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On Being Black In LA: Being Bused Across Town Opened Up City As 'A Place Of Possibilities'

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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.

We kick off Day 1 with a reflection from a West Hollywood woman who found being bused across town as a kid in the 60s helped her see L.A. as a "place of possibilities."

"I am a lifelong Angeleno. Born in East L. A., I lived in Palm Lane, a post-World War II housing project which is now the site of MLK Hospital. Ironically, my mother died in Palm Lane because there were no hospitals in the area. In September 1964, I boarded a school bus at 6 a.m, part of volunteer bussing paid for by each parent. I rode for more than two hours from 75th Street and Broadway to Ralph Waldo Emerson Junior High School in West Los Angeles on Selby Avenue, behind the beautiful temple of the Church of the Latter Day Saints.

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"We were late that first day. I felt like I was in the South minus the police. Some days after school, we waited in front of the school until 7 p.m. because our bus did not come. The neighbors would call the police and somehow a bus would eventually show up. They did not allow our bus to park on the schoolyard with the other buses, so on rainy days we stood outside waiting. No one ever helped us. Administrators went home. No bathrooms. No food. No nothing.

"Many things happened that let me know my life experiences prior to Emerson were different than my classmates, even though no one was openly mean to us. I remember every year when we had to talk or write about what we did over vacation, my classmates talked about Hawaii in the winter and Europe during spring break and summer. I didn’t know then that their stories were the seeds of my dreams. I had no dreams prior to being bused across town. I knew I would get a job and work, but that was it. That blows my mind in hindsight. That first year at Emerson, there were a lot of celebrity kids there. Most were Jewish, and I started to think I was too. I knew all things Jewish because, even though this was LAUSD, it was a Jewish-centered environment. We danced the Horah in P. E. We sang Jewish songs in music class; I know all of “Fiddler on the Roof.” My chorus teacher was the daughter of Roger Wagner of the then-famous Roger Wagner Chorale. The history teacher everyone wanted would do a full on Hitler imitation — uniform and all — on the last day of school, and I saw some great movies in class. Academically, I appreciate that experience. But, upon graduation, I chose to return to my home school, John C. Fremont High. There was no social life for Black girls like me at Emerson, and the boys on the bus with me had decided we were no longer their cup of tea. It was lonely.

"The first day of high school in 1968 found me on the corner crying because I was afraid to go there. Now, I’m afraid of my own people! I realized then this was a mistake, but I couldn’t go back. But then, my life changed again. Two freshmen girls saw me and helped me navigate this new environment. I was different. Ultimately, I earned a bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and teaching credentials. I went to Europe several times, and I went to Hawaii. I could not die without having done so. I would not have dreamed it without having been bused across town to Ralph Waldo Emerson. I learned to see Los Angeles as a place of possibilities where you may be hated and rejected, or misunderstood, but you can dream and that makes all the difference."

Cynthia, West Hollywood

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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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