Q. Tell me something about yourself.
A. I have been involved in several community projects. As a matter of
fact I did a switch, because I come from an entertainment background. I
have been in the production end of broadcasting and film for twenty two
years. But, I was looking for a community project to become committed
to. And, I worked with a non-profit foundation called Community Trust
Television and that was a community effort to fund people who could not
qualify for the standard funding requirements. And then I formed a bone
marrow foundation to help educate the communities. And, as you know the
minority communities are the lowest on the totem pole for donating their
marrow and, unfortunately, minorities are, especially African-Americans
are getting stricken with all of the leukemia. And so I formed that
foundation of which I am still on the board of directors and still very
much involved in that. Mean time I was looking for something that I
really felt that I could contribute to the community and so I pitched
for this position and I got it. And I am just having a great time and
our mission here is to revitalize Leimert Park Village and we are going
about doing that...(taped stopped due to fax machine and another phone
Fortunately we have been awarded the contracts for the City of Los
Angeles to manage several of the projects of revitalization here. One
of those is the renovation of our park which will probably be brought
back to the way it was in the late 1920s, or 30s when it was originally
built. And, that was to start very soon, hopefully. They gave me a date
of November 15th, but they kept putting it off. And, our other project
is the opening of the Metro Transit Center on October 10th. It was a
very successful grand opening, and festive. So it is there to serve the
And we offer bus passes, tokens, brochures, pamphlets, and MTA
information. We are also very proud of, we are one of a few in the
country, who have a software system called Trans Star system. And that
system gives you an itinerary of MTA transit routes. So a person can go
into the center and put in a request for a trip they want to take and
they will in return fax them or mail them the information. And this
will include all of the costs, the transfers, times that they basically
need to arrive at their destination. So that has been a real boost for
So now we are working on the facade program. We have been funded for
facade program. Unfortunately, the funding is not enough to come through
with a facade for every merchant and owner in the Village, however, we
have been funded $2025,000. So we are going to use that on sort of like
a block or area as you will on sort of like a pilot project to show this
is what it can look like. And, of course I am constantly seeking other
funding so that we can complete the entire area....
Q. What do you envision for Leimert Park?
A. We have a very dedicate board of directors, who have been dedicated
to this project for years. Certainly before I joined them. They are a
very talented group of people and very supportive and at this point we
are just trying to position ourselves to do other things for the
community. I would like to see us offering resources to the youth
especially. I would like to take them to a training, through an
educational training of business, I guess all phases of business. And
then when they are finished with that project actually have funding
available for them to start their small businesses. Of, course with the
emphasis is on them to know that they should reinvest in their
community. And, so just things like, that are very far fetched, some
thing that has not even come to the table yet. But is the direction
that I would like to go into for the people of Leimert Park, not just
the village, but of course this whole little area here. And, so we are
moving forward, and the area is moving forward. We are doing a very
aggressive marketing program with the Bureau of Tourism and Cultural
Tourism Board so that we can get tourism here from all over the world,
certainly not just people of Color, but everybody.
Our mission here is to help revitalize Leimert Park Village. And to
to make it the, thee African-American cultural center in Los Angeles.
And so we got some good people, we got some merchants who are dedicated
and who have held on over the years. And so I just hope that they can
all see the benefits and reap the benefits from everyone's effort. It
takes an effort from the group you know, you cannot just depend on one
So working with the City is kind of a set back from me only because
come from an industry where I get things immediately. And, so it was
quite a shock to come and find that once you are involved in a city
project the wheel grinds very slowly. But, we have a wonderful city
council man, Mark Ridely-Thomas, who is totally dedicated and just
unwavering in his support for Leimert Park, so we are happy about that.
He supports 100%, just the entire 8th City Council district is very
supportive. And, so it's all going on and I am happy to be apart of it.
Q. Are you from the area?
A. I am a native of Los Angeles and my family has been here since the
turn of the century from Louisiana. And I have watched the changes in
all of the areas of Los Angeles I have seen all of the changes. And,
naturally when I saw what happened to Crenshaw Boulevard… When I was a
kid it was one of the most beautiful streets in Los Angeles and it
really broke my heart to see what happened to it and that I am also
happy to see that they are revitalizing the area.
Roland Wylie, who is a wonderful African-American architecture. He also
has a project. He has just been funded $1.5 million or so, don't quote
me, I do not know exactly what it is. But he is a very talented
architect and he is doing a streetscape that is just going to be
fabulous. He is just so talented and I am so proud of him and of what
his efforts are. It's going to be very beautiful, Crenshaw will be back
to it's once beautiful state... This project begins are Rodeo and it
will extend to Vernon and Crenshaw. It will extend a very long area.
We are very happy, he is doing some wonderful things in Leimert Park.
Q. Was your position created for you?
How did it come about?
A. It was created. It was created because they needed it. As you know
all of the people on the board are volunteers, we got two attorneys, a
fireman, a housing department manager, two business owners, and so they
certainly would not have enough time to devote what this project
needed...they needed an executive director to start to pull it all
together, so that's what I am here for.
Q. How was the board created? Were the
A. It started off as just a group of concerned citizens in the area
trying very hard to do something. Then, as a group, as my
understanding, there are several board members who have not continued
for various reasons. There are seven board members who have held on and
so they decided that in order to qualify for city funds and to do what
they needed to do that they needed to incorporate to show that they were
a very strong entity to deal with. And that's what happened and that's
why they were awarded the contracts that they have to manage the
projects. And, as a matter of fact we are doing some board is in
development right now and are in the process of accepting applications
to expand our board. And everyone is invited to submit their
applications. (Showing photos and drafts of recent projects)
Q. How receptive were the merchants receptive
to your position?
A. I felt that they were so far. I'll tell you what's been my
experience, what I have found. Apparently, there were several merchants
who are not happy with some of the things that have happened here to
this day. One of them was the installation of parking meters in the
parking lots. I have heard about that and I still hear about it. My
position on that is "Okay, that happened, it's over with, Okay let's
move on." But, you'll find, I find just a few, just a handful,
certainly, not the majority, already have preconceived notions of your
motives against them. And they always go about talking and never do
anything. Talk is cheap. You know if are just going to sit down and
talk without actually doing something then to me you are part of the
problem, you are not part of the solution at all. So I have not
personal problem or anything with anyone. You know I think I am well
received, for the most part, because of the fact is what I am doing here
is mending things along. I have done nothing to hinder it or hurt
anyone or you know anything like that. So, I think overall, yes, I have
had a very good reception.
Q. Do you visit the different business?
How often do you speak with
A. When I first came I walked the Village and distributed my cards and
you know met quite a few merchants and let them know what we did.
Oh, I forgot about this project. Because of Proposition 218 we wanted
light the Village and put in pedestrian lighting. One of the biggest
complaints here is that we here is that it is "too dark." And of course
we want to make it a friendly and safe place were people can home here
into the Village to eat and shop and so forth. And so we need to light
the Village and so through LANI (Los Angeles Neighborhood Initiative) we
were able to get funded for the lighting project. Well, they, the
merchants and the owners in the Village have to vote on that. So we did
had a dinner to explain the ballot and the process, and that 51% of the
vote was needed to light the Village. The project would increase the
lighting in the Village to 300% compared to what it is now and there
would be pedestrian lighting and it would look very nice. And so, of
course we went after the vote. And so, they mailed the ballots out the
29th of September, they had forty-five days in which to return the
secret ballot. And today is the last day and I am keeping like
everything crossed. We should finally know probably if we got 51% of the
vote once the city clerk opens the ballots.
All of the ballots were mailed directly to the owners of the properties.
And, so we are hoping because it would be a shame if it did not pass,
because that means we will stay in the dark till the next project can
come up. I hope we conveyed our message clear, the importance of it and
especially merchants. I am sure that they want people to go shopping in
the evenings, especially when their stores are open and feel safe doing
so. Or just window shopping, even. You know, so that people can walk
and enjoy the area. And so I am hoping, I am expecting a positive
Q. Has there been follow-up with the ballots?
A. Oh, absolutely. We sent out the ballots. We have had everyone
involved. We feed them very well. We have had George Perkins explain
the project. We had Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas who told them of the
importance of it. We had our chair, Kwame Cooper, and myself who did
our bit in explaining it. They ate. We showed them diagrams of the
lighting, what it would look like. And then the ballots went out. And
after that we did follow-up calls in which all of the board
participated. We called to remind them of the importance and reminding
them that they had to get the ballot in by the 13th (of October). Then
we left them alone for a couple of weeks. And then we started in again
with telephone calls and then two weeks prior to the deadline I sent a
final letter reminding them again the importance of the vote. And then
after that we did some follow-up phone calls.
As a matter of fact I have one owner who, if you can believe this, who
came to me yesterday and said, "Oh I have this ballot here and I thought
it was too late to send it in." Now all of the information of course is
on the ballot. The deadline and everything. And I looked up and
realized that his property represents 5% of the vote. So as busy as I
was, I had him take and sign his ballot, and literally drive all the way
over to the Federal Express, pay $12.50 to have them deliver that to the
city clerk today because it had to be in the city clerk's office today
by 5:00 p.m. And it has to go through mail. It just can't be hand
delivered and I just can't take it and hand it to them. It is not legal
to do that. So anyway, it's quite interesting that after all this time,
that I was going to do whatever I whatever I had to get that 5%, it's
important to us. Anyway, it's over with now and whatever is going to
come of it, we just will have to wait the see what the results are and
hope that the lord is with us and hope we have 51% of the vote.
Q. How do you think with the changing
demographics in Los Angeles, that
Leimert Park might or will change?
A. Well, I'll tell you, probably, do you know of the Santa Barbara
Plaza project where a lot of the merchants over there are being
relocated? Well, a lot of the merchants over there will probably try to
relocate in the Village. I think in general in Los Angeles sees that as
a matter of fact we have a lot of other cultures coming in and looking
at the many properties for sale. I think that there is a lot percentage
of those merchants who will try to come into the Village. However, that
sort of defeats our purpose and that is to keep it as much with an
African-American cultural center as it can be.
And it appears there is a problem here because there are people here
are very reluctant to let anyone else in and I understand that point of
view. You know, there are mostly Chinese in Chinatown, Koreans in
Koreatown, you don't see African-Americans in Olvera Street. I think
what they are trying to do is just keep this an African-American
cultural center for art, jazz, and gospel, just the music… In other
words I don't think the merchants are encouraging outsiders to come in.
Overall, I don't think others will be welcomed. Now, that is not to say
others will not come in here, because after all anyone is allowed to buy
property wherever they want to. It's against the law, you cannot be
discriminatory to a group of people, so that's certainly one's
privileged to do so. However, when you have a person here who is not
Color, and I find this very unfortunate because they hire people in the
community and he did not last very long. Three months and he was out of
business. I do not think some of the merchant, some of the people I
should say, in the area were too friendly. So you have all of those
elements to deal with as well.
I think part of my job is to encourage business to come into the area,
businesses that are of interests to the community. I would like to see
some high tech computer stores come in, like some virtual reality type
things, stores like that are very interesting and conceptive and that
can offer. I can tell you this that anyone who comes in like a large
conglomerate, one of the stipulations would be that they would have to
hire African-Americans to represent that store, all of them would, but
certainly all of them would have to. And I don't mean just perks, I am
talking about management and above. You know you have to develop the
Village and that means bringing in and encouraging other businesses to
locate here in the Village.
Q. How is the CDC, or the Village in general,
involved with the local
youth right now, like are there tours for local elementary school
children coming by?
A. No. And I will tell you why I think there is one reason why that is
not happening now. And that is why one of my biggest projects is the
park and to see the cleaning up of the park. I want the park to be a
place where a grandmother can come with her grandkids, sit down and have
a nice day in the park. Right now we have an element in the park that is
very undesirable all day and night and I do not think that if I was a
teacher I would certainly not bring my kids past that park.
I'll you what they do have, though, as a matter of fact the owner of
this gallery, The Leimert Park Fine Arts Gallery, Earl Underwood here on
Saturdays offers free art classes for the children. And there is a very
big turnout for that. And across the street there is the Youth
Enrichment Program and they are doing some things over there. We got a
lot of tours coming in from colleges, but not very many of the
elementary. But, I hope to remedy that and hope that children and
parents can come here one day and not feel intimidated by that. But
that's where we are headed, we are headed in the right direction. And
you know the people here, their hearts are good, their intentions are
good, they want to see a positive change. As long as you have these
elements the majority are willing to do something I think that it will
change and you see and get exactly what you envision it to be. Where it
is a thriving, bustling Village, for anyone, whether you are a tourist
or just a person from across town, Beverly Hills or somewhere that they
have a nice experience here.
People always compare it to "3rd Street Promenade," I say "No, that's
what we don't want it to be." We want it to be the African-American
cultural center in the City of Los Angeles. Where we are not trying to
compare ourselves with the 3rd Street Promenade, you know what I am
saying? We are offering something even more special, specialized
businesses, specialized foods, specialized art work, all of those things
you could not get on the 3rd Street Promenade or any place else. That
specialness of the area is what we are working on. And we have
festivals here. We have our jazz festival in the summer which is going
to get better, it is however very nice. It is going get better, it is
going to get better organized, better marketing. The CDC is involved now
so there can be better marketing. We are just looking forward to have a
wonderful place to be. Where you can come in and have good time, sit
down, hear music. We are very happy about that, are moving along.
Q. Do the people on the board reside in Leimert Park or the surrounding
A. Well, let me see. There are two that live in Leimert Park, Earl
Underwood and our secretary. She lives right here in the Village. Mr.
Truman is very active also and God Bless him because he gives so much of
his time, and he actually lives in Oceanside. I don't know where Mrs.
Hixson lives. Teresa Mack lives in the community of Windsor Hills. Kwame
Copper and his wife live farther north in the area where there are the
large homes off of Washington Boulevard. So, he is not really in the
neighborhood, but close to the community. And Ruth Nuckolls, I am not
sure of where she lives, but it is not in Leimert Park. They are
scattered all around. Everyone here knows everyone.
It's like a small little neighborhood, like a family, where everyone
knows everybody. It's a small little area, it's almost impossible not
to run into somebody. I think what happens is that there is more
concentration to the businesses on that end (within the Degnan Street
Q. What businesses right now are the biggest
pull to the area?
A. I would say Fifth Street Dick's, Earl's Grill, Museum in Black,
Gallery Plus, Leimert Park Eyewear, World Stage, I am afraid I to say
that I do not know the wig stores very well. I am afraid that we have
one too many. But, I would say mostly the businesses in Degnan. I am
not sure, but I would say the store with the most pull is probably Kongo
Square, in terms of visitors.
That's another thing I think merchants can help with and be helped with
is how to market their stores and their products. I would like to offer
that to them, we get the resources to do that. Take them through an
entire marketing plan. I never see any of these merchant advertise or
anything. So I am really trying to think of a collective way that we can
do a collective ad campaign that will benefit all of the merchants. They
need to do a little more marketing and I know the reason, or one of the
reasons, is that it is funds. I know it is tough when you are trying to
stay in business and you hang in there year after year after year. You
know, but you have to try to extend yourself and know how our business
is operating and know how to market yourself as well, I feel, if you are
going to be successful.
You know I think the CDC is going in that direction to help the
merchants in whatever that may need. At least that is something in like
how to get loans and so forth, you have to first qualify to get loans
and so forth.
You know, they have held on, I really take my hat off to a lot of them
and when there were times and years when nothing was coming that have
just held on. And I think if they continue to do that they will see the
benefits of doing that. Sooner that later, that is my hope, my sincere
hope. I mean this area is so unique and it can be what we all envision
it to. We have a few problems the park and lighting will take care of a
lot of that.
Q. Has the local police department been
involved in this change?
A. They are, they will be in a big way. They will be better security
and I also want to hire private security to patrol throughout the park,
especially during heavy tourist season. As well as I want LAPD in here
on bikes, on skates, whatever, not so that they are overwhelming people,
making them feel uncomfortable, but that their presence here. You know,
making people feel safe.
Next year will be a very good year. There will be a lot of changes
Q. What do you think the merchants can
do to assist the CDC?
A. I think the merchants think, "How can the CDC assist us at this
point?" (laughter) One thing that they can do is cooperate, not saying
that they don't, I am just saying give us their support. You, recognize
our efforts, we pay for the Village maintenance. We do that as a
courtesy for the merchants, to help the merchants. We participate in
the lighting the merchants will be getting. And you have to understand
we share our resources, what little that we have with everyone. I guess
the strongest word that I can use is support. You know, support our
efforts, because it is for them. Because none of our board members are
paid, and I am paid, but it is, of course, way below what I am use to.
So I did not take the job because of the money. I took it for a sincere
desire to prove that I help with the change and so everyone is involved
with giving their time and a lot of it, you know. And, all of their
resources. You know, when you have that kind of dedication I think that
deserves some kind of honor, I guess you would call it. Because when
people dedicate themselves to that a cause and especially if it is for
suppose to benefit you, then we need support. We need support of our
efforts and recognized support of our efforts. Like I said for the most
part there is that there, but there is always a handful that will try to
spoil the whole bowl, but I refuse to let that happen. I will not let
So in other words, this is how I see the CDC. We are at the dock
our ship has come in. Unfortunately there are a few people who are
going to be out at the airport. (laughter).
Q. Do the merchants pay for membership
in the CDC?
A. Oh no. No money. The Local Merchant Association is something
completely different. We don't want to do anything that will displease
the merchants. You know just doing something without informing them or
discussing it or having a vote on. Because, after all they have a large
part of this Village. And so, they should be informed and so there is
nothing that the CDC does that the merchants do not know about. We have
merchants on the Board of Directors. So anything that is discussed in
our meetings the merchants know about it. The president of the merchant
association is on our board. There is nothing done in secret here. Our
books are open, we are a public corporation, we are located in a
business. Like I said, no one is getting anything out of this other
than the wonderful feeling than saying we had a part in revitalizing the
area. That's it.
(END OF INTERVIEW)