown. So let us learn from the Ferguson experience and be proactive in our response to what’s taking place in Leimert Park, because much like in the case of Michael Brown, it’s going to be much too late to try to demonstrate after the fact. So now is the time to get up-in-arms.
If we fail to address this issue, Black people are going to be run out of the area, the park itself is going to be bulldozed, and our young people are going to be subjected to being stopped-and-frisked for just coming into the area. The social manipulators will have to take those steps just to make rich white folks feel safe enough to visit their new up-scale art galleries.
So far, there have been responses that illustrate what’s happening in Leimert Park is occurring in cities all over the country. Below are a few direct responses.
Tatia Dokes, Denver, Co.
“We are facing this same issue in my neighborhood. The last historically black neighborhoods in Denver. We have gentrification meetings and how to combat it every month with less than 5 black folks there and the rest are white folks wanting to “understand.” Then when I’m walking my dog all I hear is the few black folks left complaining about the skyrocketing rent, none of their friends live in the neighborhood anymore and all the white folks. I just want to SCREAM! BUT YOU DON’T DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT! I go to these meetings… voice my opinions…looked at like I’m militant and aggressive but I don’t care…I will not be driven out without a fight! We just had an election for city counsel members. 20,000 ballots for our district were sent out and only 5000 voted and I bet it was mostly white folks! I’m so tired… so so tired!”
Bonnie Flournoy, Chicago, Ill.
“Same thing in Chicagoland. And thanks, Eric, et al. for the reminder. I don’t know how I overlooked it, cuz as I witness it going down in Chicago, I mainly focused on the financial aspect, like all affordable housing GONE . Houses with big red ‘X’s on them meaning they are slated for demolition, closed schools, etc. But you’re absolutely correct. These neighborhood-destroying tactics also destroyed the voting block. The wrong people are winning elections, not because folx are voting for them… they won because there’s nobody left… many have moved away, or foreclosed upon, etc. We bettah wake up!”
Michelle Gordon-McFalls, Denver, Co.
“Same happens in schools that are being closed in black neighborhoods, properties bought up by others, businesses begun in black neighborhoods because rent is cheap. None of the black parents were ever seen at any PTA meetings, council meetings to save the neighborhoods or lines at the banks/loan companies to begin their business. Now there may be legitimate reasons for no shows, but it’s a catch 22. Unless we are present and voicing our opinions, negative change will happen. Until we begin showing up at every PTA, PTCO, mtg., our schools will continue to close and our children continue failing. I understand that many cannot attend because they are working and if they leave to attend they will lose their jobs. However, many are home watching TV w/o a concern. I’ve sat by and watched Five Points, once a beautiful and thriving historical black area in Denver, (where I used to live), decay, turn hood and now more white’s live there than blacks and the housing market has skyrocketed. Denver is one of the most expensive cities to live, in the USA.”
So brothers and sisters, if we don’t organize and get the attention of the politicians (who were elected to protect our interest, not feather their own nests) we’re going be erased—no history, no community to call our own, and no political clout. Actually, our politicians themselves are being shortsighted, because once the area is gentrified they’re going to be voted out of office as well. So again, if we don’t act now, they’re going to turn us into a “community” of nomads and cultural refugees. Remember where you heard it first.
Eric L. Wattree is a writer, poet, and musician, born in Los Angeles. He’s been a columnist for The Los Angeles Sentinel, Black Star News, The Atlanta Post, and a member of the Sigma Delta Chi Society of Professional Journalists (http://www.spj.org/). He’s also the author of “A Message From the Hood.”