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Cultural Center to fight eviction

WAVE NEWSPAPERS — Controversy continues to brew over the fate of the AFIBA Center, a long-standing cultural institution and popular meeting place that was served an eviction notice on Aug. 28 by the city of Los Angeles. The community landmark, located at 5730 Crenshaw Blvd., is also the headquarters of the African Firefighters Benevolent Association. It offers tutoring services for local youth as well as health seminars and regular lectures on African and African-American history and culture. 

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AFIBA Center (Photo by: wavenewspapers.com)

By Shirley Hawkin

CRENSHAW — Controversy continues to brew over the fate of the AFIBA Center, a long-standing cultural institution and popular meeting place that was served an eviction notice on Aug. 28 by the city of Los Angeles.

The community landmark, located at 5730 Crenshaw Blvd., is also the headquarters of the African Firefighters Benevolent Association. It offers tutoring services for local youth as well as health seminars and regular lectures on African and African-American history and culture.

Although the center is officially charged $1 a year to occupy the space, Jabari Jumaane, the executive director of the AFIBA Center for 20 years, said that yearly rent is offset due to the services the center offers to the community.

“The building is actually owned by taxpayers,” he said. “What rights do we have as taxpayers and stakeholders? “We are a service organization and the city does not give us anything. People bring in water, paper towels and soap and we recycle cans and bottles. We operate under a tight constraint.”

According to reports, Eighth District Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson wants to use part of the AFIBA parking lot to erect a 12-story tower emblazoned with the “Crenshaw” logo and knock down the walls of the parking lot to build a pocket park.

The changes are part of Destination Crenshaw, an art project that is in the planning stages that will be a major attraction throughout the Crenshaw corridor when it is completed several years from now.

Jumaane, who is also an inspector with the Los Angeles Fire Department, said that using a portion of the parking lot for a pocket park would seriously impact the number of parking spaces at the center.

“I objected to those changes. Where will people park?” he asked. “There is hardly any place near the AFIBA center to park as it is right now.

“I was notified on August 28 by a representative of the city of Los Angeles General Service real estate division about the eviction,” Jumaane said. “They emailed me a notice to vacate [the premises] and said they wanted us out by Sept. 9. I immediately responded to their question that the benefit of the full 30-day notice should have been extended to Sept. 30.

“Two days later, the city attorney called me and said there would be no problem extending the time to vacate to by Sept. 30.”

But Jumaane disputes that he ever got the official notice in writing.

“A letter in an envelope was thrown on the grass through a wrought iron fence and was not posted on site,” he said. “The city of Los Angeles real estate division provided me with a picture of the serving of the 30-day notice. But the gardener who does the weed whacking and leaf blowing collected the notice with the trash. Had it been taped to the post, we would have seen it and it would not have been collected with the trash.”

The city-owned building is more than 95 years old and city officials said that it is in bad need of repair.

Jumaane said that he and friends of the AFIBA center met at Harris-Dawson’s office six times to talk about the upcoming Destination Crenshaw.

“First, those meetings were to discuss the adverse impact that Destination Crenshaw was having on the Crenshaw and Hyde Park area,” he said.

Secondly, we talked about how key members in the community were deliberately overlooked and not invited or included in the planning that will affect the community. We also felt that the economic development component that should be incorporated in Destination Crenshaw is sorely lacking and needed to benefit this community.

“All of those concerns were consistently dodged and promises were made that were not kept at this point,” Juumane said.

“It goes to credibility, lying and trying to push us out,” he said. “We have documentation of every little thing we have not received.”

Juumane and supporters of the center have appeared before the City Council twice to protest the eviction and recently held a meeting at the AFIBA Center to discuss the matter.

“People are fired up, appalled and feel disrespected,” said Juumane, who added that the center has many loyal supporters.

Harris-Dawson recently issued a statement about the controversy, stating that he has attempted to solve the dispute to no avail.

“My office and I have worked tirelessly with representatives of the African Firefighters in Benevolent Association (AFIBA), an unincorporated association, to extend an agreement with the city of Los Angeles to use a city-owned building on Crenshaw Boulevard,” it read.

“Unfortunately, after nearly a year of repeated requests, face-to-face meetings and written communication, AFIBA representatives remain unwilling to meet the most basic requirements of using a publicly owned facility.

“First and foremost, the building must be available to the residents of our community. This includes neighborhood councils, community organizations and the City of Los Angeles (the owner) itself.

“Secondly, the building must be opened and well maintained. Since the agreement does not require any payment by AFIBA, the expectation, outlined in the agreement, is that AFIBA would maintain the property, provide stated programming and services, and carry the necessary insurance coverage to provide for injury and/or mishaps.

“Notwithstanding these failures, I have tried to negotiate a new agreement that would allow AFIBA to continue to use the space. The requests for negotiation have been met with silence by AFIBA.

“This week the Los Angeles city department that manages public assets was refused entry onto the property. This is completely unacceptable and inevitably triggered eviction proceedings.

“Since AFIBA is unwilling to work through these issues, we will move forward to make sure the building can in fact be used for the stated purpose of the agreement.  All groups or activities that have been able to use the AFIBA center will be able to continue to do so after this situation is resolved.”

Juumane said that he is puzzled as to why Harris-Dawson claims that representatives from the city were refused entry into the AFIBA Center and that neighborhood councils and other community organizations were also refused entry.

“That is not true,” Juumane said. “I believe that Harris-Dawson is seriously intent on removing me as the executive director of the AFIBA Center.

“There is a legal eviction process and the city cannot come into the AFIBA Center and change the locks. They think we’re going to back down on this issue, but we won’t,” said Juumane, who said he is currently speaking to attorneys.

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U.S. Business Leaders Step Up to Fight Inequities in the South

Even as the pandemic has laid bare societal inequities that have long eroded the foundation of our democracy, political leaders in Washington and in state capitols are mired in a level of rancor and partisanship not seen since the ideological struggles over the Vietnam War. 

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Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr./ NNPA Newswire

Even as the pandemic has laid bare societal inequities that have long eroded the foundation of our democracy, political leaders in Washington and in state capitols are mired in a level of rancor and partisanship not seen since the ideological struggles over the Vietnam War. 

This toxic atmosphere has left them incapable of addressing pressing, yet ingrained issues like the racial wealth gap, the digital divide, and vast inequalities in everything from health care to home ownership.

With COVID-19 still an omnipresent concern and the country’s recovery still very much in jeopardy, individuals, families, and communities – particularly communities of color throughout the South – are struggling to deal with issues that have only been exacerbated by the pandemic.

From impediments to wealth creation opportunities and a dearth of education and workforce development to a lack of access to reliable broadband, substandard housing, and inadequate political representation, communities of color have suffered an outsized toll during the ongoing public health crisis.

Yet political leaders can’t even agree on basic facts that would allow the nation to implement a coherent national strategy for combatting a pandemic that appears to be entering a new wave amid the rise of the highly contagious Delta variant that is currently ravaging parts of the South.

Against that disillusioning backdrop, there is at least some reason for hope. Moving to fill the vacuum created by the inaction of our political class, a group of business leaders in the technology and investment sectors have embarked on a far-reaching – and perhaps unprecedented – campaign to address the social inequities and systemic racism that has historically plagued our country’s southern communities.

Known as the Southern Communities Initiative (SCI), the campaign was founded by financial technology company PayPal, the investment firm Vista Equity Partners (Vista), and the Boston Consulting Group (BCG).

SCI was formed to work with local elected officials and advocacy groups to tackle the ubiquitous problems of structural racism and inequalities facing communities of color in six communities throughout the South. SCI notes that these areas – Atlanta, Ga., Birmingham, Ala., Charlotte, N.C., Houston, Texas, Memphis, Tenn., and New Orleans, La., – were chosen in part because they are home to around 50% of the country’s Black population and are where some of the greatest disparities exist.

SCI is aiming to drive long-term change, as outlined by PayPal CEO Dan Schulman, Vista CEO Robert F. Smith and BCG CEO Rich Lesser. 

In Atlanta, for example, SCI is working to bridge the wealth gap that exists among the region’s African-American residents. While there is a strong Black business community in the city, and high levels of Black educational achievement thanks to the regional presence of several Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) and the voice of the Black press, there is still an extremely low level of Black entrepreneurship and business ownership with only 6% of employer firms being Black-owned.

To remedy this disparity, SCI is working with the Southern Economic Advancement Project to create entrepreneurship hubs and accelerator programs to increase the number of minority-owned businesses. The corporations behind SCI are also using their networks to help other companies work with minority-owned supply companies.

In Alabama, SCI is seeking to bridge the massive digital divide in an urban area where 450,000 households are without connection to the internet. In order to tackle the crisis, SCI is leveraging relationships with local schools and libraries to distribute laptops and service vouchers. Another tact SCI is taking is to partner with the owners of multi-unit buildings in low-income neighborhoods to install free public Wi-Fi for residents.

The lack of access to capital is another reason Black communities throughout the South have been traditionally underbanked. In Memphis, where 47% of Black households are underbanked, SCI is partnering with Grameen America to cover the $2 million per year per branch start-up cost to build brick-and-mortar banks in minority communities.

This alone will provide 20,000 women access to more than $250 million per year in financing.

Beyond these initiatives, SCI is partnering with groups like the Greater Houston Partnership and the Urban League of Louisiana to provide in-kind support to improve job outcomes for minority college students, expand access to home financing through partnerships with community development financial institutions, and harness the power of technology to expand health care access in underserved urban and rural neighborhoods.

The issues facing these communities throughout the South are not new nor will they be fixed overnight.

Fortunately, SCI is taking a long-term approach that is focused on getting to the root of structural racism in the United States and creating a more just and equitable country for every American.

A once-in-a-century pandemic and a social justice movement not seen since the 1960s were not enough to break the malaise and rancorous partisanship in Washington. Fortunately, corporate leaders are stepping up and partnering with local advocates and non-profit groups to fix the problem of systemic injustice in the U.S.

We, therefore, salute and welcome the transformative commitments of the Southern Communities Initiative (SCI). There is no time to delay, because as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. so accurately said, “The time is always right to do what is right.”

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Black Woman to Lead United States Park Police

 Chief Smith’s experience serving in leadership roles in every U.S. Park Police field office has provided her with an unmatched foundation to lead the diverse agency,” said Flynn, who oversees law enforcement programs at USPP.

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Pamela A. Smith

Pamela A. Smith, a 23-year veteran of the United States Park Police, will lead the nation’s oldest federal law enforcement agency.

Smith, who became the first African American woman to lead the 230-year-old agency, immediately remarked that she would establish a body-worn camera program for USPP within 90 days.

The program will initially begin in San Francisco and be implemented across the country by the end of the year, Smith said.

“Body-worn cameras are good for the public and good for our officers, which is why I am prioritizing implementing a body-worn camera program within my first 90 days,” Smith offered in a statement.

 “This is one of the many steps we must take to continue to build trust and credibility with the public we have been entrusted to serve.”

Smith earned a bachelor’s degree in Education from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and graduated from the FBI National Academy. She is a member of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

During her law enforcement career, the proud Zeta Phi Beta Sorority sister has served as a patrol officer, field training officer, canine handler, and academy instructor at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.

 According to a news release, Smith also served as executive lieutenant to the chief of police, assistant commander of the San Francisco Field Office, commander of the New York Field Office, acting deputy chief of the Homeland Security Division, and deputy chief for the Field Operations Division.

Smith was the first woman to lead the New York Field Office as its Major.

At the USPP, she will lead a 560-member workforce that protects the public, parks, and the nation’s most iconic landmarks in Wash., D.C., New York City, and San Francisco metropolitan areas.

“Chief Smith’s commitment to policing as public service and her willingness to listen and collaborate make her the right person to lead the U.S. Park Police at this pivotal moment in our country,” Shawn Benge, deputy director exercising the delegated authority of the NPS director, noted in a statement.

 “Over the coming months, the leadership of the National Park Service will explore opportunities with Chief Smith designed to strengthen our organization’s commitment to transparency. Her personal and professional experience make her acutely aware of and ready to meet the challenges and responsibilities that face U.S. Park Police and law enforcement agencies across the nation.”

 Jennifer Flynn, the associate director for Visitor Resource Protection at the National Park Service added that she’s looking forward to Smith’s leadership.

“Chief Smith’s experience serving in leadership roles in every U.S. Park Police field office has provided her with an unmatched foundation to lead the diverse agency,” said Flynn, who oversees law enforcement programs at USPP.

 “As federal law enforcement officers, the U.S. Park Police officers have a new opportunity each day to give their best to the American people. Chief Smith exemplifies that approach as a colleague and mentor, and she will be instrumental in refining and shaping the future of the organization,” Flynn said.

Smith declared that she would lead by example and expects all officers to display integrity.

 “I have dedicated my career to the professionalism of law enforcement, and it is my highest honor and privilege to serve as chief of police,” Chief Smith declared. “Today’s officers face many challenges, and I firmly believe challenges present opportunities. I look forward to leading this exemplary team as we carry out our mission with honesty and integrity.”  

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