I have to confess, I didn't join in the two-day festivities that attended the space shuttle Endeavour on its recent snail's-pace trek from the airport to its destination at the California Space Center near USC. As I wrote in an earlier post, I was far too miffed about the hundreds of trees in Inglewood and South Central that were flattened -- in alarmingly short order -- over the summer in order to make the whole street event possible. Now that the champagne's been popped, the shuttle has landed, and everybody's gone home, the six-mile median along Manchester running from Airport Boulevard to Crenshaw Drive in Inglewood is totally bare, one pretty depressing sight among others that will last a whole lot longer than two days. Talk about a hangover.
That said, I didn't have anything against people's enthusiasm for the arrival of the shuttle itself. I was glad that locals turned out in droves, lining the streets and piling on tops of roofs on a blazing afternoon to watch a bit of scientific history passing through their midst. I'm glad that in this culture of celebrity gawking and top-this technology, people seemed truly wonderstruck by the sight of an inanimate object that, for all its size, was really nothing fancy and more than a little beat up. I was glad that our sense of imagination and possibility is still stirred by something other than the prospect of the next smart phone.
Two people I know who were equally annoyed by the basketball photo were Hal and Bettye Walker, who run the African-American Male Achievers Network (AMAN) and the International Science Discovery and Learning Center on La Brea Avenue in Inglewood. Hal is a scientist and inventor who helped design lunar ranging equipment used in the first moonwalk in 1969; his contributions are documented in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. Bettye is a veteran educator and administrator who founded A-MAN as a way to actively counter the crisis of academic and social achievement among black males in L.A. schools. Together the Walkers have successfully run the after-school science center, which introduces students to science and space technology, for over 20 years. The Endeavour event was a natural for their outfit, and they were among the key speakers at the big rally held in the Forum parking lot, the shuttle's main stop. Present at the rally were lots of very excited kids from the Science Center and elsewhere. Where, the Walkers asked me, were those pictures?
If they were taken, they didn't make the cut at the Times, the paper of record. So here is one. For the record.
Journalist and op-ed columnist Erin Aubry Kaplan's first-person accounts of politics and identity in Los Angeles, with an eye towards the city's African American community, appear every Thursday on KCET's SoCal Focus blog. Read all her posts here.
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