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.

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A healthier South LA: Food options increase while obesity decreases

South Los Angeles has been plagued with having the recognition of being among one of the most obese areas in L.A. However, the community is slowly finding a cure for its plague.

In 2011, about 33 percent of adults in South L.A. were obese, which is about 12 percentage points higher than Los Angeles County’s overall rate, according to reports by the L.A. County Department of Public Health.

The region has long suffered from a lack of diversity in dining options. About 70 percent of the restaurants in South L.A. are fast food restaurants, far higher than areas such as West L.A., where the figure is about 40 percent, according to the Community Health Councils, a non-profit, community-based health education and policy organization. City officials have taken measures in recent years to address the problem, passing a fast food moratorium that restricts the building of stand-alone fast food restaurants in South L.A.

Since the start of the ban in 2007, obesity rates among adults in South L.A. have fallen by about three percentage points, according to reports by the L.A. County Department of Public Health. The decrease marked the largest fall in obesity for any area in L.A. County since 2007 and was the first decrease for South L.A. in over a decade. [Read more…]

Walmart renovation aims to bring affordable produce to Crenshaw

Listen to an audio story from Annenberg Radio News

The Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza Walmart celebrated a 5-month-long renovation this morning with a ribbon cutting, messages from community leaders and special reopening-day deals.

Clad in Walmart-blue uniforms more than 100 Walmart employees heard from company executives and community leaders.

“When the Walmart organization selected Baldwin Hills and the Crenshaw area as a location for its store,” said Bishop Charles E. Blake of the West Angeles Church in Crenshaw. “It was a significant turning point for our community an a significant investment.”

Walmart continued its legacy of investing in the community with a $50,000 grant given to Friends of the Expo Center — a nonprofit that serves the Exposition Park community.

The renovation included a new produce section, a sewing and crafts department, home furnishings and a redesigned floor plan for more convenient shopping. It’s part of a larger remodel of the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza. Capri Urban Baldwin, the company that manages the mall, has invested more than $35 million to transform the plaza.

The project has paid for a myriad of projects including new restaurants, such as Post and Beam, the new Rave Cinemas movie theater, a new children’s play area and family restrooms.

One of the most significant changes to the Walmart is the addition of a fresh produce section that community leaders said will lead to better health and longevity in the community. The area lacks adequate access to fresh fruits and vegetables, according to the CDC.

Shopper Teresa Worrell said the Walmart will help her get healthy food to feed her daughter, who attends elementary school in the area. “We had limited fruits in the store for years in Walmart,” said Teresa Worrell, a Crenshaw resident who was shopping for yogurt and milk in the new dairy section. “This is very, very helpful you know financial and health-wise.” image

“We are excited to welcome our neighbors and community members back to our newly remodeled store,” said store manager Synetria Peterson. “It will be a brand new shopping experience for the community, and one we are thrilled about. We look forward to serving our customers by focusing on what is important to them.”

But not everyone believes in Walmart’s mission. Several groups have protested Walmart’s presence in Crenshaw. “Walmart is anti-union, it pays low wages, in fact it doesn’t even pay living wages,” said Najee Ali, the founder of Project Islamic H.O.P.E. “And certainly Walmart employees can’t afford to buy into medical or dental insurance.”

Similarly, numerous groups are fighting a Walmart that is going to be built in Chinatown. “What we call mom and pop businesses are essentially put out of business because the Walmart prices are lower than the smaller businesses in the community,” Ali said.

But Councilman Bernard Parks, who attended the ribbon cutting ceremony, said that type of thinking is flawed. “The grocery industry has not invested in our community,” Parks said. “The mom
and pop stores cannot carry the burden of the needs in the community and if you look at the crowd here today they look like the community.”

imageLocal business owners weren’t as concerned about the Walmart as they were with the fact that people just aren’t buying groceries as much as they are eating out.

The Walmart, which opened in 2003, was one of the first businesses to open in the Crenshaw district after the 1992 LA Riots that devastated the area. Parks credits the store for major economic development. “They stepped in and hired locally from the community,” Parks said. “They also stepped in and began to be a part of the community because of their investment in the community.”

Walmart workers rally in South L.A.

imageListen to the audio story from Annenberg Radio News:

Dan Hindman has an anniversary this week – with Walmart.

“I’ve worked at Walmart… on the 17th, that’s three years,” he said. To support his son and put himself through school, “I do a little of everything. I do a little LP sometimes, I work electronics, I play management at times… I do it all, dude.”

But despite all this history, he’s not happy about the stores springing up in Los Angeles.

“I don’t live around Chinatown, but if I did, I would tell them definitely not to open up,” Hindman said. “Because I feel if you’re going to open up, you’ve got to treat your people correctly. Walmart doesn’t. Things they promise, they don’t follow through with it. I’ve been promised interviews with different departments. I haven’t seen an interview yet.”

Hindman and about a hundred other Walmart workers met in Los Angeles this week at a national Making Change at Walmart conference. There, they put together a list of demands to present at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza Walmart today.

The protesters say their schedules are irregular and they’re not earning as much as Walmart promised. They’re disrespected at work. They want higher wages, guaranteed health insurance and Walmart’s promise that it will invest profits in communities.

But Michael Jones, CEO of the Crenshaw Chamber of Commerce, says that’s what Walmart already does in South L.A. When the store opened about a decade ago, it created more than 500 jobs, most of which went to residents.

“That had a tremendous, tremendous impact. Before that, there were people that were out of work, and they made it happen,” Jones said. “I understand people will talk about unfair wages and things like that, but compared to what? If someone is unemployed, and they’re getting paid even minimum wage, is that an unfair wage? We’ve had a tough, tough economy. People can have some dignity .”

In a statement released today, Walmart said they do offer competitive pay and affordable benefits.

But the workers leaving the conference in L.A. today plan to air their grievances at Walmarts all over the country.

BHCP Live! Looking Forward to Summer

By Tiffany Taylor

imageSummer may still be a few months away, but plans are already underway to continue a free concert series in Baldwin Hills, part of an ongoing effort to nurture community redevelopment in the area.

The Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza’s BHCP Live! Concert series is looking forward to its third year as a free concert series featuring A-level artists. The success of last year’s concert series has organizers and community members excited about gaining momentum this coming summer.

“One of the good things about the concert series is that it’s grown really well through word of mouth,” said Jason Lombard, the Community Outreach Director for the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza. “In the first few concerts there were a couple hundred people.”

The highest attendance at any concert in the series in 2011 was that of R&B singer Stephanie Mills, with around 4,500 people filling the promenade space at the plaza in front of the Rave Movie Theater.

imageMills was the favorite of Robert Cole, President of the Baldwin Hills Estates Homeowner Association, who attended three of the series’ four concerts last summer.

“The turn out for Stephanie Mills was phenomenal. People were hanging in the parking lot and looking over the balcony,” Cole said. “I was surprised because there wasn’t a lot of publicity but somehow people heard about it and they turned out.”

“I like to say that I hear the grass roots comments, and we went from conversations at the beginning about the redevelopment and what was going to happen starting out with a lot of doubt,” Lombard said. “I think that comes from things that have been over-promised and under-delivered.”

As the Community Outreach Director, Lombard’s mission is to spread the word about the remodeling of the plaza and upcoming events. He does so by attending meetings of community organizations and homeowners associations.

“It went from me attending community meetings and people not being familiar with the concert series asking normal questions, but then it turned to at least one person in each meeting saying that I went to the last concert and telling others to be sure that they go,” Lombard said.

imageThe concert series aims to showcase the renovations and changes going on at the plaza to the community, as well as provide entertainment and bring the community together.

“It’s an opportunity for people to see artists for free within walking distance of their homes that they wouldn’t normally be able to see,” Lombard said, “It’s a great opportunity, not only for people to meet their neighbors, but to meet people that they otherwise would not have and just be able to come down and enjoy the plaza and see the great things that are happening.”

With two successful concert series under their belt, the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza is starting to ready themselves for this summer’s concert series. While they have not yet begun reaching out to artists, some artists are already reaching out to them.

“There are a lot of artist management teams that are talking about it,” Lombard said, “It’s been interesting to see, we actually went from having to reach out to artists to having them come to us and say, ‘Hey, we heard you guys are doing some great things and we’d love to be considered for this series.’ I think that speaks for the success of the series.”

In the meantime, the plaza has been hosting other events. Rave Cinemas recently hosted the 20th Annual Pan African Film Festival at the plaza.

“We are planning an event that will celebrate the mall’s transformation and welcome those highly anticipated retailers expected to open this year. We are also planning events geared towards our Spanish-speaking customers this year, in addition to our steadfast events such as BHCP Live concerts,” said Cheryl Roberts, Marketing Director of the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza.

The Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza looks forward to continuing to grow in 2012. Events such as the 20121 BHCP Live! Concert series will only help the plaza gain more community support.

“There’s a lot of things that are going on and there’s a lot of things have happened already and we have more to come,” Lombard said.

For more information, including upcoming events, click here.

Susan G. Komen spreads awareness with a new store in Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza

By Samantha Katzman

imageBack in October, the Susan G. Komen Brest Cancer Foundation opened one of its temporary PINK stores opened in the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza. The store was only meant to stay open for about a month. But now, as March begins, the store is still there. The community response to the shop, which offers free breast cancer screenings and other health services, was so strong that the store is now open permanently.

PINK’s success is a point of pride for DaJuan Wilson, who has managed the shop since it opened. Wilson has seen the impact that a store like this can have in a community like Crenshaw.

“[We want] to bring awareness to the community,” he said, “to give information, which is awareness, products and support.”

“We saw the good that it did,” Wilson said about the decision to stay. “There’s a lot of people who were unaware and there’s a lot of people who needed the services that we have.”

Oliver Guillen, the mall manager, agreed. “It was so well received, and the owners of the mall feel that it is such a great service, especially in the area that we’re in,” Guillen said.

The store provides mammogram screening to uninsured women over 40 years old. Wilson knows there is a lack of information given to people in low-income minority areas like Crenshaw, and his role gives him the means to educate the community.

The center provides screenings every Saturday for three hours in the afternoon. It has seen hundreds of women who have filled up their appointment slots. The screening results are sent by mail to the homes of the clients, and their information is kept completely confidential. Some women, Wilson said, have come in thanking them for the screening. The store reaches groups of people who may otherwise not receive these tests.

image“Black and Hispanic communities are really affected with certain things like diabetes and cancer so on and so forth,” Guillen said. “They have limited resources available to them to be able to really diagnose, treat, and ask questions even.” It’s important to keep PINK open to give area residents who are without healthcare, or struggling financially, time to find their way to it and the services it offers, he said.

“I know a lot of ladies on welfare that could use this service,” said local resident and mall regular Dolores Powell.

Wilson makes sure everyone who enters to shop is made aware of the range of services PINK offers.

Wilson might not appear the most likely advocate for women’s health. He is a personal trainer, and stands over six feet tall with a strong, muscular build and kind eyes. A mobile training program takes him from his home in Crenshaw to the far-flung corners of Los Angeles. He says he has constant interactions with every stripe of resident throughout the city, which has heightened his awareness to the need for a proactive approach to breast cancer — which crosses every racial and economic line.

His passion for health and for keeping women informed about their well-being is only part of the reason he is so passionate about Susan G. Komen and the cause.

“My auntie and grandmother both had breast cancer,” he said. The late detection of their illnesses and their untimely deaths is a driving force behind his commitment to getting women screened for breast cancer early and often.

Wilson is inspired by the positive feedback the store immediately gained.

“There are still a lot of people that don’t know about this store,” Wilson said, “so we are trying to reach out to people who don’t know.”

The commitment of PINK to remain in the mall indefinitely is crucial to its impact, he said, as many residents have yet to discover it.

“I didn’t even know that store was there,” said Dolores Powell, “But it will definitely help the community.”

New owners give Magic Johnson Theaters a $12 million facelift

imageMore than 200 guests gathered at Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza for the grand opening of a multi-million dollar new movie theater, replacing the former Magic Johnson Theater that closed last year.

The new theater, Rave Cinemas 15, is part of a $30 million renovation project to boost economic growth in and around the shopping center. The new operators plan to continue Johnson’s vision of economic development with high-quality facilities and local hiring practices. Councilmen Bernard C. Parks and Herb Wesson and actor Chris Tucker were in among the grand opening’s audience.

The yearlong renovation project employed approximately 800 construction workers. More than 1,000 people had attended a theater-sponsored job fair in May. Of the 100 theater employees hired, 80 are students from Crenshaw High School and Susan Miller Dorsey High School, and six of the 10 managers live nearby.

“It’s a local crew, especially in an area where many people may not have grown up with a localized theater,” said Jeremy Devine, vice president of marketing for Rave Motion Pictures. “Families like to go to the closest theater.”


The theater’s $12 million upgrade includes seven 3D screens, stadium seating and digital projection, and Devine suggested that the new facilities open the possibility to host future events such as the World Cup in 3D and the Pan-African Film Festival. For now, the theater is offering a free medium-sized popcorn to guests who attend a movie before July 4.

In addition to a thriving movie-going crowd, the company behind the project hopes to attract interest surrounding the theater and shopping center as well.

“This project is the anchor to the area in this corridor,” said Ken Lombard, president of Capri Urban Investors, which owns the mall. “As we’re able to take it up to a new level, tenants will begin to have a different attitude toward coming in and actually being part of this neighborhood.”


The company has been reaching out to local business owners, such as Big Man Bakes, a gourmet cupcake shop in downtown that has been featured on the Food Network’s “Throwdown! with Bobby Flay”.

“If we decide to be a part of this, it would be probably one of the first gourmet cupcake stores in an urban area like this,” said company founder and CEO William “Chip” Brown, who is in early talks with Capri to potentially bring his business into the shopping mall, which will begin major construction during July.

“I think what they’re doing here is obviously an economic stimulus, but it’s also making people feel like their neighborhood is valued,” Brown said.

Development for the mall is slated to include such retailers as Wal-Mart and Staples with an opening date in early 2012.

Photos by Lisa Rau
(Grand Opening of Rave Cinemas 15, dance performance by Debbie Allen Dance Academy)

Local organization continues its search for the next entrepreneur star

Listen to an audio story by Annenberg Radio News:


image Three small business hopefuls faced the last round in a competition Thursday to jump-start their businesses. The Los Angeles Urban League and Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza have teamed up to give away a six-month kiosk lease to the winner.

Blair Taylor is the president of Los Angeles Urban League. He judged the contestants.

“I’m really looking for entrepreneurs who’ve done their homework and understand a little about the market – a little bit about the dynamics of the market – and are thinking for the long term about how their business might survive over multiple years opposed to just the immediate launch,” Taylor said.

Think of the contest like American Idol, but without the reality television. It’s fierce, but Barbara Lawson, who is selling hand-painted glassware in the competition, said all the contestants have developed a bond.

“It’s really not about necessarily who wins because obviously for the top three to get there they have a viable product, a viable business, and everyone is going to do great,” Lawson said.

Ronald Jackson, another contestant, has hand crafted jewelry for 17 years. He hopes this will be his ticket to success.

“It’s been interesting, and it’s harder when you see so many people with so many great ideas,” Jackson said. “So it’s been challenging because they’re cool people, but at the same time, I have to keep my focus on me.”

They’ve all come a long way. Originally, 60 people signed up for the opportunity. Today, just three remain. The winner will be announced at a dinner held in early April.