This Saturday marked the first Unity Street Fair organized by USC’s Students Organizing for Literacy, Inclusion and Diversity.
The event brought together USC students, community members, the Dept. of Public Safety and the Los Angeles Police Department. The event was hosted partly in response to allegations of racial profiling and misconduct after LAPD broke up a party of predominantly black students on May 4 of last year.
The fair welcomed more than 300 people to the park at the Hoover Recreational Center at the intersection of Hoover Street and Adams Boulevard and was part of a summerlong collaboration among law enforcement, SOLID and multiple student organizations including the Black Student Assembly, the Black Social Work Caucus and USChange Movement.
The fair featured a raffle of donated items, a disc jockey and various food options. The park housed different booths set up by organizations including SOLID and the Black Student Assembly. LAPD University Park Task Force also had a booth of uniformed officers who spoke with community members. DPS officers in uniform patrolled the event while others, including Chief John Thomas, came in plain clothes and mingled with guests.
SOLID Executive Director Paul Young, a second-year graduate student in the School of Social Work, said the event coordinators hoped to emphasize a spirit of collaboration between law enforcement and the community that went beyond fighting for the students affected on May 4.
“We wanted to have a different response,” Young said. “Instead of just advocating for that group we wanted to advocate for the neighborhood, for other students of color. We wanted to put together an event where we can show something positive can come out of the situation.”
Selam Kidane, a second-year graduate student at the School of Social Work and member of the Black Social Work Caucus, said there is often a culture of fear surrounding law enforcement, but that dialogue is the key to making lasting changes.
“I’d hope that more candid conversations can take place with the community and LAPD and DPS around some of the things that have happened that have scarred the community,” Kidane said.
LAPD and DPS have been meeting with student organizations and have worked to change party protocol so that DPS officers will be the ones to act as first responders.
Sergeant Jon Pinto of LAPD Southwest Division and the University Park Task Force said the task force, which patrols the area surrounding USC, has also held weekly meetings with DPS to create a unified set of policies to close parties and issue warnings.
“We’ve been working with several organizations at USC to heal some of the concerns that the community has and to show the community and university that we’re working in partnership,” Pinto said.
Makiah Green, a first-year graduate student in the master of professional writing program and student leader of the USChange Movement, said the purpose of the event reached further than just addressing the issue of parties.
“There’s a huge misconception that this is about the party and it’s really not; it’s about the underlying racial biases,” Green said.
Green said it was nice to see law enforcement interacting with the community, particularly children that came to the fair, but she still believes fostering a culture of trust will take time.
“I feel like the officers and community members have been kind of segregated,” Green said. “I don’t necessarily know if the kind of communication we wanted to occur did but this is only the first event and a lot of people aren’t comfortable with the police, so I think as time goes on, we’ll be able to build those relationships.”
SOLID co-founder Jacqueline Jackson, a second-year graduate student in strategic public relations and business fundamentals, said that demonstrating USC could care and provide for the surrounding community was key to the event’s success. Growing up in the Inglewood community not far from USC, Jackson said education was not readily available to her, and she took extensive steps to seek it out. In August of 2012, Jackson and Rikiesha Pierce founded SOLID with the goal of expanding the mile-and-a-half radius that USC serves.
“We wanted to build an organization that reached out into the community and brought educational resources and that also brought opportunities to get closer to campus and meet USC students,” Jackson said.
Community outreach also became a large part of Saturday’s fair. Jackson estimates the fair cost upward of $5,000, but various donors, including community members, alumni and DPS contributed funds, as well as raffle prizes, including more than 40 backpacks full of school supplies and 30 bikes.
“I always remember back-to-school season as a kid, but l don’t ever remember going out to purchase a backpack. I didn’t get books, so for me, it was important to come and provide things that I knew were a necessity for these kids,” Jackson said. “The community should feel as if USC is its home.”
When marketing the event, SOLID reached out on social media and email but wanted to make sure that even people who didn’t have access to technology at the event still felt welcome. Volunteers walked the streets handing fliers out to homeless individuals.
Jackson’s mother Ida Herroan said she has lived in South Los Angeles for many years, but this type of community outreach is in many ways a new phenomenon signaling positive change.
“What I see here is a great improvement on society,” Herroan said. “It gives [people] that boost in life. They can say, ‘I don’t have to stay in one place. I can move around in this universe.’”
For DPS Chief John Thomas, this type of cooperation and community outreach is also a welcome change.
“As someone who’s lived through the 1965 riots in L.A. and the 1992 riots in L.A., I didn’t see too many efforts that at the end of those traumatic and tragic incidents people worked with police and the community to bring about better working relationships,” Thomas said.
Thomas stressed that DPS is accountable to the public and has a responsibility to prevent issues of mistrust.
“I think if nothing else this was a genuine effort on the part of DPS and LAPD to work with the students to build a stronger relationship, and I hope at the end of the day that’s accomplished, and we start working toward the second annual fair.”
Follow Kate on Twitter @km_guarino