Lucy Florence Cultural Center struggles to stay open

Listen to a story from Annenberg Radio News

image When you walk through the doors at Lucy Florence Cultural Center, you are taken aback by the bright colors and elegant decorations. There’s a coffee bar to grab a bite to eat. The hallway leads to hidden rooms filled with artistic treasures. There’s even a room with a stage, piano and rows of seats to put on a good show.

It’s a place for the people of Leimert Park to collaborate and bring together the cultural, political, talent and economic values of the village.

“This place, Lucy Florence Coffee House and Cultural Center, is one of the things that holds it in,” said a woman who frequents the coffee shop. “You know, one of the anchors of the village.”

As loved as Lucy Florence is, it still hasn’t brought a lot of foot traffic. The center is owned by twin brothers Rich and Bob Harris. Rich says they have to close up as early as May because they’re having trouble coming up with the rent money.

“We are desperately gathering up money to pay a financial emergency here at Lucy Florence,” Rich said.

The brothers recently returned, back from visiting their home city, Atlanta, where Rich says all businesses in the African American community flourish and attract people of all backgrounds. They believe Lucy Florence can do the same.

“We want that type of feel to create itself in a community that has often way before we became a part of it is labored as the last and only cultural participation in Los Angeles,” Rich said.

As a way of encouraging people to come into the store, they’ve been offering a 50 percent off sale, but right now, the center still stands as an important place. One woman came today because she wants to support the family-like atmosphere.

“You don’t have to come in and buy anything,” she said. “You come in and sit down and have a cup of tea, you know, and you can partake in all the art that’s in here because there’s a lot of culture in this building.”

Even though you don’t have to buy anything, the Harris brothers are hoping you do. If the Lucy Florence Cultural Center can bring in more business, it will have a chance to survive and serve the community.

The following is a letter from the owners of Lucy Florence Cultural Center

image We are in a season of resurrection. The photo was taken on Easter 1961; a past season of resurrection. We stood before our twin sisters with no knowledge of the many rebirths we would experience during this lifetime. We were young, protected, loved and unafraid. We stood before our twin sisters knowing nothing about the wonderful adventures in our future. That was 50 years ago. Today, we are living proof of the Divine MotherFatherGod and the spirit of resurrection. We embrace countless lessons about life, death, fear and achievement along the way. We are boys, students, men, teachers, retail buyers, managers, dancers, coaches, designers, owners and creators. We’ve died and been reborn so many times we’ve lost count of our birthdays! This is a season of resurrection; but is it our season of resurrection?

We’ve lived in Los Angeles for nearly 30 years and it’s our second home. Last week, we visited the original Lucy Florence (our mother) in our hometown of Atlanta, Georgia. Absence makes for interesting insight. We forgot how different things can be from city to city.

Small business is thriving in the ATL. Surprisingly, we saw no invisible racial borders when it came to commerce. Money changed hands among, between, within and across ethnicities. Businesses were packed with people of different races. There was no ‘Hollywood’ expectation of free services to boast celebrity patrons. People didn’t act like anyone “owed” them anything beyond the good or service for which they paid. Everyone pays and everyone benefits. Don’t be mistaken, though. There was no chorus of Kumbaya, just a respectable exchange of currency for quality goods and services. You know, business.

During our absence, we closed our doors because … well … staffing is expensive when business is slow. We returned to concerned voicemail messages (and perhaps a few nosy-bodies) asking if we were closed for good. People shouted from car windows shoutins, “we hope you guys aren’t closing?” But they didn’t stop conduct any business.

Businesses are failing all around us. Other groups are closing ranks and going into survival mode, while our community dollars are spread about like discarded candy wrappers. Spending dollars close to home matters – it matters to us and it matters to you. This is about more than keeping a business open; it’s about quality of life in your community. It’s about maintaining property values and creating a supportive economy and healthy tax-base in your own neighborhood. It’s about stepping up to the plate and spending money where you live to enhance your own standard of living.

Ongoing complaints about metered parking in Leimert Park are futile. Paid parking is the norm in other shopping areas around Los Angeles (Santa Monica, Culver City, Beverly Hills, Westwood, Hollywood, Inglewood, Hawthorne, Downtown). Why not in Leimert Park? This is not a reason, it is an excuse. What can you do? Make a shift in your fiscal consciousness. Every dollar counts. It’s time for common sense consumerism.

Buy from your customers. When someone patronizes you, patronize them. If Lucy Florence purchases your cakes, pies, beverages, gift items, clothing or jewelry, return the favor by making a purchase when you deliver the order. Reciprocity is the Golden Rule.

Support those who support you. When you leave flyers, postcards and announcements at a place of business, buy something. Do your part to pump blood through your own vein of low-cost PR and advertising.

Support Leimert Park Village for preservation of African American culture. Shop at Eso Won Books. You’ll be impressed with their lineup of booksignings and lectures. For unique handmade jewelry and gift items, check out Sika Dwimfo and our women-friends at Zambezi Bazaar. Gallery Plus is well known for African American artwork, hand crafted dolls and other collectibles. KAOS Network owner and filmmaker, Ben Caldwell, provides a rich and diverse experience for creatives with his Leimert Park Art Walk. For women’s clothing, cards, gifts and jewelry, make Lucy Florence your first stop. Looking for lovely home and garden decorations? Come to Cultural Interiors inside Lucy Florence. Need to relax, unwind and feed your soul? Looking for answers to questions about life, career and romance? WU Wellness Loft inside Lucy Florence offers Reiki, crystal therapy, polarity therapy, massage and readings. Looking for a fun place to learn something new or to host your workshop? Call Lucy Florence for rentals or attend a workshop.

Thank you all for making us feel appreciated. To answer the question, no. Lucy Florence is not closing. Not yet. But if another resurrection is in our future, we are ready and willing to do it again if that is our calling. And when we rise, we will soar again because potentiality and possibility are endless gifts from God. Perhaps we will see you at the (other) top, where we will laugh and talk about the wonderful business we transacted to our mutual benefit. But only if that is the truth. In the meantime, let’s celebrate and be held accountable to one another for the success of our businesses and local economy. Happy Resurrection Day, everyone.

Ron and Richard Harris



Lucy Florence Cultural Center has been a part of the Historic Leimert Park Village for 10+ years. We have opened our doors to communty theater groups and professionals. We helped launch the careers of entertainment greats like Tyra Banks and Macy Gray. We’ve been a safe place for latchkey children and a training ground for young college students to gain valuable work experience. Lucy Florence is home to independent business owners and vendors who need to work in partnership to survive these tough times. We are an affordable and lovely meeting place for local clubs, groups, associations, and organizations. We are a space to celebrate births at parties and mourn deaths with repasts. In short, we are proactive community contributors and activists. Now we need immediate support from the community.

Here’s How You Can Help

(1) Show your support in dollars and cents. Shop at Lucy Florence this April 18th & 19th and save up to 50%.

(2) Show your support by referring others. Forward this to your email distribution list and ask your friends and associates to shop at Lucy Florence on April 18th & 19th.

Candidate Chris Brown hopes to create more jobs in his district

This story is a part of our series of interviews with the candidates for Los Angeles City Council Districts 8 and 10.

Listen to an audio interview from Annenberg Radio News:


Chris Brown was born and raised in District 10, located just off Pico Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue. He attended San Jose State University while working in corporate telecommunications. However, his mother was diagnosed with cancer, so he returned to Los Angeles to take care of her before graduating. Now, Brown still lives in District 10 and is an entrepreneurial CEO and independent business professional, according to his campaign Website. We found out why he wanted to run and what plans he has for the city.

Listen to more interviews with City Council candidates.

Los Angeles school cafeterias boast healthier options

imageWhen the 1 p.m. bell rang at Manual Arts High School, the students fled to the cafeteria for lunch. As the line lengthened, students carried small Styrofoam trays toward shelves of food.

That day, they could choose from baby carrots with dip, celery with dip, oranges, cheese ravioli with sauce and a whole wheat dinner roll, an Italian calzone with turkey pepperoni, chicken egg roll with brown rice, and non-fat regular milk, chocolate, or strawberry.

“A student must take at least three of the items that are offered,” said Susan Hernandez, the cafeteria manager at Manual Arts.

And at best, many of the students do grab onto at least three of the items offered because it’s free food.

Located in South Los Angeles, Manual Arts High School is a Provision 2 school under the Federal School Lunch Program, said Hernandez. Its Provision 2 status means it qualifies for all meals to be served for free due to the overall demographics of the school. Roughly 80 percent of Los Angeles Unified School District students are eligible for free and reduced price meals, according to the district.

Although some students, like Kevin Soto, said they would rather bring a packed lunch from home, they still take the cafeteria food because it’s free.

“Most of the cafeteria food is nasty,” said Soto. “When it comes to lunch, we’ll only eat two things…Sometimes I just get [the lunch] because of the milk.”

Building the Menu

In the past few years, L.A. Unified has been working toward supplying healthy options for students and also encouraging more students to eat cafeteria lunches.

imageIn 2004, the school board passed the Childhood Obesity Prevention Motion; in 2005, it launched the Cafeteria Reform Motion. Both motions set strict guidelines on what kind of food can be served in schools based on calorie count. They also reduce levels of sugar, sodium, and saturated fat and eliminating trans fat and palm oil in menu items and junk food and soda sales.

The Cafeteria Reform Motion put together a cafeteria improvement committee and a sub-committee that is made up of district employees and external participants including dieticians, obesity researchers, registered chefs, and healthy food advocacy groups, according to David Binkle, the deputy director of L.A. Unified Food Services.

The menu is determined by first looking at United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) guidelines. No more than 30 percent of a meal’s calories can come from fat, and the meal also must provide one-third of the recommended dietary allowances of protein, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, iron, calcium and calories, according to the USDA website.

Meals cannot exceed 1100 milligrams of sodium over a week’s period of time, and grain that is served must be 51 percent whole wheat, said Binkle. L.A. Unified is currently operating under 2005 dietary guidelines.

Money for the food comes from the federal and state government. Last year, the district served around 123 meals that fall under the nutrition criteria, which it did on an average of 77 cents per meal.

Currently, the district is working on adopting a new menu to test with students. Once the draft menu is finalized, all items will have to get approved by at least 30,000 students. The final menu will not be approved until two weeks before the 2011-2012 academic year starts.

imageHealthier Food, Healthier Students

Organizations like the Healthy School Food Coalition, which reaches out to schools and parents to get them involved in the menu-making process, have responded to the efforts to improve nutrition, especially because the menu affects many low-income students in the inner city.

Elizabeth Medrano, who works as the school food organizer for the coalition, applauded the district’s reduction of cheese and bread in its meals.

Although strides have been made to create healthier options for students, the total body mass index (BMI) for L.A. Unified students is on the rise.

BMI, a way to measure obesity, is an estimate based on one’s height and weight. The BMI of students in the L.A. Unified has risen from 24.4 in 2003 to 26.1 in 2010, as opposed to the BMI rates of the total population of Los Angeles County, which have fluctuated between 21.9 and 23.1. According to the U.S. Department of Health, a BMI ranging from 25.0 to 29.9 is overweight, and a BMI of 30 or greater is obese.

Binkle said that this high rate, however, does not correlate to the nutritional value of the menu but rather how much physical activity the students engage in to burn the calories they eat. A 2008 obesity report by the Los Angeles Department of Public Health attributed the stabilization of L.A. Unified’s students’ BMI to changes made in the nutrition arena.

Got Chocolate Milk?

But one group of activists, who have attended many of the menu planning sub-committees, believes that there is a way that the meals are contributing to a child’s obesity. On Feb. 14, Emily Ventura, who is a researcher at the Childhood Obesity Research Center at the University of Southern California, gathered a group of parents and left one-gallon jugs of sugar at district headquarters to advocate for flavored milk to be taken off the cafeteria menu.

imageVentura said that each cartoon of chocolate milk has two teaspoons of sugar. If a student drank two cartoons every school day, the student would consume 14 cups or roughly a gallon of pure sugar.

“[The district] is afraid of taking sugar out because they are afraid the kids won’t drink the milk,” Ventura said.

Binkle responded that the amount of added grams of sugar in chocolate milk—at seven grams—is the equivalent of a piece of fruit.

Ventura sees a pitfall in the cafeteria nutritional guidelines because they don’t count overall added sugar content. She mentioned that 1 in 3 kids born in the year 2000 are projected to develop diabetes in their lifetime, and this estimate is higher for Latino kids (1 in 2, or 50 percent), according to study done by the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion in 2008.

Moreover, Ventura’s published research, conducted in a 16-week time period, analyzed if reduced sugar intake or increased fiber intake of 54 overweight Latino teenagers contributed to the development of type II diabetes. The published article states that almost 40 percent of Latinos ages 12-19 were overweight or at risk of becoming overweight between the years of 2003-2006. The subjects who increased fiber intake decreased significantly in BMI. Adolescents who simply decrease the amount of added sugar in one can of soda can and increase fiber intake equal to a half a cup of beans may see positive results that can stabilize their metabolism and reduce their risk of developing type II diabetes.

She also said that I made it sound like her chocolate milk campaign was linked to USC, so she asked if I could add that it she volunteers as the Social Action Chairperson of Slow Food Los Angeles.

The current policies of the USDA don’t look at the overall sugar content of a meal except that there can only be seven grams of added sugar in an ounce of cereal, said Ventura. She believes that they are not proactive enough if Frosted Flakes and Frosted Wheaties still make the cut.

Yet, Ventura did admit to some positive changes made at the district level.

“Looking at the menus that the committee has been proposing, I’m seeing that there are some positive changes like the coffee cake is served less often,” she said.

Only a handful of people, like Ventura, have raised awareness about the total content of added sugars in the meals during the three years Binkle has served as deputy director of food services. Binkle said that a few speaking out against overall sugar count may not correlate in change.

“We’ve had chocolate milk in this country for 100 years, what happened to those kids?” Binkle said. “It’s about exercise and taking your time to eat properly.”

Related Stories:

Experts discuss the ‘politics of food’ in South L.A.

Basketball players teach healthy living at local elementary school

Crenshaw garden cleanup honors Dr. King

Los Angeles officials crack down on 38th Street gang

After an 18-month investigation, law enforcement officials arrested 57 members of the 38th Street gang early Tuesday morning, which is one of Los Angeles’ most notorious gangs for gun violence and drug trafficking.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villariagosa, alongside many law enforcement officials, applauded the effort as a successful collaboration between state, local and federal law enforcement agencies. Law enforcement agents closely watched four residences in South Los Angeles that were associated with drug dealing, violence and loud partying during the investigation; a 130-page federal racketeering indictment was filed last month against these suspects.

“For far too long, these criminals have victimized some of the most vulnerable communities in South Los Angeles…and I’m proud to say they are off the streets,” Villariagosa said at a news conference Tuesday.

The 38th Street gang is one of Los Angeles’ oldest gangs, which has roots all the way back to the 1920s, has around 200 members and shares close ties to the Mexican Mafia, a dominant prison gang.

Some of the federal charges against the gang members include racketeering, fire arms, narcotics, extortion, murder and conspiracy, Villagrosia said. Thirty-seven of the arrests are under the federal indictment, whereas 20 were taken in on state weapons and drug charges.

More than 780 officers from eight different agencies, including the United States and Los Angeles District Attorney’s office, worked on the investigation, according to David Doan, chief of the Los Angeles Police Department. Thirty-four more arrests, Doan said, are likely to progress in the future.

Fifty-nine firearms and $122,000 in cash were confiscated during the house raid, as well as $2.5 million worth of dangerous drugs, including cocaine, crack cocaine, methanfedemie and marijuana, from the residences, which have a straight drug pipeline to Mexico.

“To put this in perspective, this is enough drugs to supply more than 40,000 users,” said Timothy J. Landrum of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

United States District Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. said the gang has been alleged to extort South Los Angeles businesses, especially in the Alameda Swamp Meet.

Birotte also described some of the dangerous activities the gang have been associated with, such as a specific instance when members allegedly dressed up as law enforcement officials, burst into a South Gate home, kidnapped and later shot the man in the head during a high-speed chase.

The mayor emphasized that the crime rate has gone down in South Los Angeles recently, and that this raid is yet another good sign for restoring gang territory to neighborhoods safe for families. Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich said that this operation is a scare tactic toward all gangs.

“Our message is clear,” Trutanich said. “We will not allow gang members to highjack our neighborhood and use them as their own turf. These are our neighborhoods…we are not stopping until we take back all our neighborhoods.”


Take a closer look at some of the residences that were raided Tuesday morning:

View Location of 38th St. Gang Residences in a larger map

Panel discusses idea of post-racial society

imageSouth Los Angeles community members gathered Thursday for a home-cooked meal and a thought-provoking discussion to debunk the myth of a post-racial society after the election of Barack Obama.

The Freedom Socialist Party, a revolutionary feminist organization, hosted the event for the group’s annual Black History Month celebration.

Muffy Sunde, 60, the local organizer of the party, said the party considers issues of race and racism of primary importance. She thought a public discussion on post-racial society would be relevant.

“It seemed like the myth of a post-racial society is a no brainer. Because everyone is saying we have a black president, [they] say it’s not an issue anymore,” Sunde said.

Sunde asked a panel of speakers who have all actively fought racism to speak on the subject. Panelists included Linda Guthrie, a middle school teacher and former officer of United Teachers Los Angeles, Ray Boudreaux a former Black Panther party member, and Beatrice Paez, an active member of Radical Women.

Each speaker talked for 15 minutes. The speakers were followed by a public discussion.

Among about 40 members of the audience were Los Angeles Unified School District teachers, college students, community members, Freedom Socialist Party members, and Radical Women party members. 

“We celebrate Black History month not only to recognize the political and social games won, the cultural attributes and the leadership shown by African Americans, but we also do it every year since the early sixties because we are Marxists, feminists and revolutionaries,” said Yolanda Alanoz, the event’s moderator.

“We realize in order for full equality for blacks and others oppressed by the system, we have to institute a new democratic socialist society.”

The speakers all voiced concern that there is no such thing as a post-racial society, even after the election of Barack Obama.

The struggles and rhetoric of black people have been the same throughout history, said Boudreaux.

Guthrie furthered this point by arguing issues of race are still invisible.

“Post-racial is another series of politically correct terms in which America acknowledges the difficult issue but instead chooses to continue to ignore them,” Guthrie said.

Some speakers argued the only way to achieve a post-racial society is to overthrow capitalism and the oppressive ruling class that continues to exploit Black labor and to practice classism. 

”Is it any wonder why the ruling class promotes color blindness and the lid of a post-racial society in the mass media after Obama’s election, who needs Black History month then?” Paez said. 

The speakers placed particular emphasis on the public education gap between children of color and Caucasian children, sexism, media portrayals of colored people, the tendency of people to identify blacks as one monolithic group, uneven racial divides in incarceration systems, and even teaching about racism and history in schools. All were used as examples of why the speakers believe there is no such thing as a post-racial society. 

Some even said that American angst and displeasure with the Obama administration is not about the policies he is implementing but rather the color of his skin.

“We have to support him…It’s important to make people confront why they are attacking him, and that’s the myth we have to go after,” Guthrie said.

”It’s not about policy, it’s not about philosophy. It’s about what he looks like.”

Julia Wallace, 28, an audience member who spoke up about the current problem of inter-racism specified how she thinks race and the Obama administration collide. Wallace saw this collision in the war in the Middle East and Obama’s decision to send an additional 30,000 troops over.

“I have problems with the Obama administration going to war in Afghanistan because he’s sending black and brown people to war…It’s not rich people going to war in Afghanistan…it’s not policy.”

Audience member, Erma Elzy, 58, said that Obama, who is trying to please different factions, would want the group to do “just what [they] are doing right now” and “stand up for activism.”

But regardless of talk about activism and how to really make a change in society, Guthrie said she did not care to look forward to the future if society cannot appreciate her for who she is already.

“I’m not interested in a post-racial society because race defines who I am,” she said. “If you cannot see my race, then you cannot see me. And if you do not have the respect for the experience that led up to me being me, then you can never know me.”