Destination Crenshaw canvassers: Susan Barber and Gregory Shumate
(Photos by Leroy Hamilton)

The dawn of a new decade marks a series of innovative projects and initiatives to look forward to. If the theme of 2019 was about fighting to keep South LA intact as outside developers encroached further into our community, the beginning of 2020 is about spreading a message of defiance through unity and Black ownership.

From the recently launched Office of Racial Equity to the newly opened South LA Cafe coffee shop—  there is a growing sense of urgency among Black entrepreneurs, community leaders, and elected officials alike: South LA is at a critical juncture in the fight to preserve its historic Black culture and physical presence.

There’s no symbol more significant in physical scale or ambition of this commitment to unity than Destination Crenshaw — the highly anticipated cultural hub that is slated to flank the Crenshaw/LAX Metro line later this year.

The at-grade metro line has been a well-chronicled source of pain and contention for the community since it was first announced. It’s also what led residents like Susan Baber and others to participate with Destination Crenshaw’s outreach team.

“Developers are force-feeding us their plans. Why are they trying to take the legacy of the community away? We never had a subway through the community. It’s changed the tone of being able to travel the streets freely and divided the neighborhood in two parts,” said Susan Baber, a longtime Crenshaw resident, and a Crenshaw High School alum.

Many community members are hopeful that Destination Crenshaw will help spark the creation of safe, healthy, and vibrant spaces that facilitate economic security and entrepreneurship of Black residents, which will ultimately help protect the neighborhood from runaway displacement by increasing a sense of ownership of South LA. The emergence of workspaces such as Vector 90, the brainchild of David Gross and Nipsey Hussle, demonstrate the vital role community incubators can serve in the success of aspiring entrepreneurs.

“I wanted to bring some type of pride back. It excites me that this project means our legacy will not be forgotten and that it was one of Nipsey’s final projects that made sure the community kept its foundation in Blackness,” Baber added.

Other residents like Gregory Shumate have been eager to participate however possible and he quickly signed up for the opportunity to take part in the project’s door-to-door outreach efforts of collecting feedback and providing real-time updates in the community.

“It was a pleasure and honor to be a part of this historic achievement. Going around and talking to my fellow neighbors, I learned so much and it felt great to contribute however I could,” Shumate reflected.

Destination Crenshaw isn’t waiting for construction to begin or asking permission to start engaging the community. Led by City Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson, community leaders have already initiated activations to usher in the new era, such as conducting a carpenters’ pre-apprentice skill-building workshop, hosting artists workshops, and collaborating with the community on established events such as the 14th Annual Taste of Soul festival, where they offered a virtual reality walkthrough of what the 1.3 mile-long space will look like once complete and hosted wellness pop-ups like Trap Yoga.

To kick off 2020, Destination Crenshaw will ramp up its community engagement even further, starting with the Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Freedom Festival in Leimert Park, at the end of the MLK parade route.  The Freedom Festival is an annual celebration of the legacy of Dr. King through art and activism, to complement the largest MLK parade in the nation.

This year’s “The Future is Now” theme serves as yet another source of inspiration for a project which has rooted itself in the belief that celebration is a form of Black resistance and harkens back to King’s memorialized urging that “the time is always ripe to do what’s right.”