Yo, Brother: Teach me to be Black

A powerful book and a community of elders help a

young man to learn “how to be Black so I could live.”


The author with his mother around 2000, the year he discovered "Yo, Little Brother" | Courtesy Christian Brown

The author with his mother around 2000, the year he discovered “Yo, Little Brother” | Courtesy Christian Brown

Last Saturday, Oct. 25, 600 Black boys and men congregated on the University of Southern California’s campus to learn survival techniques from Omega Psi Phi, a fraternity that originated in 1911. Among them was Christian Brown, who credits the group with providing him with the tools so he could grow up to be a professional Black man in Los Angeles, and in particular exposing him to a book he received from one of Omega’s elders called “Yo, Little Brother.”

I was halfway through my jog around my suburban Los Angeles neighborhood when a White police officer stopped me.

“Hey! Do you live around here?” he demanded.

I was angry with the police officer, but also wondered if some of the blame was mine. I had forgotten the 145-page book that taught me how to be Black so I could live. One of the key lessons: I should never run at night. [Read more…]

First-person: “Dreaming Sin Fronteras” showcases search for identity


Certain themes struck a chord for me in “Dreaming Sin Fronteras” (Dreaming Without Borders), a performance last week at the University of Southern California’s Bovard Auditorium. These stories conjured the struggles and complexity of being an undocumented immigrant growing up in the United States, and the search for identity in an adopted country that rejects us because of our status. Some of the individual stories resonated more than others, but I made a rooted connection with the idea of having to assimilate, being uncertain about whether I could attend college and the transformation from powerlessness to empowerment when I went from being a member of a disenfranchised group to becoming an activist on behalf of immigrants.

The character named Gabe, played by local actor Jose Julian, reminded me of my privilege benefiting from policies like AB-540, a law that has helped me pay in-state tuition; Deferred Action for Early Childhood Arrival (DACA), which grants me temporary legal status; and the California DREAM Act, a law that is helping me pay for college. Because he is from a different generation, Gabe did not grow up with all these benefits and a college education to him seems like an impossible dream. But these limitations do not define Gabe. [Read more…]

South LA voices and views at USC

Intersections has offered a platform to extend USC’s Visions and Voices three-part series examining community building in and around USC and South Los Angeles. The events focus on movements and organizations that are responding to the disparities and injustices that structure life in South LA. Their daily leadership, sacrifice and creativity helps bind South L.A., catalyzing progressive and sustained neighborhood change. In light of USC’s recent expansion and potential impact on our neighbors, it is crucial that we take stock of the university’s role in the civic and community life beyond our walls, and understand the significant work, service and fellowship already being cultivated by community members and institutions.

This online space allows for continued sharing and conversation on these topics. [Read more…]

#TBT South LA: The Shrine Auditorium

The Shrine Auditorium in the 1920s | LA Public Library

The Shrine Auditorium in the 1920s | LA Public Library

Even as University of Southern California students bike past the Shrine Auditorium and Angelenos attend the venue for its frequent raves and award shows, many are not aware of the long history of this distinctive building.

The Shrine Auditorium was first built in its location off of Jefferson and Figueroa in 1906 as a civic center. The Al Malaikah Shriners, a fraternal organization founded in 1871 that contributes to the community with hospitals and other charities, intended the auditorium to be used as a temple and meeting place for the organization. [Read more…]

South LA voices with South LA views, Thursday at USC

visions of south la pic

To some students, the University of Southern California may seem like a world unto itself. Yet the school is also just one piece of the South Los Angeles community, a role worth examining as USC launches development projects like the new University Village.

The panel discussion “Voices of South L.A: Civic Action and Community Voice” happening Thursday Oct. 9 at 6 p.m. in the Annenberg Auditorium (ASC room G26) aims to delve into conversation on various efforts by the university and other groups to address disparities and injustices in South L.A. (Tickets are sold out, but you can get on the waitlist.) The event, hosted by the Visions and Voices program, will bring together community organizers, residents, journalists and scholars to discuss views on South L.A.  Intersections spoke with event organizer Alison Trope, a professor in USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, about what attendees can expect from the event.

[Read more…]

New USC Village breaks ground

Community members, student leaders, trustees and local politicians break ground with USC president Max Nikias. | Phoenix Tso/Neon Tommy

Community members, student leaders, trustees and local politicians break ground with USC president Max Nikias. | Phoenix Tso/Neon Tommy

Nearly 950 members of the USC community gathered Monday morning in 90-degree weather to celebrate the groundbreaking of the new USC Village, a project that aims to raise USC’s reputation around the world.

“There will be no one to catch up to,” said USC president C.L. Max Nikias about the appeal of specific project features to incoming students. These features include the 2700 beds to be added by 2017, and the retail space that will open up and about the McCarthy Honors College, which Trustee Kathleen Leavey McCarthy donated $30 million to build for incoming merit scholarship students. “Everyone will want to go where the action is.”

In the days leading up to the groundbreaking, admissions officials were excitedly anticipating how to market these features to next year’s freshmen. During the ceremony, President Nikias spoke of how USC was committed to transforming from a commuter university to a residential one, like “other preeminent universities.”

“This is special for us,” said Timothy Brunold, USC Dean of Admissions, in a phone interview in the days leading up to the groundbreaking. “The students we’re currently recruiting will be able to use it.”  [Read more…]

40 years for four shots

Brandon Spencer is paying a 40-year price for four shots that killed no one

By Olga Grigoryants and Daina Beth Solomon

brandon-spencerLike any proud father, James Spencer is eager to show off photos of his son.

Seated at a desk in his Inglewood apartment on a recent Friday evening, the 59-year-old shuffled legal documents, news clippings and letters until he unearthed a photo of a young man wearing a white dress shirt and a black tie — Brandon Spencer at age 18, suited up for work as a security guard.

Now the younger Spencer wears a different uniform. He has recently begun serving a 40 year prison term for opening fire at a Halloween party two years ago at the University of Southern California. 

When neighbors, friends and family heard that Spencer had been charged with four counts of attempted murder, many reacted with disbelief. They thought: “Nah, it can’t be Brandon.”
[Read more…]

USC grad student murder leads to four arrests + Frank Gehry design coming to South LA

Commander Andrew Smith and others discuss the four arrests made in the killing of a USC student. | Daina Beth Solomon

Commander Andrew Smith and others discuss the four arrests made in the killing of a USC student. | Daina Beth Solomon

Reuters: The case of a Chinese graduate student at USC who was beaten to death has lead to the arrests of four suspects.

SF Bay View: The Leimert Park Village Book Fair will be coming back for its eighth year.

LA Times: Famed architect Frank Gehry has signed on to design a community center, just half a block north of the Watts Towers.

KCET: Restaurateur Brad Johnson brings his Post and Beam restaurant to Crenshaw.

NPR: Crime writer Rachel Hall sets her new book and protagonist in South L.A.

South LA krump dancer, LAUSD teacher jail + Watts Girl Scouts

Krump dancer Krucial from the documentary "Stand" | facebook.com/standmovie

Krump dancer Krucial from the documentary “Stand” | facebook.com/standmovie

USC News: A South LA krump dancer (and USC student) has her story told in a documentary called “Stand.”

The Nation: Crenshaw High choir teacher Iris Stevenson doesn’t belong in the “gulag of administrative detention known as ‘teacher jail.’

LA Times: Two years ago the LAPD, city housing authority and Grape Street Elementary School teamed up to create a Watts Girl Scout troop, which now counts close to 80 cookie-selling members.

RH Reality Check: A woman from South L.A. remembers her family feeling “shamed” for receiving welfare aid, and advocates for repealing the Maximum Family Grant.

USC News: Nelson Mandela appeared at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in 1990; now a commemorative plaque at the Court of Honor bears his name.

KPCC: Michelle Obama’s “Turnaround Arts” program will be offered at 10 of California’s lowest-performing schools, including Warren Lane Elementary in Inglewood and Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary in Compton.

USC student tells of racial profiling in South LA

Tobi Oduguwa looks out onto the street where he said he experienced racial profiling in the area near USC. | Lensa Bogale

Tobi Oduguwa looks out onto the street where he said he experienced racial profiling in the area near USC. | Lensa Bogale

Tobi Oduguwa is a University of Southern California junior double-majoring in computer science and physics. But as a black man two inches over six-feet-tall, he gets asked what position he plays on basketball team more often than his major. The question comes up so often that he has given himself his own, unofficial basketball number.

“If you hear about a point-guard named number six, that’s actually me,” said Oduguwa.

But the assumptions aren’t always so harmless.

Oduguwa learned the hard way when officers from the USC Department of Public Safety stopped him one night outside of his apartment and, without explanation, asked to see his ID.

After being question, Oduguwa realized that he was suspected of choking a young woman in the building across from his own. It wasn’t until a friend vouched for Oduguwa that he was finally released. [Read more…]