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On Being Black In LA: Erasure Of The Black Community That Once Was

Students walk by a new Shepard Fairey mural of Dr. Maya Angelou at the entrance of the South LA high school that bears her name. (Chava Sanchez/ LAist)
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The theme of LAist's Black History Month coverage this year is: “What does it mean to be Black in L.A.?” We'll publish reponses from community members and staff throughout the month. Add your voice to the conversation below.

Yesterday, a woman who grew up in the San Fernando Valley shared her experiences with code switching. Today, we share the first of several responses from our own Black staff members.

Velincia Ellis has been a financial analyst with KPCC since 1996, and in public radio for 25 years. Just as she's observed changes in the media landscape, she's seen her South L.A. neighborhood and Black community change, and most devastatingly, disappear. She writes, "What happened? Where did my people go?"

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"I am a homegrown South L.A. resident. A long time ago, being Black in my community meant togetherness, happiness, joy, prosperity, and love for one another. It also meant some hardships and despair. I saw crack cocaine invade our way of life. It tore families apart with no hope for recovery. I saw numerous gangs kill us for no other reason than to be accepted in a gang.

"Moving forward now.

"I see Black families still struggling after the Rodney King riots. I've seen buildings burned to the ground and rebuilt, but not by us — Black folks.

"I see older Blacks losing their homes to death or foreclosure and resold to non-Blacks. And, I wonder: What happened? Where did my people go?

"While there are some community-based organizations that represent Black and Brown (I belong to one), on the whole, I feel like there is no meaningful representation for Black-owned businesses or drivers for our economic growth. But for “others” in my community, there is representation and prosperity, even.

"When I go to department stores, grocery stores, etc. I don't see myself, my people, and it’s so disheartening. Where are we?

"Yet, I still hope for a better future for our brothers and sisters still working toward that American Dream, for that nostalgic iconography of apple pie and hot dogs. When I was growing up, I didn't have an American Dream to strive for. I just had hope."

Velincia, South L.A.


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The first installment of our The 8 Percent project began exploring the inextricable ties between L.A. and its Black residents — how Black migration, community and culture have shaped and changed L.A. For Black History Month, we’re homing in on a more specific experience — yours. Tell us: What does it mean to you to be Black in L.A.?

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