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Southland Diaries: Crenshaw

Art by Ellinor Rundhovde

The Calm Within the Storm

By Bethany Whittaker

When I was seven, my mom moved my two brothers and me into a two-bedroom apartment in Crenshaw. And if you’ve ever seen the way they picture Southern California on postcards, you’d think Crenshaw was just another beachy Hollywood utopia.

The truth is, being and becoming in Los Angeles while Black looks like the legacy of Nipsey Hussle on the corner of Crenshaw and Slauson. The mentality of a true leader is instilled in you as soon as you breathe the air that smells like fried catfish and hush puppies. The moment you open your eyes after being delivered at the nearest Kaiser Permanente, you recognize the palm trees and the familiar feeling that you have finally found home.

LA is undeniably a sunny sight to see. The weather is always clear, always crisp, and always cozy with a beach that is always just 20 minutes away. From the outside looking in, you may think that LA has it all together.

The double-edged sword that comes with this beauty is the gentrified lens that eventually steals focus. It looks like the Inglewoods that turn into football stadiums, the Black communities that turn into hotel complexes, and the Black-owned businesses that turn into Chipotles and Targets. Everything around me started to change right before my eyes. Now the air reeks of overpriced salads and overrated murals.

Crenshaw was home for me, but it feels all too removed by the picture it’s been repainted to be by those who do not call it home. The scene is so strange as I walk around and see people drinking pumpkin spiced lattes while eating avocado toast one block down from a street lined with poverty and hunger-stricken tent cities.

Gentrification had bulldozed everything I knew into this new foreign LAnd. The culture and identity that was so beautifully enriched by my community is now unrecognizable. The palm trees feel so unfamiliar and the smell of fried catfish and hush puppies has all but disappeared.

Although the battles with gentrification continue to sweep through the Southland, the culture I once knew and grew up in made me the woman I am. Something about growing up in LA prior to the age of gentrification makes me appreciate the culture on which that gentrification stands.

So, at the end of the day, LA will always be my home.

It will always be the place where I played on the playgrounds and had to be back before the streetlights came on—but that taught me to be vigilant. Where I laid awake drowning out the sound of helicopters policing the night—but that taught me to drown out the noise and focus inward. LA has shaped each and every bone in my body, and without it I wouldn’t be who I am today.

Something about the calm within the storm is what Los Angeles means to me.

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