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Riders Reclaim Central Ave. for Bikes for a Few Happy Hours

Members of the World Riders proudly roll up Central. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

For much of the time that I lived in Sevilla, Spain, I lived adjacent to the surprisingly still-formidable walls that once surrounded the old city and were constructed (for the second time) in the 11th century.

History was everywhere you looked, often making the connection between past and present seamless. Because so many of the festivals revolve around tradition and take place in the historic spaces, regardless of whether you felt reassured or oppressed by history and tradition, you were always conscious of where you were and who had gone before you.

In L.A., the transient nature of people and constant turnover or transformation of structures means that tapping into that past is often much more of a challenge.

It doesn’t help that some of our historic corridors, like Central Ave., have fallen into disrepair or are overshadowed by negative stereotypes and/or characterizations of present-day problems. The wariness of visitors to explore Watts, for example, means that most are unaware that the Watts Labor Community Action Committee (WLCAC), located at 108th and Central, is home to a wonderful civil rights museum that houses a recreation of a ship’s slave hold, a Mississippi Delta scene from the Reconstruction Era, and rooms with more modern artifacts, including a jail cell, “Whites Only” signage, a diner counter, photographs, sculptures, and blackface/minstrel memorabilia.

Other sites have taken on a new life that offers few clues to the past. The Lincoln Theater (located at 23rd and Central), a historical monument and once a key venue for African-American entertainment, like many spaces along Central, has since been converted into a Latino church. The boisterous preaching and song that filter out through the doors of what is now Iglesia Jesucristo de Judá on Sunday mornings bear little resemblance to the soundscapes jazz greats created in the past. The Dunbar (at 42nd and Central), also a important historical site in jazz and African-American history, has recently been converted into senior housing. While the interior has been gorgeously remodeled and stocked with memorabilia from the era, the absence of a musical venue open to the public means the burden of conjuring the glory of the past falls largely on the observer. Or, on engaging with local residents who have roots in the area, a number of whom are still around.

The fact that you must scavenger hunt for history is also part of what makes events like Sunday’s bike ride along Central from Watts to Little Tokyo so special.

Riders take a lunch break at a park across the street from the Dunbar Hotel. Photo: John Jones III, East Side Riders BC

The ride was part of the Experience Central Avenue campaign, a collaborative effort by TRUST South L.A., Community Health Councils (CHC), and the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition (LACBC), to engage communities on the future of Central Ave. Given that the LADOT will be implementing bike and pedestrian improvements along that corridor over the next few years, now is the perfect time to revisit the physical and social history of the area while looking for ways to both celebrate that past and make the area more accessible for all.

The partnership between these organizations, whose constituent bases reside both north and south of the 10 freeway, meant that there were a lot of new faces in the crowd on Sunday. In fact, I was pleasantly stunned to see such a diverse crowd rolling at least 80 deep towards me when I met the riders around Central and Manchester. South L.A. staples, the United Riders of South L.A.,  were out in force and were joined by the World Riders (a newer group based near USC), Shuntain Thomas and family (who organize the Peace, Love, and Family ride), and some residents from along Central who had learned about the ride at CicLAvia. The participation of the LACBC enticed students from the planning school at UCLA and other members and supporters, many of whom had not visited the area previously.

The history lessons Andres Ramirez (from CHC) offered at each stop gave many new insights into the area. Read more…

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Art, Food Justice, and Bike Rides Make South L.A. the Place to be this Weekend

One of the really fun things about tracking South L.A. as intimately as I have over the past couple of years is seeing how the area is transforming itself, both as a site of innovation in community organizing and as a destination for arts and fun. This weekend’s events offer a perfect example of what I mean.

Community Coalition hosts the first annual South L.A. artwalk in Westmont this weekend.

OK, well maybe not today’s event, which is a webcast of a Center for Science and Democracy discussion on the state of the science around hydraulic fracturing and the state and federal policy landscape. It doesn’t exactly scream “fun” and “exciting.” But, it may offer you the information you need to help you think about your stance on fracking in the Inglewood Oil Field, otherwise known as our own backyard. For more information on the conference and webcast, please click here starting at 2 p.m.

Also decidedly less “fun” and “exciting” but no less valuable is the Quarterly Meeting of the Crenshaw/LAX Transit Corridor Project Community Leadership Council (CLC) tonight, Thursday July 25th, from 6 – 8 p.m. at the First Church of God at 9550 Crenshaw Blvd. in Inglewood. They will be discussing Metro updates on the Design-Build Contract Award, Project Labor Agreement/Construction Careers Policy, Construction Relations, and reports from both the Business Sustainability During Construction and Economic Development Project-Oriented Discussions. CLC Quarterly Meetings are open to the public.

The rest of the weekend will be fun, though, I promise. Two artwalks? Two bike rides? A food justice extravaganza? And one of the most important jazz festivals in the country? It’s all here and it’s all FREE. Read more…

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After the Fireworks, There is Still Fun to Be Had on Bikes This Weekend

Last July, the Peace, Love and Family ride took a couple hundred riders on a tour through some of the major corridors of South L.A. before returning to a festival at Manchester and Vermont to show people that the streets could be sites for recreation.

The ride was a lot of fun, both for those riding and those that came out to watch the spectacle (see photos here).

On Saturday, July 6, cyclists will again take to the streets, this time, organizer Shuntain Thomas hopes, in even greater numbers.

Launching from Exposition Park around 10:30 a.m. (arrive between 9:30 and 10:30 to register, check your bike, and meet other riders), the group will ride down Vermont to riders can either do the entire 10-mile route or join the ride at spots along the way. Riders can wait for the group at Vermont and Gage (between 10:45 and 11 a.m.) or at the festival site, at Manchester (around 11:30 a.m.).

The ride will continue down Vermont to El Segundo Blvd., head west to Figueroa, and travel north on Figueroa to Manchester, before returning to the site of the fair at Manchester and Vermont.

The free fair will be hosted by Fox 11 Good Day LA Morning Show Personality Mar Yvette and KJLH evening radio personality Kevin Nash and will offer healthy food, live music, health screenings, games, and bike and gear giveaways. Performances from the main stage will begin at 1 p.m. and include music from Jeffrey Coprich & The LA Inner City Mass Choir, Amillion Cash, Flipnotes, Jules Starr, Nysa Shenay, MADAM, and other guests.

The fair, organizers believe, will provide an opportunity for Los Angeles residents to come together and learn how healthy living can be easy and fun through bike riding and simple lifestyle changes.

If you’d just like to visit the fair, head to 8619 South Vermont Ave. Performances and other activities will begin at 1 and run til 5:30 p.m.

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City Lites’ Sports and Wellness Fair Brings Out Families for Health and Fun

A young girl tries to get close to the bubble machine at the City Lites Inner City Sports and Wellness Fair. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

I was excited to be able to attend the 10th Annual City Lites Inner City Sports and Wellness Fair this year. I had sat in on a few of the monthly event-planning meetings held in the run-up to last year’s fair and had been impressed by the number of services City Lites was able to bring together and the dedication of organizers and volunteers to creating a healthy and fun environment for kids and their parents. I also applaud the effort to  make healthy activities — including a bike and walking tour — an integral part of the festivities.

I couldn’t be at the start of the 23-mile bike tour of South L.A. this year because of another event early that morning, so I figured I would wait for the riders to arrive at Jesse Owens park — the last pit stop before returning to Earvin “Magic” Johnson Park, the site of this year’s fair.

I arrived around 10:45, having just missed the group undertaking the 5-mile walk, according to one of the park workers. I did, however, catch a lone Real Ryda waiting for the rest of the cycling group to arrive. The chain on his low-rider had broken as they were leaving the parking lot, he said, and he didn’t have an extra link with him. So, he was stuck waiting for the group to come back to the park.

I think we were both glad for the company — it would be more than two hours until the bike riders finally rolled up to the park.

Among the many things we discussed during that time was his frustration at regularly being stopped by law enforcement while riding his low-rider.

He had been building and riding low-riders since he was a pre-teen and owned several. Because run-ins with the police and sheriffs had been such a constant for him as an African-American male, he said, he had registered all but the bike he had with him on Saturday. Given that the pretense under which he was frequently stopped was bike theft, registering them meant he could no longer be accused of having stolen his own bicycles.

It didn’t stop officers from ticketing him, however, he said. Read more…

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Fight Fracking (today!), See the City Lites, Take a Nature Tour, and Play Kickball

Flyer for the bike tour of Willowbrook hosted by the United Riders of South L.A. on Sunday

As an NPR junkie, I have long been aware that the natural gas industry has been a sponsor of their programming for several years.

But I nearly spit my coffee out last week when I heard a brief spot extolling the virtues of having the gas industry drilling in one’s backyard.

Here in L.A., the drilling in our collective backyard, the Baldwin Hills area of the Inglewood Oil Field, has not been without controversy or consequences.

Today, organizations, public health professionals, farmers, and residents living near drilling operations will gather at noon outside Governor Brown’s Los Angeles office (300 S. Spring Street) with Gasland filmmaker Josh Fox to protest the practice. The protest will also mark the launch of Californians Against Fracking, a statewide coalition working to ban fracking in favor of protecting California’s air, water, wildlife, climate and public health. Fox will speak at the rally as his new fracking exposé, Gasland Part II, screens across the state, and participate in delivering a petition with 100,000 signatures to the governor’s office.

Member organizations of Californians Against Fracking include Food & Water Watch; the Center for Biological Diversity; Environment California; CREDO; Democracy for America; the California Nurses Association; Breast Cancer Action; the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment; Citizens Coalition for a Safe Community; Family Farm Defenders; and AFSCME Council 57.

Join in the march at 12 p.m., today, at 300 S. Spring St.

For details on screenings of the film, visit http://fwwat.ch/CAFGasland.

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Saturday, check out the City Lites Inner City Sports and Health Fair. Read more…

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TONIGHT: the Crenshaw Line, Fracking, and Bike Ambassador Meetings! And Much, Much More

Drum Circle at Leimert Park Artwalk (photo: sahra)

TONIGHT! The Crenshaw Line, Neighborhood Bike Ambassadors, and Fracking — way too much fun for one person to handle!

Interested in seeing bike lanes come to your favorite street? Want to help educate the community about why they should ride and how to ride safely? Would you like to connect with other people in the community that care about making the area safer and more bike-friendly? Join the South L.A. Neighborhood Bike Ambassadors tonight at 6 pm at 8475 South Vermont Avenue (the Council District 8 Constituent Service Center). Need more convincing? Check out this article about a previous meeting with city planning staff.

Want to learn the latest on the Crenshaw Line and take a virtual tour of the LAX Transit Corridor Project? Hear more about the construction schedule, the work of the CLC’s Transit Safety discussion group or  the Project Labor Agreement and Construction Careers Policy? Then join neighbors, local business owners, and community leaders for the Quarterly Meeting of the Metro Crenshaw/LAX Transit Corridor Project Community Leadership Council (CLC) tonight, between 6 and 8 pm at the First Church of God, 9550 Crenshaw Boulevard, Inglewood, CA 90305. Meetings are open to the public and they are invited to speak on agenda items discussed during the meeting. To RSVP or find out more, please contact Donald Taylor, CLC Lead Consultant, by phone at (310) 308-2136 or via email at oscompdt@aol.com.

Finally, on tap tonight: Fracking. The Community Advisory Panel (CAP), established to foster productive communication between the community, the County, and PXP (the corporation drilling and fracking in the Inglewood Oilfield), meets on the fourth Thursday of every month at the Kenneth Hahn Recreational Area Community Center, located about a mile inside the park from the 4100 S. La Cienega Blvd. entrance. Tonight’s meeting will run from 7 – 9 pm. Members of the public are welcome to attend. If you have some free time on your hands and would like to immerse yourself in the issue, please visit their documents page to catch up on the latest regarding health surveys, noise complaints, drilling plans, and responses to public comments.

ONGOING (but starting today is recommended): What would you ask the mayoral candidates? Read more…

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MLK Weekend Offers Much Ado About Awesome Things to Do

The route for the parade honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

There is much going on this weekend in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr., so do yourself a favor and get yourself to South L.A. at some point.

Tonight, Mercado la Paloma hosts an art opening from 7 – 9 p.m. as part of their larger Cultural Continuum series. The Common Ground II Art Exhibition, curated by California African American Museum, is a photo-centric installation that will explore the artistic, culinary, and cultural dynamics of African- and Latin-Americans in Los Angeles. The event serves as a kick-off for screenings of “The L.A. Rebellion” films on Monday (see below). Mercado la Paloma is located at 3655 S. Grand Ave.

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Bright and early on Saturday morning (NOT Monday this year) stake out a spot along the MLK parade route. This historic parade will begin at King and Western at 10:15 a.m., move west along King and turn left at Crenshaw, turn right on Vernon and pass through the heart of Leimert Park, and end up back at Western.

Prizes will be awarded to parade participants in the categories of Marching, Dance, Portable Music, Auto, and VIP convertible.

Black Kids on Bikes will also be riding in the parade as their own moving float — something that has become surprisingly popular with parade-goers. After a successful first ride two years ago, co-founder Jeremy Swift says, they arrived at the start point last year to find a man on a cruiser in a wonderfully tailored bright pink suit and hat waiting to ride with them. Don’t believe me? Click here for photographic evidence.

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Even brighter and earlier Saturday morning is the 21st annual Empowerment Congress, being held in Bovard Auditorium at USC. Founded in 1992, the Empowerment Congress is intended to generate dynamic partnerships among neighborhood groups, residents, nonprofit organizations, businesses, religious institutions, and community leaders. This year, break-out workshops will address issues such as gun violence, civic engagement and government 101, accountability in law enforcement, coalition building, and building healthy communities.

Perhaps, most importantly, the Summit will host a forum with mayoral candidates Eric Garcetti, Jan Perry, Wendy Gruel, Kevin James, and Emanuel Pleitez. The forum will kick off the event at 9 a.m.; the Summit will conclude at 1 p.m. For the first time in its history, it also will be live-streamed. So, if you can’t make the event but are interested in following the discussion, you are invited to watch the event in real time at: http://ridley-thomas.lacounty.gov/index.php/ec-live-stream/.

Online registration is now closed, but you may register in person at the door beginning at 8 a.m. Registration is free. Click here for a campus map and directions.

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Monday offers you opportunities for service, learning, and celebration.

Community Coalition will host an inaugural viewing party from 8 – 11 a.m. at their site, 8101 S. Vermont Ave. I spent election night with them in November and can attest that they are not only inspiring activists in their community, but loads of fun to celebrate with.

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Per usual, East Side Riders will spend MLK Day in the spirit that Dr. King intended — performing service. They will be cleaning up a small park at 96th and Central, first, and then moving to a stretch of Imperial and Wilmington. If you’d like to have more details or donate to the cause, contact John Jones via www.eastsideriders.org or click here.

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Finally, Mercado la Paloma will be holding screenings from of “Selma, Lord Selma” and “Citizen King” between 4 and 8 p.m. The films are part of the L.A. Rebellion series and were created by African American artists that were part of the “Ethno-Communications” initiative at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, a program designed to be responsive to communities of color in the wake of the Watts Riots and the Civil Rights Movement. “Selma, Lord, Selma” chronicles the events of Bloody Sunday through the perspective of a young girl while Citizen King explores the last five years of Dr. King’s life. Mercado la Paloma is located at 3655 S. Grand Ave.

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Democracy is Much More than Voting. Sometimes it Involves Bikes. And Gardening.

Voting is great and all, but it is only one part of democracy.

Democracy works better when people take an active role in making their communities better year round. That theme of service was more actively promoted after the election in 2008, when Obama asked people to channel their enthusiasm and energy into community service. But, somewhere in the wake of the financial meltdown, that national spirit of commitment seemed to lose some momentum and fizzle out of the spotlight.

That’s certainly much less true among our readership, but I’m guessing you all know neighbors and friends who could use a little community engagement in their lives. If you’d like to capitalize on the excitement generated by the election and turn that into action, this is your week. Grab an apathetic friend or neighbor and teach them the wise ways of community engagement by dragging them to one or more of these South LA events:

SEED: A Weird Act of Faith (ongoing)

Experience the second play in Cornerstone Theater Company’s Hunger Cycle. The play weaves a fantastical tale that travels between an urban farm, a rural haven, and the contested space of agribusiness. SEED takes its inspiration from activists within South Los Angeles who have been fighting for sustainable and healthful food choices for their communities. SEED follows a neighborhood whose struggle for survival depends upon the success of their urban farm. Many of the shows are linked to opportunities for engagement or discussion with community members about the issues raised in the play, so please check the schedule.

If you aren’t familiar with Cornerstone Theater Company, they are a multi-ethnic, ensemble-based theater company that commissions and produces plays that are the result of intense collaborations between artists and community members. Their approach has generated unique and memorable works, such as Day Laborer Theater Without Borders, that not only educate audiences about challenges faced by those on the margins, but empowers the subjects of the work to tell and use their own stories for catharsis. The Hunger Cycle will be comprised of nine world premiere plays exploring people’s relationship to the most elemental of needs – hunger — through the lenses of food equity, urban and rural farming, food addiction, and community gardens. Read more…

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This Saturday: Do Good in Crenshaw and Learn About the Transformative Power of Art for Those Who Have Been Incarcerated in West Adams

When neighborhoods suffer foreclosures, everyone on the block gets hurt. The abandoned buildings can quickly become blight and attract criminal activity. The decline of a block can hurt the self-esteem of a community. It is also hard to bring communities together through block clubs and neighborhood councils when people are struggling to stay afloat and the neighborhood is in constant flux. At the very time neighbors most need to come together to support each other, their own struggles may leave them little time or energy to do.

For this reason, the Neighborhood Housing Services of Los Angeles County (NHS) regularly joins forces
with families and volunteers to hold Neighborhood Pride Days in areas hit hard by foreclosures. By encouraging neighbors to participate in beautifying their block, the NHS seeks to help residents find a renewed sense of pride in and commitment to their community. Although NHS’ own day-to-day operations focus more on financial literacy and educational services, they believe that Pride Days can leave communities stronger and more able to assist each other in weathering financial hardships.

This weekend’s event will take place in South L.A., the area with the largest number of overall foreclosures. Volunteers will help families in Crenshaw with house painting, planting, graffiti clean-up, garbage removal, and minor home repairs. In partnership with in-house construction specialists and local business sponsors, NHS will supply the paint, materials, and meals for volunteers.

The meet-up site for the event is 2628 W. 73rd St. (just south of Florence and east of Crenshaw) between the hours of 8 a.m. and 12 p.m. If you are interested in volunteering, please contact Nyasha Buchongo at nbuchongo@lanhs.org or (213) 381-2862, ext 253 for more information.

After spending your morning do-gooding, head over to the William Grant Still Arts Center for a community arts festival and concert marking the launch of the exhibit, Dragon’s Flight, in historic West Adams. Dragon’s Flight is a six-week exhibition running from October 6 through November 24 that celebrates the transformative power of creating art, and its ability to help artists reclaim and rebuild their personal identity in the face of negative trauma. The participating artists are currently or have been incarcerated, or are working in collaboration with incarcerated artists. The work exhibited is drawn from pieces created both inside prison and on the outside. Grassroots organizations will be on hand to educate participants about issues surrounding incarceration and their effects on communities in the area. And, of course, there will be music. The event will be hosted by Bananas‘ own MC VerBS.

The festivities run from 12 to 6 p.m. The Arts Center is located at 2520 W. View St. (near La Brea and Adams).

 

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“South L.A. Democratic Spaces” Exhibit Launches Tonight at USC

When people look at questions of transportation, livable streets, or complete streets, they sometimes look at them in isolation, as if they stood alone from socio-economic issues. Slate’s recent touting of LA’s transit system as the next big thing, for example, never addresses questions of who is riding, how, and why. Or, why not, in the case of many Angelenos, who may find public transit cumbersome and/or have less than favorable opinions of the “public” that rides it or the neighborhoods it passes through.

Over the past nine months, I’ve been speaking with a number of South L.A.-based organizations who understand that making streets more livable begins with making them more accessible and democratic for all members of a community.

The stories of many of those organizations and their staff will be on display this evening at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. The South L.A. Democratic Spaces exhibit launches tonight, from 6:30 to 9 p.m.

According to organizers, the collaborative storytelling project will offer the stories of “15 unique public spaces that embody the community’s push for social change.”

Portraits and videos will offer viewers a glimpse into community organizers’ favorite physical spaces from which to promote advocacy, positive social change, and community-based social movements. Far from traditional meeting rooms, some of  the spaces chosen include a food truck, a marketplace, and public art sites.

The event will be interactive — the public will have an opportunity to meet and speak with the community organizers and participate in a brief panel discussion (beginning at 7:30 p.m.) about the significance of the highlighted spaces. They hope to help participants understand that, contrary to many of the stereotypes about South L.A., there is a vibrant and active community of activists and ordinary people who work hard to make their neighborhoods more livable for all.

The Annenberg School is located at 3502 Watt Way, Los Angeles, CA  90089, on the USC campus.