By Rachel Mullens
Hundreds gathered in Leimert Park Plaza in front of the Vision Theater on Saturday, October 14. The day marked the beginning of a year-long celebration in honor of the 20th anniversary of TSEHAI Publishers, the 10th anniversary of TSEHAI Publisher’s partnership with Loyola Marymount University and its Marymount Institute for Faith, Culture, and the Arts, the publication of Voices from Leimert Park Redux, the inaugural book from Harriet Tubman Press, and most importantly the celebration of the true freedom that is born when a collective people is allowed ownership of its own stories.
I had never been to the Leimert Park neighborhood before, and I was elated that-all day parking only cost me $2.50. More important, I gained a deeper appreciation for the history of Los Angeles — a place that does in fact span a much broader square footage to which I am accustomed. Leimert Park is known for its drum circles on Sundays and its tree-lined streets, and is an epicenter for the arts. It challenges the fixed images that we conjure up when we hear those two letters side by side: an endless stream of taillights, the red carpets and sidewalks made for stars, the more memorable scenes from La La Land. People were gathered outside to play music, to walk their dogs, to buy organic produce from Suprmarkt, and merely to connect with one another. I heard multiple people call it the heart of Los Angeles, and I am in agreement; life is palpable here.
A musical performance by The Supa Lowery Brothers kicked off the event, and they provided further entertainment with their musical interludes between panels. Kevin Nash, the golden voice of the local radio station owned by Stevie Wonder, presided as Master of Ceremonies throughout the event. Guests were welcomed by Lane Bove, the Senior Vice President of Student Affairs at Loyola Marymount University. Three panels led by Angela Rye, Principal and CEO of IMPACT Strategies, a political advocacy firm in Washington, D.C., alternated with readings by the featured poets to form the remainder of the event’s programming.
The day was warm and shade was limited to the perimeters of the plaza; one young man climbed the tree beside the theater’s entrance and remained there for the full length of the program while others retreated to the covered tables just slightly removed from the mass of white folding chairs. It was here that I overheard a conversation in passing between a woman and a young girl who was experiencing some kind of conflict with a schoolmate. The woman asked two questions: “Who controls your energy?” and “Who determines your attitude?” To which the girl mumbled, “me.” The woman asked again, “WHO?” This time the girl was sure. “ME!” she exclaimed.
The programming reflected this same message of power. TSEHAI and its imprint, Harriet Tubman Press, serve as a reminder that the African American community now has the ability to control its own narrative as it always deserved. The first panel was entitled “The Power of a Press” and featured the 37th District Representative Karen Bass, Founder and Editorial Director of TSEHAI Publishers, Elias Wondimu, and Literary Editor of Harriet Tubman Press, Shonda Buchanan. The second was “Our Voices Are Stronger Together” with Supervisor for the 2nd District of Los Angeles, Mark Ridley-Thomas, Freedom Riders Bob and Helen Singleton, and Professor of Psychology, Cheryl Grills. Last but not least, Kevin Nash moderated “Coming Together On Social Justice Issues” with Reverend Kelvin Sauls of Holman United Methodist Church, Umar Hakim, Executive Director of the Intellect Love Mercy Foundation, and News One Anchor Roland Martin.
I found myself in in charge of the activity table provided for the children and “young at heart” as one attendee phrased it, darting after coloring pages that threatened to litter the entire plaza at the slightest breeze. I will be honest, my attention was divided between the countless games of tic-tac-toe I played and main programmed events. This slight removal offered me the perspective to appreciate the plaza and its temporary inhabitants as a whole. What I witnessed and what each individual experienced, was the purest form of community in its ideal.
The execution of a seemingly simple concept such as “community” is due largely to the complicated orchestration of such an event, but must also be attributed to the individual spirit of each attendee. The diverse crowd was unified by the singular appreciation for the stories being honored, and the genuine desire for a future that is embodied by the mission of TSEHAI Publishers and Harriet Tubman Press. Much more than one day alone, this launch was the beginning of a new tomorrow, which aims to give cause to celebrate black voices and equity in the global community each and every day from this one forward.
The day’s events were covered live by several news outlets including KJLA, KPFK, Spotlight Africa, and News One. During the past 20 years, TSEHAI Publishers has developed a reputation in Los Angeles as a nonviolent force against injustice. It has garnered the support from Members of Congress including Maxine Waters and Karen Bass, who participated in one of Saturday’s panels.
Eric Garcetti, Mayor of Los Angeles, commended TSEHAI for its 20th anniversary and recognized the publishing house “for being committed to social justice and creating a platform from which to project otherwise unheard voices” as well as “its continued effort to bridge divides and create a more unified and socially conscious world.”
Header image by Robert Macaisa.