Listening to Black Los Angeles

Highlights from our talk with Kirk Samuels, whose family moved to Compton in the Second Great Migration, to escape southern racism. Kirk is a South LA organizer, renter in Long Beach, and leader at Community Coalition.

“You just walk through the Crenshaw Corridor to Leimert Park and you’ll see the impact Black folks have had on everything–from movies, to art, to music, and food. And of course, there is our legacy of civil rights, the racial justice uprisings in the nineties and when Black folks coined the term “Black Lives Matter.”

Kirk Samuels, Los Angeles resident.

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Why does redistricting matter?

Black folks are watching our own erasure. We see ourselves and our communities being priced out of our neighborhoods and left out of political conversations that will shape our future. Even though I have a good job, no kids, and volunteer in my community, I still can’t afford to own a home in the places where I live and work. The folks I have been talking to in my COI conversations through South Los Angeles feel redistricting is our chance to have our voices heard and get the political representation we need to reverse Black erasure.

What are the strengths and challenges that have shaped Black Los Angeles?

You just walk through the Crenshaw Corridor to Leimert Park and you’ll see the impact Black folks have had on everything–from movies, to art, to music, and food. And of course, there is our legacy of civil rights, the racial justice uprisings in the nineties and again when we coined the term “Black Lives Matter.” We have this legacy of taking protests from the streets to the ballot box and you see that in the role we have played around criminal justice, housing access, and tax equity measures. The CA Redistricting Commission has an opportunity to ensure our Black communities are fully represented and respected as vibrant parts of our democratic process and progress.

What issues will define Black futures in Los Angeles?

Black Los Angeles is not apathetic–we are aware of our own erasure. We see ourselves overly represented in the state’s highest unemployment rate and homeless count. The people I have spoken to are all trying to live in an expensive city on a minimum wage job, and see rent prices rising every year. We also see ourselves being left out of urban development as our neighborhoods become gentrified. 

But these issues don’t just negatively impact Black folks. Our Latinx communities struggle with similar issues. We have this opportunity to build strong Black-and-Brown alliances. I hope the CA Redistricting Commission releases draft maps that uphold the Voting Rights Act as well as coalition districts, which are places that have strong blocks of Black and Brown folks with shared interests. We build Black political power by creating spaces where Black leaders can rise and really represent not only Black interests and needs but the need for greater equity and opportunity for Black and Brown Angelenos.

What will it look like for Black folks to not only survive, but to thrive in Los Angeles?

We won’t be erased. We’ll be represented in home ownership, in access to great schools and afterschool programs, and in restored social safety net programs. Los Angeles will have representation in Sacramento and Washington D.C. that can successfully advocate for resources to invest in our development and housing. We will no longer be in survival mode. We’ll be part of the rebuilding of a more just Los Angeles.

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What values must guide the development of a map that protects and honors Black lives in Los Angeles?

The process should first reflect a real commitment to listening to our community. We have a digital divide that has made it hard for our folks to be heard in a virtual setting. That should not be mistaken for apathy. Black folks care deeply about the fate of our communities and cities. I keep talking to folks who can name very specific neighborhoods and landmarks that they want to protect. We want to make sure we protect and keep whole communities from as far west as La Cienega, north as the 10 Fwy, East of Alameda Street, and South as far as Rosecrans Avenue.

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