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Sat, Apr

Black Lives Matter Los Angeles purchases building in Leimert Park

News

The Center for Black Power is the meeting place for BLM-LA and partnering organizations which combat police brutality, supports gang interventionists, and teaches children leadership skills.

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Black Lives Matter Los Angeles’ meetings are held on the second Sunday of the month at 7 p.m. The meetings are open to community members. Photos by Jason Lewis
 

By Jason Lewis

Like many nonprofit community organizations, over the last 10 years Black Lives Matter Los Angeles (BLM-LA) has bounced around from churches to community rooms to host its meetings and programs.  But that has all changed now that it has purchased the building adjacent to L.A. Metro’s Leimert Park station on Crenshaw Boulevard and 43rd Place.  The organization has opened the Center for Black Power, which gives it and partnering organizations a home base.

“There’s a saying,” said Greg “Baba” Akili, an organizer with BLM-LA. “If you don’t have a base, you can’t stand.  If you can’t stand, you can’t fight.  If you can’t fight, you can’t win.  This gives us a concrete base that we can operate from.  Before we had this building we met in different churches and different community centers.”

Within Black communities, there has been a major push for ownership.

“If you look at the Black Power era, where we talked about defining ourselves, creating for ourselves, and speaking for ourselves around the idea of self determination, one of the things that we didn’t do was invest in ourselves,” Akili said.  “Fifty and 60 years later, we don’t own anything.  This changes that.”

Leimert Park is one of the few remaining Black cultural centers in the greater Los Angeles area, and it is a symbolic location for the headquarters of BLM-LA.  

“Black Lives Matter was born across the street in Leimert Park,” said Melina Abdullah, co-founder of BLM-LA.  “People will remember the day that George Zimmerman was acquitted in the murder of Trayvon Martin on July 13, 2013.  Many of us just, especially before we were all tethered to social media, knew that if something went down for Black folks, where you would assemble would be in Leimert Park.  That’s what happened on July 13.  There was this intuitive moment where everybody came to Leimert Park, and we marched.  So this is our home.  Leimert Park, or ‘Africatown’ as we call it, is the Black cultural center for Los Angeles.  So it only makes sense that Black Lives Matter, which was born here, and is also one of the most significant movements to come out of Los Angeles, has its home here.  So when we finally raised enough money to get something, there was no question where we wanted to be housed.  Right here on Crenshaw and 43rd Place.”

 

Members of BLM-LA and partnering organizations in front of the Center for Black Power on 43rd Place, just east of Crenshaw Boulevard.
 

Black Lives Matter Los Angeles falls under the umbrella of Black Lives Matter Grassroots, along with 33 other BLM chapters around the world.  Black Lives Matter Grassroots is a separate entity from Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation (which is the organization that took in more than $90 million in donations after the murder of George Floyd).

The building that BLM-LA purchased was a Bank of America years ago, and then it was purchased by a company that turned it into a gun store.  

“When it opened up as a gun shop, people in the neighborhood protested,” said Paula Minor, an organizer with BLM-LA.  “They didn’t want a gun store right here.  So the gun store started to sell privately, primarily to law enforcement.  Police and sheriffs would come here to buy their guns.  They just held onto the building as the neighborhood changed and as Blacks started to want to own property in Leimert Park.  The history is that so much of the property here was not owned by Black people.  So there is a push to have Black people try to buy into Leimert Park.”

Every second Sunday of the month at 7 p.m., BLM-LA holds its monthly meeting, which is open to the public and free to attend.  Each meeting is catered by a local Black-owned restaurant, and free groceries are given out to attendees.  Local community organizations that have programs and services that align with BLM-LA also hold their meetings at The Center for Black Power.  One of those organizations is Students Deserve, which is an organization that advocates for Black students in public schools, hosts youth summer camps, and has monthly resource giveaways.  In 2021 the organization was able to get the Los Angeles Unified School District to divest $25 million from school police and use that money for support services for Black students.  

“We’re very clear that the organizations that we open up space to are aligned with us,” Abdullah said.  

Black Lives Matter Los Angeles’ meetings are held on the second Sunday of the month at 7 p.m. The meetings are open to community members.
 

While many people know BLM-LA solely for their efforts to combat police brutality, this organization directly or indirectly through partnerships takes on other issues that impact Black communities.  

“We do a lot more than protest police violence,” Abdullah said.  “Supporting Black-owned businesses and Black organizations is something that’s been who we are since our founding.  For Black X-Mas, from Black Friday to January 1, we posted the Black-owned business of the day, every single day.  We’ve been doing work in schools for a long time.  We’ve been on the (Los Angeles City) budget issue for the last four years.”

Black Lives Matter Los Angeles proposed the People’s Budget to the Los Angeles City Council in 2020, and it has created surveys since then that the city has utilized.

“This is the first year that the mayor (currently Karen Bass) has actually requested the People’s Budget findings from us,” Abdullah said.  “When Eric Garcetti was mayor, he never requested the People’s Budget survey findings.  What we started doing four years ago is saying that this city spends way too much money on police.  Many years ago we had a pie chart of the city budget that showed that more than half of general fund was being spent on LAPD.  As we moved into the pandemic, the question became, ‘Nobody is even outside; why do we need to spend all of this money on police?’  We talked in Black communities about it and we really wanted to get folks to weigh in on it.  What we found is that people want to spend their money on two primary things, mental health and housing.  The only two areas that Angelenos constantly want to cut is police and traffic enforcement.”

Critics of Black Lives Matter often unfairly criticize the organization for not addressing the issues of crime within Black communities.

“We do get criticized,” Abdullah said.  “People ask us, ‘Well why don’t you go and do the (gang) intervention work?’  Well look, we can’t do everything.  I’m not an interventionist.  That’s not what we do, and we don’t want to because there are brilliant people and groups who are committed to it.  Like the Reverence Project and 2nd Call.  The People’s Budget is about pulling the money away from the police so that we can fund 2nd Call and the Reverence Project.  If we can put more money into them, then that helps to create really effective solutions.  If you look at their impact, and you look at the police impact, it’s like night and day.  Intervention and prevention is like eight times more effective in reducing crime.  The police do not reduce crime.  They just respond to it after it happens.”

Recently, Mayor Bass increased the salaries of gang interventionists through the city’s Gang Reduction and Youth Development program (GRYD).  This is a welcomed decision because funding gang intervention programs has not always been welcomed.

“When I came to Los Angeles (in the 1990s) and I was working at The Beat (92.3 FM) we started giving money to some of the gang intervention programs,” said Dominique DiPrima, KBLA Talk 1580 Radio host and organizer with BLM-LA.  “We got so much heat for that.  It was like, ‘Why are you supporting these gang members?’  Now at least it’s a part of the city structure.  Making gang intervention more of a go-to as opposed to a side bar is the next step.  Mayor Bass has given them a pay raise and she’s giving them more respect.  Even though it’s not a core part of what BLM-LA does, the collaborations, the work around the People’s Budget, the work around policy initiatives, advocating on behalf of laws and policies for the city and the state, that is a huge impact that the organization is having that people hardly track.”

Black Lives Matter Los Angeles has youth programs which develop leadership skills within their younger members, which will be extremely helpful when they go off to college and then into their professional careers.

“They refine their leadership skills, and not always in traditional ways,” Abdullah said.  “What I love about our student Youth Vanguard, is what our young people are taught is that they don’t have to swallow the world as it has been handed to them.  They have the capacity, ability, and power to change their schools, their community, and change the world.”

Black Lives Matter Los Angeles hosts a Saturday morning show “This is Not a Drill,” hosted by Abdullah on KBLA Talk 1580 at 8 a.m.

For more information about BLM-LA’s programs, meetings, and how to join, visit www.blmla.org