One of the things that has become clear to me is that people won’t ever understand each other if they don’t share the same space. It’s why you can’t have a fair society when the society is segregated. It’s why you can’t understand a country to which you’ve never been.
We have a lot of foreign countries in Los Angeles, more foreign than Tibet or the forests of Papua New Guinea. They are foreign even though the people who live there speak the same language and travel on the same passport as I do. They are foreign because people from the wealthy communities refuse to cross the color line unless it’s on the freeway.
A couple of weekends ago I went to an event called the Inner City Lites Health Festival held at Jesse Owens Park in Westmont. It featured booths, music, food, information about various health programs, and free expungement services administered by the Office of the LA County Public Defender. The event is in its 15th year and is organized by Mark Johnson, a guy who works tirelessly to make his community a better place.
I stayed for a couple of hours and talked to people. One guy told me that I was only a couple of blocks away from Death Alley, and that Westmont was the deadliest place in LA, if not the nation. Maybe so, but that didn’t put any kind of damper on the festivities, and as I found out after reading up on the matter, most of the deaths are drug-related and occur among the highest-risk group: Young men.
I haven’t been young for decades and my drug trade involves Geritol. No wonder I felt safe. And how couldn’t I? There were dads, moms, kids, and grandparents everywhere, people enjoying being outside together on a splendid fall day.
People were friendly, and I met guys like Lorenzo Murphy, who has a talk show called Compton Politics. Friendliest of all were the cyclists; every neighborhood has ’em! I met Will Holloway of the S.O.LA Real Ridaz, a group that has show bikes, low rider bikes, chromed-out bikes, and that donates bikes to kids. We talked and made plans for a ride, and then started talking about putting on a bike show in the South Bay. Before I left the guys who had rolled out their classic cars invited us to sit behind the wheel and take a couple of pictures.
There are so many people, our neighbors and fellow human beings, who face huge challenges, challenges that we can’t imagine tucked away here in the South Bay. And there are so many people fighting for change, where change means doing things that give kids a chance, where change means a hot meal, clothes, a roof, basic health care, and a job.
Here’s the thing: I would have never ventured over to Jesse Owens Park by myself if my friend Ken Vinson hadn’t invited me to his MVMNT Rides earlier this year. It took someone reaching out, and a bunch of friendly people, to make me feel like I was welcome in a place where hardly anyone looked like me. Ken and his friends taught me that change is possible. Now. Today.
But you can’t be part of that change until you leave those places in which you feel familiar and comfortable. Like travel of all kinds, crossing neighborhoods makes you realize that people are people. And most of all, it makes you realize that you’re not, and never have been, alone.
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