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Richard Fulton, owner of Fifth Street Dick's Coffee House, unedited interview

Richard Fulton, owner of Fifth Street Dick's Coffee House

Q.      Tell me about yourself:
A.      My name is Richard Fullton and I come from Skid Row to here. Fifth
and Town, I spent about six years on Skid Row.  I came to this community
because of Alcoholics Anonymous. I liked the community that I am in, I
liked what I saw. I started working on the shop, Marla Gibb's Vision
Theater is here, my space was 3347 ½ and then I built 3335.

Q.       When did you start your business?
A.      I started Fifth Street Dick's in 1992.  I opened two days before the
uprising. So, the community probably came together because of the
uprising and everybody is intent watching out for each other and taking
care of each other's place of business. I had a little red cart and I
went around and served coffee to everybody. We did that for five or six
days straight and what makes Leimert Park, Leimert Park a community.

Q.        What was your vision when you started Fifth Street Dick's?
A..     My vision was probably a thirty year old dream of coffee houses I
can remember, that I attended in my early teens, late teens and early twenties.  They were community centers, community think tanks and community built things out of coffee houses.  You know, people got together and talked about a lot of things.  A lot good ideas came out of coffee houses.

Q.      What inspired you to go into this business specifically?
A.      Black communities can be helped with this type of energy, so I always
dreamed about this, plus I like jazz. I am a real advent jazz fan. So
this has always been my dream and I always wanted to do.  I just
happened to walk around and find this spot by accident. But, I kinda
like, building.  I found out I could build things. I found out I had an
imagination for putting small things together.

Q.      How did you discover you had an ability to build?
A.      Building? Just by building.  By just simply by the pure necessity of
not having enough money to hire somebody to do it for you. You know?
(laughter) I found out that way, that I could build things, then I
helped other people. Then people found out I had good ideas for things.

Q.      How do you think your coffeehouse benefits the community?
A.      I think it gave my community a way/place to sit down and rest.  I
think I am an advocate, I got a three-tier thing going on.  I got people
who like to listen to live jazz upstairs, people who'd like to get close
to live jazz downstairs and a place for people liked to be further
distanced from it outside. So what happens is it just becomes a
gathering spot for a lot of different energies.  I am always trying to
figure out how to connect the young with the old and all kind of
different kind of genres and things going on. So, I got chess, dominoes,
tables outside, and all that kind of thing, it just adds to the

Plus then, you add music. The factor has been out of these (Black)
communities for a long time.  What basically has been stolen is the
energy okay. So, it's been paid for.  People buy musicians and things to
go to the other side.  They pay well enough to keep these musicians from
coming back to this side and all of South Central is a big void.  And
the energy flow continues to go outside of here. And, so what happens is
South Central dies because of that.  You know, you have to figure out
ways to place the energy back in. One of the main ways of placing the
energy back in is the music.  And then, you are talking a Black
community and you are talking about jazz and blues and rhythm and blues
and all of those are energies that basically come out of this community.

As a matter of fact, Los Angeles benefits by having South Central.  If
they did not have South Central, they would not have that energy, that
major energy. You have to replace, you have to put it back out there,
you have to put it in the streets and you have to make sure people hear
it every day. Especially jazz.  Jazz is probably one of our own classic
music, it is raised above all other music born in America, or in Europe.
But it is not recognized here, because if it was recognized here it
would replace all of the classical conversations that don't belong to
America.  So what happens and basically because it is Black (laughter)
you have to play that and you have to recognize it effects people by
watching the young kids that come by. Two and three year-olds that will
stop and listen and dance. You know that it effects them, so you know it
is actually a factor that evokes people.  And this coffee house kind of
effect makes people come closer together. And they become families,
large extended families. I know a lot of people by being in business
here.  I can go anywhere, at any time and run into someone  I know,
maybe two or three people.  I don't care where I go, if I go to Seattle,
if I go to New York I'll know people through this experience right here.
I know this (place, community) has a rippling effect and its made my
community better.  I became an asset.  I am a Skid Row tramp, a wino and
a dope fiend. I became an asset and my business became an asset to my
community. And that is something that I wanted, I wanted to become an
asset. I love this community. I love my people, above anything.

A.      How do you define your community?
Q.      My community, my Black community. That does not mean that I hold out everybody else, I welcome people to come in and enjoy the experience.
But, I believe in Black and I believe in Black all the way.  I don't
believe in multiracial ownership of my community.  I believe the Black
community should be owned by Black people. So, say it in Los Angeles
white communities are owned by white people, Hispanic communities are
owned by Hispanic people, Chinese communities, you know.  So, I just
follow the conversation, what happens to these communities. (cellular
phone rings, tape stops)

I see us, because of our, how would you say it, because of our created
poverty levels, or created stress levels, or created oppressive,
depressive, compressive areas, that we open our doors and allow pieces
and chunks of our communities to be sold off very cheaply. And in the
interest of multiculturalism it ruins the ethnic and the cultural thing
that we have as a community.  We are always, it seems, to be forced to
accept multiculturalism where as other races don't have to do that.  So,
I do not have a building block, a foundation to build upon, for my
community to build on. So, I am more pro that than I am anything else.
I think there should be more coffee houses, I think there should be more
places for people to participate. I think the lines of fear should be
dropped so that everybody can participate in it (the community), not
have to have ownership.

Q: How do you think the community is going to change in the next five to
ten years?
A: Well, I see a lot of things happening. Because of the active move for
tourism and the twelve or thirteen prong attack that City has planned to
come into these communities that it will be controlled by the Bureau of
Tourism and Cultural Affairs and the Cities.  So Marla Gibb's theater
will probably be taken over and owned by the City.  And if they own it,
they own the major portion of property and the direction for the
community that they just took over.  So what happens there is that no
Black person can ever own a theater, the City will own it.  So what
happens then it that it changes the nature of Leimert Park. Of Course,
gradually over the last two to three years things have changed that have
changed the nature of Leimert Park. When it started out to be a small,
grass roots, entrepreneur movement there's been attack from all sides to
eliminate that.  Basically what I think what happens is that they
basically don't allow us to understand that we can do this ourselves.
When I mean they I mean the politicians, Los Angeles as a whole.  I
really have to look at Los Angeles, I am not from here, I am from
Pittsburgh.  I have to really look at Los Angeles and I see for forty
years LAPD has contained this area, and there is really not Black
cultural ethnic neighborhood that has not been under surveillance or
broken up.  So, you can't produce the Black experience, so what happens
is that there is no singular Black energy. The concept is not to allow
Blacks to have power in Los Angeles. If you look at Blacks in Los
Angeles, and see that they really don't have any power in Los Angeles,
and if they do it is coming through churches.  Who, are basically
government owned, because they all deal with government programs now.
Now, you have a traditionally crossing between the Church and the State.
So now you have somebody dictating your power by somebody who takes
order from or is beholden to the State, so you got this spin going on
all the time.  So, I see then preparing for 2000, 2010 tourism thing and
they want control over all of the ethnic communities so that they can
bring the tourists in and they don't have to give the communities shit.

Q.      What impact has the large and expanding West Angeles Church had on
this community?
A.      You know, its traditional church expansion. Again, you have your
programs with government dollars flowing through your programs.  It is
fostering a base to so that you are able to build anything else you
want. But, if they pull the government dollar tomorrow would you have
that much power? You understand that now?  People are donating money so
for them to build a fifty million dollar church. And you scratch your
head trying to figure out what is that? I mean who would conceivably
think of that? Because a fifty million dollar church is all egos.  Well,
you know a lot of churches now are looking at their communities and are
understand that they must do something other than make everybody a
parishioner.  They owe more to the community than just making sure
everybody is a part of their church. Chuck Murray and all of them.  They
owe more than that.  They owe their whole power base to the people they
sit on top of.  The ones that don't go to their churches, the ones that
suffer all day, every day while their church is in power. They owe more,
they owe more.

Q.      How would you define this community?
A.      All of the communities are structured to kill each other in the
process. And its a process, I think that if we don't think about it. My
idea is Black community entrepreneurship, and that's all. I do not want
no more or no less. But I think that it's foundation that can be role
model for any other community. That's all I wanted.  Leimert Park became that, structurally it became that. Jefferson Clark, The Watts Tower, everybody's examined us, everybody from every school, every college,
everybody is trying to define who we are. "What happened?" "Why do we
exist when we do not have a government flow of money coming through
here?" "how do we exist?" "What happened?" "Where did it come from?"
It's a phenomenon, Leimert Park is a phenomenon, nothing but a
phenomenon.  Like Central Avenue was a phenomenon, Harlem was a Black
phenomenon, its where people gathered, it had all of this energy.  It
became a bright like where it should not have been. And, look what
people do not recognize is that even South Central is a well of energy.
If you go deep down into Watts and Compton and those areas everything
comes out of there. Your style, your conversation, your music, your
clothes, your look, your fashion, that root, that bottom root. Not in
Ladera, not in any place else. Ladera follows the trends of what happens
in the bottom of Compton.  Los Angeles follows the trends of what
happens down in the bottom of Compton.   If the bottom of Compton
rumbles, Los Angeles puts on armor.  Because they worry of the explosion
that can happen because people are dissatisfied in the bottom of
Compton. So that energy is there.  It has been there all along.
Everything is built around that energy, everything feeds off that
energy. If you take South Central away, LA would not be LA.  It would be
like real boring. You know, Leimert park is the same way, if you take
the Black entrepreneur thing out of here it would change the whole
nature and it would be real boring. It's not a spur-of-the-moment,
grassroots, energy based situation.  It becomes a planned, plotted,
money making idea, like a mall. Everybody is just looking at it just
trying to make a strip mall out of it. Maximize the amount of dollars
that come in and limit the amount of people who have ownership. Seven
years ago we were on the CRA hit list.  We were a blighted area. There
was nothing here.  Nothing, maybe one store. Three years before that
Brockman Gallery was here creating the same energy. But that Cedar-Seven
program does...again, when people saw the energy rising to a point where
Blacks had control of their own.  Cedar-Seven is government money, it
was canceled, pulled. If I was dependent on government money, loans, I
am basically beholden on which way I am suppose to move and how I am
suppose to talk about that.

This community is a great community, when you walk into it has great
energy.  When I first walked into it you could, I could feel it.  I
could see it, I could see New York, I could see Chicago, I could see a
lot of things in Leimert Park.  I could look across the park and see
part of Central Avenue. I could feel like this is a community, the
streets are wide, the aisles are wide, it is possible to have a lot of
different things going on at the same time. You could see musicians
playing in the streets, it is different from Santa Monica and the
Promenade. It's different because the energy level is different.  A lot
of that is false.  It's not really false, it became that way from
grassroots and it brought attention good attention to its community,
good attention and unwanted attention.

Q.      What would you want for this community in the next five to ten years?
A.      I want for it to grow on its own. I want for it to have a choice of
its direction, the people to have the choice of its direction. Not the
politicians, not the so-called put committees that are attacking the
situation, not the so called outer rim telling the inner side what to
do. I want it to be recognized for what it is. In the next, I mean I
don't know, I watch it.  I look at it and it scares me because I think
we are going to mess around and take it for granted like we do all
things that we have and lose it. And that's all biggest problem, it's
not a problem.  We have so much talent, so much wealth and knowledge, so
much natural energy that all things we do we take for granted. And
because of that we miss out on a lot of things.  Because of that we have
a lack of support for our own area.  We are a powerful people. If you
really look at Black people, we affect change in everybody.

I mean, look at rap, came out of the garbage can and literally trash
record. But it change the perception in the whole world of the
perception of how there could be music. I mean the whole world, not this
country, but every person has been affect by jazz and bebop.  They may
never listen to it but they are effected by it, they understand what it
is.  We create great energy, great original energy at all time. Leimert
Park creates the energy, poets, writers, drummers, dancers, we have so
much stuff going on here that people just don't see. They have been
taking their day offs, so they don't come at night.  It's got so much.

Q.      How did you end up in Los Angeles?
A.      I drank my way here, used drugs. I retired out of service and got
here. I came from he East Coast to here, because I remember I came to
Los Angeles in 1960s when it was wide open. When Leimert Park was full
and people did not start doing things till 11 at night and it was open
till 4 or 5:30 in the morning with people going to after hour clubs and
life was wonderful. Night life got officially shut down, basically all
across South Central, where you, people have been intimidated into being
inside your house after 12 am. You know scared to come outside, not from
the kids or other people, but the police and how they treat you. Driving
while Black, walking while Black, talking while Black, looking while
Black, you know, all that stuff over the years has kept people inside
their houses. Misreporting on what is happening in South Central,
Misreporting on what is going on with the kids.  Misreporting on what is
going on in the community has made people change their nature and lock
themselves up in their own little penitentiaries.  I mean people are
sitting at home watching television behind bars, afraid of their own
community.  Fifth Street says you do not have to do that. I stay open
till 5 o'clock in the morning on Fridays and Saturdays.  We sit in the
street till 5 o'clock in the morning on Fridays, on everyday.  This is
our street we can define where it goes and how it goes.  That's all I
really want to say.  We can have this place, we can have our own and we
can do it if we decided we really want to do.

Gang bangers and young kids in the park who were into that...The young
warriors who have no war to fight, or don't realize the direction in the
war they need to fight, or don't have the leadership to take them to the
war, they have backed off of this area with respect and have allowed it
to grow. They did not have to.  So they understand. Everybody seems to
understand once you have a unity kinda thing everybody seems to
understand or begins to understand that it is possible to allow this to
grow. That's all I want for my community.  To be allowed to grow the way
we are growing.

Q.      Do you think that is possible with the current local politics and
A.      See politicians are basically double-crossing lying people. Who set
deals to get elected again. So you know, that's the way politics run.
Traditionally, our Black politicians are not accountable to anyone but
the churches, mostly. They depend on that as their base and I do not
trust our politicians. They might be good human beings, but I just do
not trust them. They talk out of both sides of their neck and they
become not real. After a couple of years in office they find out that
they can do whatever they want and they can make money and the way they
want with developers.  Everything is with developers around here. Magic
Johnson and everyone else. You got the Crenshaw Plaza, which is a
screwed up deal.  Now you got the Santa Barbara Plaza, which was another
screwed up deal.

And you have probably what they are going to do is expand up into the
Jungle and turn all of that into condominiums.  And they don't care what
happens to the people currently there.  Santa Barbara took seven or
eight years since they have started the projects, tenants have left.
The land owners held with empty space for another three, four or five
years, and property value goes down. CRA walks in and buys land ten
cents on the dollar, with your money, your taxes. With our taxes they
buy our land with money and then they create something and say to
tenants and businesses that you can come back.  How can I come back when
I left paying $750 a month now you want $2300?

Magic Johnson only owns ten percent of the theaters and probably less
than ten percent of Starbucks, his partnership.  He is just a name, they
pay him for his name. The Harbor Group is white, Sony is white,
Starbucks is a racist white organization. Sony so is really, but
Starbucks is really racist.  They have been around for a while and have
never had a Starbucks in a Black neighborhood. They have one in Ladera
now, but that is because of Magic.  He is sells his name, that is what
athletes do.  He proved how smart he was to me when he had that show.
(Laughter) He is not a good businessman to want a tv show, a lot of
other people run his money. He is basketball player, he is not a
national hero.  He is not my national hero, he never will be.  See they
keep making heroes, keep making heroes for us who have no substance.
Magic, Michael Jordan, who have no substance, they give them all this
white money, make them heroes and have no substance. They can't have
substance, they are not geared to have substance.  I mean our dreams,
our greatest attainment for our families now are to have our son on the
football team or basketball team or get a baseball contract. I mean that
is where people are going. Or vice president of corporate America.  I
read Ebony every month and they give praise to somebody every month who
has moved up into a white corporation.  But we don't have praise to
moving up in our corporations.  We give great praise to that concept,
but that concept is screwed, to me. Because it gives no balance to who
we are and everything is a conversation of assimilation. Maybe I am
wrong, maybe I am crazy, I am tramp (laughing) I am dope fiend, I am an
alcoholic, so I can say anything I want, because I am on the bottom and
I been on the bottom.  (laughter) So I can say anything, people can
disregard it or can understand what I am trying to say.

That's what I preach around here all the time.  I believe it should be
thought about and looked at, there should be places for us to sit down
as a unit of people to examine things at all times.  Because we teach
everybody else about who we are and we got all kind of UCLA to USC to
all these places with Black/ethnic studies. We don't have nothing in our
community with Black/ethnic studies where it really counts because we
need to know about that shit. They don't need to know, we need to know.
We are the ones lacking any knowledge of self.  So we if we can't or
don't get out to Claremont or one of these places, we don't get to know
about ourselves.  We do not learn anything about our own history.  We do
not even learn it in our own high schools, junior high schools, not with
the crap they feed us in there.  We don't know how valuable and
important we are to the whole running of this world.  We don't. You know
most of the children running out here do not know.  So the emphasis is
putting it in the college base structures. And we have all of these
Black professors and students who go and learn and then leave our
community and we never see them again.  So it does not do anything for
the core. We have the World Stage, Visions Theater, my place that are
lightening rods that bring that stuff back home.