Thousands of people converged on South Los Angeles to witness the renaming of Rodeo Road to President Barack Obama Boulevard.
The daylong street festival, highlighted with music, food trucks and vendors, took place May 4, in front of Rancho Cienega Sports Center and Park. The huge gathering revealed the community’s deep affection for the former commander-in-chief as well as recalled the neighborhood’s tremendous reception to then-presidential candidate Obama’s 2007 rally at the same site.
Community involvement played a critical role in the renaming campaign, said City Council President Herb J. Wesson, who noted that it was residents in his 10th District – where the 3.5-mile Rodeo Road is located – that proposed the name change.
“We partnered with the community to make this happen and I’m just so pleased for all of us. It’s a fitting tribute to a great president, one that history is going to be kind to,” said Wesson.
“With so much negativity and hatred in the world, it’s good that our community can show nothing but love. This would not have happened if it weren’t for community organizations and all of the elected officials that helped,” he added.
L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, one of the officials who assisted the effort, commented on the significance of holding the celebration at an intersection where the streets are named for two heroes in African American history.
“I’m glad to be one of the sponsors of this historic occasion. There’s no denying the fact that the intersection of Martin Luther King Blvd. and Barack Obama Blvd. speaks volumes in terms of memorializing and celebrating civil rights and human rights for the advancement of democracy,” Ridley-Thomas said. “We are part of the fabric of history-making and I’m proud to be associated with it!”
That feeling of pride also extended to the throngs of community members, who exploded with applause and cheers, as the Obama Blvd. sign was unveiled. Smart phones were held high throughout the sea of people as crowds snapped photos and videos of the new blue-and-white street designation.
“He’s a living legend and it’s an honor for him to have a street in his name,” said L.A. resident Ayanna Brown.
Resident Bridgett Goss remarked, “Obama was a very good president. He was all-positive and today’s event was all positive.”
According to Marvin Adams, also of L.A., “This is history! He was the first Black president and someone we can look up to.”
Similar words were expressed by L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, a friend and campaign supporter of Obama. Citing the historical election, Garcetti also urged the crowd to continue the momentum in the future.
“This city helped to deliver the presidency for the first African American man ever in the history of our country. That seed that was planted, we have to keep cultivating it,” said Garcetti. “In this election in 2020, we can take the legacy of the Obamas forward and maybe have the first African American woman or Corey Booker or have anyone become the greatest leader in this land.”
U.S. Congresswoman Karen Bass also emphasized the importance of next year’s presidential election as she proclaimed her excitement about the historic street renaming. Bass frequently collaborated with Obama on civil and human rights issues during his two terms. She also introduced him to Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles restaurant during one of his visits to Los Angeles.
“King Blvd. running into Obama Blvd. reflects our past struggles and gains and our future struggles,” Bass insisted. “All of the energy that we put into electing Barack Obama, we’ve got to do the same thing again. I’m fired up and ready to go!”
Michael Lawson, CEO/president of the L.A. Urban League, was another Obama friend who shared remarks at the ceremony. Referring to the “historic intersection of Obama Blvd. and King Blvd.,” he said the location illustrates how two men from different eras intersect and that parents should ensure that “our children’s children know and understand. We can’t forget.”
Lawson, who was appointed by Obama as U.S. ambassador to the International Civil Aviation Organization, also read a letter from the former president expressing appreciation for the street naming.
“While Michelle, Malia, Sasha and I are so humbled by this day, we’re still mindful that it’s not about us. It’s about this neighborhood’s next generation and all that we want from them,” wrote Obama.
“We hope they’ll look at these new street signs and find inspiration and all that a group of committed citizens can achieve together and all of you will rally around to build a better community, a better L.A., and a better country where every single one of us can reach our full potential.”
Obama Blvd. joins the city’s President’s Row, which consists of Washington Boulevard, Adams Boulevard and Jefferson Boulevard.
Several elected officials attended the ceremony. They included State Senators Maria Elena Durazo, Steve Bradford and Holly Mitchell, Assemblywomen Sydney Kamlager-Dove and Wendy Carrillo, Inglewood Mayor James Butts, County Assessor Jeffrey Prang, L.A. Councilmembers Curren Price and Marqueece Harris-Dawson, MTA Commissioner Jacquelyn Dupont-Walker, L.A. Housing Commissioner Bobbie Anderson, and Public Works Commissioners Kevin James and Mike Davis. Also, activist General Jeff represented the skid row community.
Musical performers included Sheila E., Doug E. Fresh, Yo-Yo, BJ the Chicago Kid, Battlecat, Kurrupt and Yo-Yo.