Observations of life by author and poet Charles L. Chatmon
Hey folks, I haven't posted in a while because I had a stroke.
This is something I usually don't share with the rest of the online world, but I wanted to explain my absence from the internet last month. My illness cost me an assignment for a story I planned to write, and my life has slowed to a crawl for the moment. I'm coming back slowly but I'm feeling better by the moment.
Many thanks to my lovely wife for spotting my illness and rushing me on time to the hospital to get the help I needed.
So until further notice, I will maintain 'online silence' until I'm 'back on the mend'. Thanks to all of you concerned folks, but I am well. See you then, take care.
Note: the following is courtesy of the L.A. Times, May 22, 1994. This should explain a lot of why South Los Angeles has remained the way it has for decades, hence the title. This writers shares an insight most on the outside would not have guessed........
What About the Plan? : Today It's Called Rebuild LA. Two Years After the 1965 Watts Riots, the Blueprint for Social Change Was Called the 25-Year Plan. And We're Still Waiting.
May 22, 1994
One of the people I met in South-Central after the riots was Mrs. Nola Carter, who is the mother of Alprentice (Bunchy) Carter, who started the L.A. chapter of the Black Panthers in the 1960s. He was assassinated at UCLA by a rival black power organization, which I knew nothing about. It took me into an investigation of the role of the FBI and the LAPD in undermining the black community, which is a shocking but was very well-documented in government hearings in the 1970s by the Church Commission.
Bunchy Carter's mother said I should go look for the 25-year plan. I said, "What's the 25-year plan?" She said, "We have Rebuild LA now. After the 1965 riots they had the 25-year plan." It came out in 1967 and 25 years later we didn't have peace or social justice. Instead, we had another riot.
She took me out on a street corner, 79th and Central, and said, "I remember they showed us plans for the new community. There was supposed to be a park at 79th and Central." It was just a liquor store. She said, "They showed us a model of what the community was going to look like and there were no African American people in that model. It was all white mothers pushing their babies."
That got me started on this 25-year plan. What happened in 1965 that laid a fire bed for 1992? I went to the city archives and the plan is missing. There's a file card there but you can't find the plan. Then I went into City Council records and looked up the elements of the plan. You can still find them in notes of the City Council meetings. And sure enough, at 79th and Central there was supposed to be a park. And Gage Avenue and Main Street, and 108th Street and Main, and numerous other locations. I went to four or five of them and there was not one park or rec center.
So this became the basis of an investigation into how the city was not only neglected but sabotaged, either consciously or unconsciously, by the system. In some ways it was conscious, like the out-and-out sabotage of cultural organizations like the Watts Writers Workshop, which started in the wake of the '65 riots. It brought together creative elements of the community--writers, directors, dancers--and created this incredible performance space and beehive of cultural activity, which was infiltrated by the FBI and the LAPD. The sabotage was so thorough that the FBI, after the hearings by the Church Commission, publicly apologized.
The workshop was empowering the community, and when a community is empowered it coalesces. Diverse groups come together and they form a base of power. And that base of power can question policy decisions. Take the Century Freeway. It cuts through a wide swath of South-Central that was really the cultural nexus of the inner city. It was the center of a community, this long strip that was taken by eminent domain. If a community is strong and groups are together, they can fight those things. But if they're in disarray and fighting each other, they can't come together and question policy and authority.
The community was being undermined for economic reasons, and that's still happening. The land in South-Central is prime real estate. Nearby you have the Port of Long Beach, you have Downtown, you have the airport. It tops the Westside in investment opportunity because you can buy it so cheap. If you can get a block, and when something like the Alameda Corridor train project comes through from Long Beach to Los Angeles--whoever owns that land is going to make out very well.
When the Black Panther Party came into power--I'm not saying they were Boy Scouts--they had an empowerment aspect to them. They were providing breakfast programs and education programs and testing children for sickle-cell anemia and myriad of other programs, and that had to be stopped. So there was systematic elimination of the Panther leadership.
At the time of the 25-year plan we had the Kerner Commission, which was a federal commission headed by Gov. Otto Kerner of Illinois, who was appointed by President Lyndon Johnson to study the massive rioting that swept the United States in some 200 cities. It wasn't just L.A. It was Detroit, Newark, N.J., Birmingham, Ala., Minneapolis. The commission's conclusion was America was moving toward two societies, separate and unequal, one white and one black. The report said the ghetto is maintained with the full knowledge of the white community. White people maintain it and they condone it and it's economic in nature. And that's still going on.
Look at what happened with the Santa Monica Freeway. That thing was rebuilt post haste, ahead of schedule, because that's what the system wanted done. But two years later, the riot-torn areas are still a shambles. If they wanted it built up, it would be built up. It serves a purpose not to build it up. And chaos in the inner city serves a purpose.
Credit: L.A. Times (1994)
Tonight I received an email that the founder of the Journal of Pan African Studies and the L.A. Black Book Expo, Itibari M. Zulu has passed away. He asked me back in 2006 to take over the expo and I accepted. If you've read this blog, you know my objectives, goals and plans to build LABBX into a solid literary event for the city of Los Angeles. Despite my best intentions and hard work, it wasn't meant to be.
Itibari and I would spend time on the phone discussing the results of that year's expo and began planning for the next. He had a wealth of culture knowledge, even when the topic turned to issues within the Black community. Because of a judgement in error, I ended up relinquishing control of the expo back to Itibari but he enjoyed the effort of our volunteer staff to make the expo a reality and an event authors wanted to attend. Although we didn't achieve the success we hoped for, Dr. Zulu and I were proud LABBX did well.
Now the questions start. Will there be another LABBX? Would I consider taking the executive director position back? Will it return? For now, I'm not interesting in reviving the expo. I've dealt with a lot in the years I took control to ever considering bringing it back. If there was someone else who has the vision and the resources to bring it back, I wouldn't mind playing the role of a consultant. That seems very unlikely now that this city is in the process of change, and not for the better for Black people.
Thank you Itibari for having enough faith in me to take over the expo. I'll miss the conversations and advice you shared with me to make sure LABBX stayed true to your dream and to offer a cultural, literary event for the people of L.A.
In 1989, I wrote an article for my college newspaper describing the conditions living in South Central Los Angeles. I was proud when the article was published and in The Voices of South Central, I had it reprinted to show outsiders not to believe everything they read or see on the major news networks when they visit this community. The only honest journalist I've seen to handle this issue is Ted Koppel who took the time and spoke with the people who live here in the community including Bloods and Crips. Not only was Mr. Koppel respectful to the citizens here, he spoke to them as if they were equal, not in a condescending or stereotypical tone. I sincerely doubt the Young Turks to take that approach, anyone from MSNBC or for that matter, the Huffington Post. On the other side, our local Fox affiliate has covered South Central L.A. in the past, famous for saying the word 'thugs' when possible.
Thirty years later, I see social ideologies such as Intersectionality and issues affecting the class system here in America establish a beachhead here in the community in the form of a 'coalition' but I proclaim until the larger issues affecting South Los Angeles are addressed, gender identity issues and others won't make much of a difference. Oh, the coalition have the ears of our young people already, ears connected to eyes that have seen friends and family members move on to the next life by acts of unnecessary violence. I seriously doubt the progressive crowd will ever address these issues now because it's not in their best interest to do so.
Last night, I watched a presidential candidate rage about her experience bussed to a elementary school in a Northern California town rather than defend her policies that impacted the lives of many while she served as our state's attorney general. Besides this candidate, I see a political party who like the other party they oppose willingly ignore the concerns of the citizens in South Los Angeles and East Oakland. They have forgotten us. They have not - nor will not speak with us in respectful tones the same way Mr. Koppel did when he shot segments for Nightline during the Unrest, to understand the rage and anger felt by many in this community.
When a social ideology begins to drown out the concerns of a community for the sake of 'social justice', the residents who live in the community lose out. What good is feminism when a single mother has to work two jobs just to support a family? What will intersectionality do for the young man who lost his father to an unrepentant prison system? What will all the chants of 'this is what justice looks like' mean to the family of a young person who has not found justice either by police brutality or by the hand of another member of the community? What does this coalition stand for when the community has no say in the retail shops they want to see? What does this all mean?
Do you know that the former Balboa Theater in the same article I referenced earlier, still sits unused? It was used as a masque for a local chapter of the Nation of Islam, but the new owner has not opened its doors to the public yet. I ask, what social ideology will open those doors so the community can utilize the space for possible plays, movies, discussions, any use that will pour revenue to the venue and to the community? That's one of the subjects I wrote about and I'm not happy that even now, is willfully being ignored by the mass media. They wouldn't even dare mention our concerns.
To the social justice, intersectional, progressive crowd, I say: communicate with us. Treat us with respect and you will receive it in return. Treat us in the same manner Mr. Koppel did when he visited here twenty-seven years ago. This is all we ask along with understanding our difficult past history. Donât seek to erase it for the sake of 'love and light'. Not that we refute love, but seeing the light has been hard for us in South Los Angeles. I hope you'll understand.
Note: This is an article I wrote for my church newsletter years ago but I decided the time is right for a repost because it is. It simply is. The earlier post is here in case you think this is a new subject the author is presenting on this blog. (edits are courtesy of the author)
"....for God see not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." I Samuel 16:7
What would happen if you found out that a respected member of the Church of Christ was a hard core, cold blooded killer in the past? How would you react if you heard your minister or elder had been one time, a devout racist? Such was the case with Paul, one of the most respected and dedicated apostles of the early church.
As great in the church as Paul was, he did not start out as one of the original twelve disciples. In fact, he wanted to imprison them. In his letter to Timothy in I Timothy 1:13, Paul wrote, "Even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor; Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief." Now, if that had been us instead of Timothy, it would be hard to believe that this used to be Paul. We would ask ourselves, "Is this the same Paul who was mobbed, beaten, persecuted and put in jail because of his stand on the gospel?" The same Paul who told Christians in the book of Philippians to "Rejoice in the Lord always, again, I say rejoice!" Yes, this was the same Paul. But how did this manservant come to be you ask: Perhaps a look at Paul's past might shed some light to that question, for it was in his past Paul saw The Light.
To begin our tale, we start with an apostle named Stephen. Stephen was a man full of wisdom and the Spirit with the task of spreading the word of God throughout Jerusalem. A few men from the Synagogue of the Freedman argued with him. Due to the understanding of both wisdom and Spirit Stephen possessed, the men tried to get others to talk bad or slander him. After he had been accused of Christ coming back to earth and destroying Jerusalem, Stephen had begun to what is commonly called 'Stephen's Defense' (Acts 7:2-53). Alas, the multitude did not accept his defense so easily. When Stephen confessed he saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God in Acts 7:56, the crowd chased him in verses 57 and 58. The multitude stoned Stephen, laying down their robes at the feet of one young man, a young man named Saul âthe future apostle Paul!
There was no exact description of how old Saul was but Acts 8:1 accounts, "And Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death." Saul was influenced by the multitude, the crowd. The crowd made an impression on young Saul, the impression of hate. In the case of many oppressors, they too were influenced by what they saw or heard in their youth. Therefore, Saul being a young man watching Stephen stoned by the Roman crowd, agreed with them and felt they were justified by what they did. Acts 8:1-3 explains this clearly. After Stephen's death, the chruch was greatly persecuted and scattered through the Samaria and Judea regions. Stephen was buried and lamented, and Saul, what about Saul? Acts 8:3 says,"But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison." Saul started off his mission on destroying the church, unaware he would be one of its greatest spokesmen.
In Acts 9, Saul was headed towards Damascus to persecute and bring back to Jerusalem those who had been converted into Christ. On the way to Damascus, he encountered a light from heaven. Falling to the ground, Saul heard a voice asking him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" Saul responded, "Who art Thou, Lord?" One could say Saul, such an advocate against the church, wanted to know who would stop him on the road in such an amazing fashion. However, Saul did know who stopped him. He had seen the evidence, he had seen The Light. One could also say Christ would have said to Saul to go and sin no more, but Jesus had other plans for Saul when He told him, "I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, but rise, and enter the city, and it shall be told you what you must do." It is ironic from a human standpoint that Christ would appoint or even entrust the spreading of the gospel to one of His most famous critics, a chief oppressor of the members of the early church. Christ saw something in Saul's nature we could not or even bother to see today.
Of course, those who knew Saul didn't take his conversion lightly. Take for example, Ananias. When the Lord spoke to him in a vision that he lay his hands on Saul so that Saul may regain his sight (Saul lost it for three days after the encounter with the Light. He also fasted.) Ananias responded with alarm, but Christ told him Saul is a "chosen instrument of Mine" and all fears were put to rest. When Saul stayed in Damascus with the disciples for several days proclaiming the gospel, even those who heard him were surprised. The crowd had heard of this Saul and of his reputation of persecution of those who would follow Christ except this was not the Saul they expected to see. The Jews, obviously frustrated by Saul's turnaround, plotted his death. However, Saul escaped from Damascus before the Jews laid their hands on him.
In Acts 13:9, Saul's name was changed to Paul and the rest, as one would put it, is history. What does the lesson of Saul (Paul) hold for us in our present day? The main point we should learn is that we should never underestimate the power of Christ which sadly, we often do. Saul was as hard core an oppressor as you could find. The Lord saw enormous potential in Saul and changed his bitter hatred of the gospel into a fiery force for Christ. Imagine if our society and most churches looked at the human heart the way the Lord does. Hard core gang members in the inner cities of this nation would not be termed as "too far gone" or "unreachable" because we would look at their positive qualities and attributes, appealing to their spiritual hearts, the way Jesus appealed to Saul's.
The public stature of Saul is another point I would like to make. Here was a man who was well known for what he did. He attracted quite a crowd. His every action affected many lives, from the Christians he persecuted to the multitude that followed him. After his conversion, again many lives were touched. This time, many who heard him obeyed the gospel and those who were his closest friends turned devout enemies due to his change of heart. Now the stature of the public figure doesn't mean he is an oppressor of the physical sense, but of the spiritual and moral. How would we react if someone we detested or couldn't stand as a public figure who encouraged hatred or division of any sort all of a sudden loudly and boldly proclaimed the gospel? How would we respond to a quick and drastic change of heart from someone from the Ku Klux Klan or a terrorist? Hard to imagine, isn't it? Understand while we as humans (although we are Christians) see the heart one way, God sees it another way, the perfect way. And until Mankind begins to inherit God's sight, the human race will be forever blinded, deprived of spiritual unison. In remembrance of I Samuel 16:7, "For God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." God looks at the mental heart, not the physical.
Saul's blindness and fasting for three days after he confronted the Light may have been a time of reflection, a period of soul searching. He might have been pondering what Christ had in store for him in the days ahead. This we may never know. Perhaps when we see a hostile public figure proclaim he or she has changed their ways, we may monitor their words and question their motives, but the Lord knows their hearts. The main point is that it isn't impossible for one to change if the Lord is in the equation. It doesn't matter whether the person is a convicted killer, a hate sprouting prophet, a crooked politician, or even....you and me.