“Some people say we’ve got a lot of malice
Some say it’s a lot of nerve
But I say we won’t quit moving until we get what we deserve”– James Brown
In 1968, James Brown told Black people to “Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud!” and with eight words he claimed the American narrative that Black people would achieve, succeed and prosper because of their blackness – not in spite of it.
It was a shocking statement. Even for some Black people. And to this day, although much has changed, boldly embracing Blackness remains revolutionary. That’s one reason why at Destination Crenshaw, we always describe our project as “unapologetically Black.” To us that phrase has levels on levels – with cultural, spiritual, creative and community meaning. But in this month’s newsletter, I want to talk specifically about the radical and revolutionary power of Black design.
Destination Crenshaw’s community spaces, places where we can sit and reflect, meet one-on-one or gather in groups, are going to be beautifully landscaped and designed. Make no mistake: the idea that an inner-city Black community should be safe, prosperous, rich with cultural assets, green with nature and aesthetically beautiful, remains almost unimaginable. If it weren’t, we wouldn’t have to struggle, neighborhood by neighborhood, city by city, coast to coast for equitable investment in Black communities. But equitable investment in Black communities is more than financial, it’s also showing what we have known all along. Black is beautiful. And if this is true, our communities should reflect this to be truly equitable spaces.
With this in mind, Destination Crenshaw is Black design for Black LA. And the work is being led by the best of the best. Of the nation’s 110,000 architects, only 522 are Black women. Two of those women, Zena Howard and Gabrielle Bullock of Perkins + Will, are lead on our project. How has this made a difference? They have designed stunning spaces that embody blackness and the Crenshaw community.
Perkins + Will held nothing back. Meeting with Crenshaw community members over 4 years to absorb our history, culture and to understand our roots, they have translated it all into a powerful visual story of the Black experience. And what they have created speaks to the struggle, resilience, joy, and beauty of our blackness.
While the mere idea of Black beauty still makes some folks uncomfortable, even afraid, we are leaning into our existence, and are beyond fortunate to have the skills and vision of this terrific team to do that.
The Godfather of Soul may have been from South Carolina, but Brown’s revolutionary anthem was recorded in a studio right here in L.A. Children from Watts and Compton backed him on the record, shouting out the exuberant, unapologetic call-and-response that has lifted Black folks for over a generation.
One day we’ll be past these kinds of articulations and justifications for building beauty in our neighborhoods. Development and design born of blackness will be understood because it is experienced, not explained. But until then, we’ll continue to say it loud.