blossoming branch of tree against blue sky

Tunisia Nelson: Standing in Remembrance of Mary Lee

Standing in remembrance of Mary Lee
I TIP her hat with pride
Red as Bold & Courageous
Strong as she Identified

The true definition of what it means to be…
A Woman after God’s own heart
The pillar of this family
Proverbs 31 in human form

To know her was to love her, if not to envy her kind, subtle ways
She owned SWAG before it was even a thing
She created the Formation, you hope & dream
To be anything like Mary Lee
A conqueror of much

She is a survivor of more than you will ever know
Her faith made it seem as if she towered, despite her petite frame
Cancer couldn’t take her and the devil couldn’t break her

She made a mean peach cobbler!
The kind you are willing to sneak in the kitchen, eat up,
And get a whooping for.

A sacrificer of much
In a pinch she knew just what to do
Head High, Speaking Her mind,

For ALL that, and more, Grandma,
I tip YOUR hat to YOU!

TN

Tunisia Nelson is a writer, born in Los Angeles but raised in Bakersfield, CA and currently residing in Moreno Valley, CA. She is a VONA Alum and has published poems in the Eunoia Review, Iō Literary Journal, and Refractions, an online literary journal. She received a BA in Psychology from Cal Poly Pomona, and an MSW from Cal State Long Beach. Tunisia dedicates this poem to her grandmother, one of the most faithful and prayerful women she was blessed to have known, who also made the best peach cobbler, hands down, and who loved her family with every fiber in her. Her memory deserves to live on and this poem is paying her homage, letting her know she is so very missed.

Sam Yorty at City Hall

On this Day: Watts Spiraled Into Flames at the hands of the LAPD as Mayor Yorty Blamed “Communists” for Sowing Black Resentment

55 years ago, a summer celebrated for its record-setting economy led to prosperity for whites at the same time that it missed Black youth in Watts and South Los Angeles when then Mayor Yorty went rogue. In violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act’s “maximum feasible participation” clause, which sought to give local elected working-class community members an active role in community development programs, Mayor Yorty refused to create an official set of anti-poverty programs in areas such as Watts, South Central, or the Chicano Eastside of Los Angeles. At the same time, LAPD officers in 1965 virtually resembled the white Southern segregationists, and in fact many came from the South, as with the 77th street division of the LAPD. Officers in the “de facto” segregated South side of Los Angeles regularly roughhoused Black folks there into jail, fines, and even worse indignation.

In Set the Night on Fire, Mike Davis and Jon Wiener provide one anecdote of the latter, reporting the story of Beverly Tate, a 22 year old Black woman & mother who at some point during the morning of July 1st, 1965 was stopped in her car by police, ordered out of the passenger’s seat, taken to a discreet location, and subsequently raped by LAPD officer W.D. McCloud as another LAPD officer stood watch. Tate’s story was given a brief mention as a “rumor” on the Los Angeles Times on July 31st of that year, and was also reported in Jet magazine on August 12th, 1965.

While McCloud was fired from the LAPD the next day, he was never charged for a crime. Yet the Black community in Los Angeles at the time was well aware of the account as an example of the LAPD’s blatant disregard for Black life throughout the city. In October of 1965, Tate, who was five months pregnant, died mysteriously of “unknown causes,” to be survived by her two children.

Together, each of these factors and more converged when a group of 77th street officers decided to jail an entire Black family following an unnecessary traffic stop outside their home near the Watts area. When a crowd gathered in shock at the LAPD’s manhandling of the family members, the officers responded aggressively in an effort to intimidate the crowd back. But after a few women jeered at the police officers, the officers grabbed several of the women from the crowd in an attempt to drag them into their patrol cars on “battery” charges. That’s when the bystanders erupted, throwing soda cans at the LAPD and chasing them out of the vicinity.

What followed over the next six days was a bloodbath that treated Black Los Angeles like the Viet Cong guerilla force in South Vietnam. Along with M14-toting National Guard troops, the LAPD, armed with shotguns, shot to kill and jail Black citizens in Watts and along South Central in an effort to subdue the community’s outrage at the inequities of joblessness and over-policed Black bodies. In less than a week, LAPD and National Guard troops would kill 26 civilians, and injure and arrest thousands more, overwhelmingly Black bodies, but also Latino. All 26 civilian deaths would be deemed by the LAPD and subsequent commissions as justifiable homicides, while Mayor Yorty backed these findings, to the satisfaction of then police chief Parker.

For its part, the L.A. Times during this period would center and reinforce the narrative of white victimization in predominantly Black Watts, publishing headlines such as”‘Get Whitey,’ Scream Blood-Hungry Mobs’” and “Negro Unrest Laid to Negro Family Failure.” Such coverage, along with media reels of disorder in the community, only stoked further white resentment of Blacks all across Los Angeles. More than a few groups of white caravans from places such as the valley and other white strongholds would arrive to attack Blacks in Watts, to be turned away by the LAPD, but not arrested.

Fifty five years later, Watts is now 80% Latino, and less than 20% Black, but it remains one of the most impoverished areas in all of Los Angeles. More than a quarter of the population in the Watts area lives underneath the federal poverty line, while the vast majority of the conditions that fueled Black outrage in 1965 at inequities in their community, including joblessness and scant access to a college education, adequate health-care and home ownership, remain intransigently locked in. Or, as the Reverend Marcus Murchinson tells it:

“Multiple generations of the same families continue to live in public housing projects and only a small percentage get off government assistance and achieve the dream of owning a home.”


It has been said that change is the only constant. Yet in places like Watts, those are but words in contrast to a stark reality on the ground. To turn such conditions into conditions that support the quality of life in this part of Los Angeles will thus take more than activism, but a rain of support like the reign of fire that engulfed this community into generations of second-class citizenship fifty-five summers ago. Yorty, for his part, has been dead for more than two decades now, but the federal moneys he and his political allies held away from support of Black employment, education, and home ownership remain missing in action.

J.T.

Nahshon D. Anderson: Don’t Just Black Out Now; Support Queer & Trans Writers of Color

The recent unlawful killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other African-Americans and 40+ emails since that I’ve received from different nonprofits stating solidarity for Black Lives led me to write this.

Many organizations are now claiming to support Black people (because it’s currently convenient) and believe they are standing in solidarity with us (even as they obtain more funding and media attention since it’s currently convenient).

Yet Queer writers of color have been overlooked and under-funded for decades, especially Trans writers of color (i.e. transgender writers of color).

When it’s come time to cut checks, much of our literature hasn’t been worth bothering for. Many manuscripts, submissions, and more have been left on the curb without hope. In my own work, focusing my subject matter on social justice, economic inequality and police brutality is my form of protest.

Last December, I submitted chapter four of my unpublished memoir Shooting Range, titled “This is for Rodney King,” into a literary competition. I did not expect to win, nor did I expect to lose. I just went for it.

Over the years, in addition to my writing, I’ve also served as panelist for various arts organizations and awards and have been shocked at the absence of a relevant narrative examining police brutality in general and honoring people like Rodney Glen King. Police brutality has been an ongoing issue for years that’s only gotten worse, and Mr. George Floyd’s and Ms. Breonna Taylor’s deaths are only the latest proof. This is what made my submission to the contest, which was dedicated to honoring Rodney Glen King, important for more publications to support. But the piece was rejected.

I was going to remain quiet about not receiving the award for my submission. But when not long afterwards I received an email from the same organization behind the contest about its newly awakened principles and commitment to Black Lives, I was left shaking my head, tired of reading the same bullshit.

However, there are organizations out there committed to walking the walk. To name one example, Shade Literary Arts, a literary organization focused on the empowerment and expansion of literature by queer writers of color, is holding an excellent fundraiser that still needs help reaching its goal of $100,000 to support queer and trans lives.

Do you mind digging in your purse to support Shade Literary Arts, or do you need my help?

Moving forward, I hope nonprofits and arts organizations across the U.S. are sincere in their newfound solidarity statements, even if I know they’re only manufacturing them based on current events, which by the way all read as if they were written by the same person(s).

I also hope that future grant awards reflect diversity instead of it being just another “trendy” bandwagon. This change is long, long, long, long overdue.

N.D.A. aka K.I.N.A.

Nahshon Dion Anderson, aka K.I.N.A, born April 1, 1978 in Altadena, California, is an Afro-Latin American, and French Creole Transgender writer. As a pre-teen, she was her family’s scribe and lector, both reading and writing for her illiterate grandfather, blind grandmother, and dyslexic mother. During 1992, Nahshon’s improbable career trajectory as an actor, writer, and later literary arts advocate, began after family friend Rodney Glen King was beaten by the LAPD, the ensuing aftermath of which played out in Nahshon’s driveway and front lawn. In 2014, Nahshon received a Bronx Recognizes Its Own Award (BRIO) from the Bronx Council on the Arts’, for an excerpt of her memoir Shooting Range, which details an assault she survived as a teen in July of 1997.