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LA Commons combats anti-Blackness through art

LA Commons’ Day of the Ancestors: Festival of Masks at the Leimert Park Art Walk. Photo by Jason Lewis

Art

With hate crimes on the rise, LA Commons provides opportunities for people to interact with each other, which builds a sense of belonging and trust among people of different races.

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This article is in partnership with a grant provided by the California Black Media through the State of California Library Stop The Hate grant campaign.

By Ayanna Bonds

According to the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations (LACCHR) annual hate crime report for Los Angeles County in 2021, hate crimes had reached the highest level in 19 years, with Black people being the most frequent targets.  

“The year 2021 began with a violent assault on the U.S. Capitol, led in part by White nationalist groups,” said Robin Toma, the commission’s executive director.  “The shocking revolt was evidence of not only growing political polarization, but a country deeply divided along lines of race, religion, sexual orientation, and gender.  Against this backdrop, hate crimes across the nation, including L.A. County, skyrocketed in 2021.”

According to the report, the 23 percent increase in hate crime was largely due to a 17 percent spike in racial crimes. Crimes targeting African Americans, Latinos, Asians and Middle Easterners all rose dramatically. Racist offenses constituted 58 percent of all hate crimes.  As in past years, Black people were grossly over-represented. Although Black people constitute only nine percent of county residents, they comprised 46 percent of racial crime victims.  Anti-Black crimes jumped 30 percent from 169 to 219.

In response to the rise in hate crimes, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors directed LACCHR to build a campaign to prevent and respond to acts of hate in the county, which resulted in the LA vs Hate initiative.  The initiative has three components.  A community-driven marketing campaign to encourage residents and organizations to unite against and report acts of hate; the first government hotline (via 211) for reporting all acts of hate – both incidents and crimes – and providing free assistance to all victims; and a network of community agencies that provide rapid response, support, healing, advocacy, and hate prevention services.

One local community-based organization that is participating in the LA vs Hate initiative is LA Commons, which is based in Leimert Park.  LA Commons engages communities in artistic and cultural expressions that tell their unique stories and serves as a basis for dialogue, interaction and a shared understanding of Los Angeles.

“Our work is about enhancing a sense of belonging amongst people in Los Angeles,” said Karen Mack, executive director of LA Commons.  “Our theory of change is that as people are more visible through artist expression, there’s more self love and visibility about the contributions and narratives of everyone.  We provide opportunities for people to interact with each other, because that’s the most powerful strategy for belonging is to actually build trust and relationships.”

LA Commons’ programs include:

Creating Our Next LA, which is a multiplatform campaign that encourages civic engagement, healing, and change through art and dialogue.  It inspires people to dream a better post-pandemic Los Angeles through the eyes of amazing local artists.

Healthy Culture Hubs, which creates spaces in every neighborhood where artists can facilitate opportunities for people to get in touch with their creativity.

Neighborhood Story Connection - LA vs. Hate projects are developed by artists and local youth 15 - 25, building social capital and creating public artworks that illuminate local community culture, history and a vision of the future. The program specifically provides in-depth educational experiences and paid apprenticeships for at least 90 low-income youth.

The Combating Anti-Blackness Training Series, which delves into learning about the roots, history and impacts of anti-Blackness in the Americas and the greater Los Angeles region.  The training series is one of the culminating projects from the South Los Angeles Building Healthy Communities Collaborative, a 10+year place-based, collective impact project, and accompanies the South Central Rooted Report published in 2017. The training series, which focuses on four key training areas along with a module specifically for trainers, is designed and curated to include interactive techniques using popular education methods, group activities, games and paired discussions to help combat anti-Blackness.  A version of the training series will be specifically implemented in the Fall in the Human Relations Commission Dream Centers as part of the LA vs Hate.

The Combating Anti-Blackness Training Series is available in online and in-person training formats and can be tailored to your organizational and professional development needs.  For more information, please email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

For more information about LA Commons, visit www.lacommons.org.