Voices of South L.A.: Civic Action and Community Voice

07_SlideShow_VoicesofSouthLAVoices of South L.A.: Civic Action and Community Voice – A recap

Visions and Voices brought to the University of Southern California on Oct. 9 a “Voices of South L.A.” panel featuring long-time South L.A. observers (some of them residents) with unique, compelling perspectives. Along with audience members, they discussed South L.A.’s past and where it could be headed next, especially in light of development surrounding the school at University Village and in Downtown L.A.


The speakers included journalist and columnist Erin Aubry Kaplan; South L.A. policy advisor for the City of L.A.’s Human Relation Commission, Francisco Ortega; Executive Vice President of Community Coalition, Alberto Retana; and Streetsblog L.A.’s Communities Editor for Boyle Heights and South L.A., Sahra Sulaiman.

Stay tuned for similar panel discussions in the spring, and a walking tour of South L.A. For now, get a glimpse of the event in video, photography and Tweets…


Video recap

People’s voices: My South LA is

Created with flickr slideshow.

Put together by Sinduja Rangarajan

Photo slideshow

Photos by Jenna Pittaway

To know more about the series, click here.


LA PRESS CLUB AWARD WINNER: The godfather of LA’s Black comedy scene is plotting his comeback


Michael Williams is battling a series of
personal traumas to bring African-American comedy back to L.A.

Michael Williams (front row, right) with comedians, including Jamie Foxx (far left) | Courtesy Michael Williams

Michael Williams (front row, right) with comedians, including Jamie Foxx (far left) | Courtesy Michael Williams

Editor’s Note: This piece is a finalist WINNER for the 2014 National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards granted by the Los Angeles Press Club! Check out our updated piece with audio from Michael Williams and his fellow comedy cohort.

On any given Thursday night in the late 1980s, Michael Williams would watch from the wings as up-and-coming Black comics, including Jaime Foxx, Martin Lawrence, Bernie Mac and Chris Tucker, performed at the comedy club he founded in South Los Angeles.

The Comedy Act Theater was one among the first comedy clubs in the country to cater to the Black community and was the launch pad for many successful Black comedians.

For 12 years, comedy fans packed the house. The first night, 200 people crammed into a room that could accommodate only 160. Within a few weeks, the place regularly sold out — a streak that lasted five years. Williams opened outposts in Atlanta and Chicago.

Williams, who had worked for six years as a stage manager and event producer, started the club after being frustrated by the way L.A.’s comedy scene failed to speak to Black patrons like himself. [Read more…]

The Father of Leimert Park, or the Octopus


Caldwell at a community meeting at Leimert Park | Sinduja Rangarajan

Ben Caldwell stopped in the middle of 43rd Street in Leimert Park, bent down, lunged forward, clicked a photograph and disappeared into the crowded street within seconds.

Something on the other side of the road had caught his attention.

This article was also published on KCET Departuresan online documentary series mapping LA neighborhoods through interactive portraits.

Perhaps it was the colorful quilted skirts swaying in the breeze in a makeshift clothing store, one of the many stands set up during Leimert Park’s monthly art walk. Perhaps it was the kids playing jump rope across the street. Or maybe it was one of the drummers tapping furiously in the drum circle by the fountain.

Caldwell never leaves home without his Canon DSLR camera, whether he’s going to a community meeting, a high-end innovation event at a private school or simply strolling across the familiar Leimert Park streets.

 “He documents everything, knowing things will have more value in the future,” said his daughter, Dara Marama Caldwell-Ross. “The value is not just monetary, it’s symbolic.”

Caldwell captures the world around him from behind the camera, but moves so quickly and quietly that he’s almost invisible. His customary faded black t-shirt and loose jeans don’t help him stand out either. But this low-profile artist is the tour de force of Leimert Park, a constant in this ever-changing community.

“He won’t like it if I say this, but he is like the father of Leimert Park,” said Maria Elena Cruz, an artist and teacher.

He calls himself an “octopus” with every tentacle working on a different assignment. In the last 33 years, he’s been a filmmaker, entrepreneur, ethnographer, documentarian, educator and community activist.  [Read more…]

Activists protest deportations of Central American immigrant children

Activists fast to advocate for immigrant rights. | Sinduja Rangarajan

Activists fast to advocate for immigrant rights. | Sinduja Rangarajan

Several human rights activist organizations gathered at Central American Resource Center near McArthur Park on Tuesday to send a message out to Congress: Don’t change current laws that protect children who emigrate alone from Central America.

The Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, signed by President George W. Bush in 2008, allows unaccompanied minors who cross the border from Central America to have their cases individually considered by a judge. The law is meant to protect children who are fleeing from violence and abuse in their home countries.

“[This law] gives them the right to explain why they have fled their country and what the consequences would be if they were returned,” said Lindsay Toczylowski, directing attorney at the Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project.”If Congress does away with these hearings, many children could be forcibly returned to deadly situations after only a cursory screening at the border or through an inadequate court process that disregards recognized standards of justice.” [Read more…]

South LA creates healthy food options

South L.A. residents are growing vegetables in their backyards. They are converting their corner stores into healthy groceries. They are not waiting anymore for healthy options to come to them.

Click play for the stories of a South L.A. vegan and a corner store transformer:

Arriving at a recent community development meeting in a recreation center in South L.A., Agyei Graham peeked at the breakfast spread of bagels, yogurt and coffee, quietly found a standing room spot in a corner, pulled a red apple from the back pocket of his jeans and bit into it.

The 21-year-old has been a vegan for five months, which means he couldn’t have the yogurt. He could eat the bagels, but he’d have to forgo cream cheese. And he could only have coffee if he wanted it black.

He came prepared with an apple because he didn’t expect a small community meeting to offer vegan options. But he isn’t always prepared with contingency plans. There are days when Graham, who works as a locker room attendant at a swimming stadium, doesn’t have time to pack a meal. There are days when he comes home to an empty fridge because he didn’t find time to go to his favorite grocery store, Sprouts, which is six miles away in Culver City. [Read more…]

Mike the Poet calls South LA “the blood and bones” of Los Angeles

Mike the Poet interacting with students after the open mike session| Photo credit: Sinduja Rangarajan

Mike the Poet interacting with students after the open mic session | Sinduja Rangarajan

Mike Sonksen patted a student’s back, bumped fists with another and hugged a third as he took swift, long strides across the California State University Los Angeles campus on a recent afternoon.

The lanky 40-year-old, popularly known as “Mike the Poet,” had just finished hosting an open mic session that brought together poets, singers and songwriters from across the campus. Sonksen performed during the session, but only briefly. He was focused instead on encouraging the next generation of artists. Beyond crafting poems, Sonksen, who is also a journalist and performer, considers himself a mentor to upcoming poets in the city.

[Read more…]

Photo slideshow: Artist stories from South LA’s Pan African Film Festival

An artist at work at the Pan African Film Festival. | Sinduja Rangrajan

An artist at work at the Pan African Film Festival. | Sinduja Rangrajan

Every year in February, which happens to be Black History Month, the Pan African Film Festival comes to L.A. to celebrate the rich world of Black cinema. Apart from offering hundreds of film screenings, the 12-day event (considered the largest Black film festival in the U.S.) attracts Black visual artists from all over the world. This photo essay explores the color and vibrancy of their art, which will be on display through the end of the festival. View the slideshow on Flickr to see captions and follow the artists’ stories.

The Pan African Film Festival runs through Feb. 17 and is based at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza. The ArtFest is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Created with flickr slideshow.


Click to discover more from Leimert Park’s third renaissance.


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Leimert Park envisions the neighborhood in 2020

Brenda Shockley of Community Build addresses the audience| Photo credit: Sinduja Rangarajan

Brenda Shockley of Community Build addresses the audience. | Sinduja Rangarajan

Community members and leaders share the same bold vision for Leimert Park: By the time the Crenshaw/LAX Metro line links Leimert Park with Inglewood, the Los Angeles International Airport and other parts of the city six years from now, they envision their South Los Angeles neighborhood evolving into a tourist destination that showcases African-American arts and culture.

More than 150 people — a mix of architects, urban planners, activists, artists, bankers, realtors, lawmakers and local residents — began assembling as early as 8 a.m. Saturday at the historic Vision Theatre to discuss what they could do to shape the future of Leimert Park.

Last year the Metro Board approved to construction of a Leimert Park Village station on the Crenshaw/LAX Metro line. Since then, property owners reportedly have been bumping up real estate prices and forcing long-time commercial tenants out of business. Eviction notices sent to the iconic World Stage Theater by a real estate company in November prompted the neighborhood to come together to preserve this African-American cultural hub.

“Our property is going to have a lot more value than it does today,” said Roland Wiley, a community organizer and owner of the architectural and urban planning firm RAW International . “A lot more people will be interested in living where you live. A lot more people will be happy if you can’t pay your mortgage anymore and you gotta sell.” [Read more…]

School board postpones decision on Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte’s vacant seat

School board members | www.laschoolboard.org

The Los Angeles Board of Education on Tuesday decided to wait until January to discuss how to fill the seat of board member Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte, who died nearly two weeks ago, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Board president Richard Vladovic and members Tamar Galatzan and Monica Garcia voted in favor of discussion whereas Steve Zimmer, Bennett Kayser and Monica Ratcliff voted to wait.

LaMotte represented District 1 that covers a large part of South Los Angeles. (See map here.) Whoever takes over LaMotte’s seat would be the responsible for shaping education in South L.A. [Read more…]

Community members and activists rally for McKenna to take up LaMotte’s position

Many activists and community members present at a meeting on Sunday evening said they supported the appointment of Dr. George McKenna III to take up Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte’s position as a member of the Los Angeles Board of Education.

Community members observing a minute of silence remembering the late Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte at the First AME church| Photo credit: Sinduja Rangarajan

Community members observing a minute of silence remembering the late Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte at the First AME church| Photo credit: Sinduja Rangarajan

More than 200 members from various civil rights, political and community groups gathered at the meeting facilitated by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) held at the First African Methodist Episcopal Church. Councilman Bernard Parks, School Board Member Steve Zimmer, United Teachers Los Angeles President Warren Fletcher, Retired Assemblyman Mike Davis were some of the notable people present.

LaMotte, 80, died of natural causes less than two weeks ago. The Los Angeles Times reported that there is a debate amongst school board members over which of the two routes they should take to replace her – special elections or appointment of a person by the board.

UPDATE: The school board has decided to postpone the decision on LaMotte’s vacant seat. Click to read the report from Intersections.

Former Assemblyman Mike Davis said in an interview after the meeting that it was an organized effort to allow for community input to decide who should be the next school board representative for Los Angeles County District 1.

“It was a necessary meeting and I think it went very successfully,” he said.

Many present at the meeting on Sunday said they preferred the appointment of McKenna over special elections. Members cite several reasons for their preference for appointment over special elections. [Read more…]