Not to slam my town, but I don't meet too many visionaries in Inglewood -- people with a real love and passion for the city whose criticisms of the place are directly proportional to that love and passion. In other words, people who believe that Inglewood is a great and possible place whose possibilities are continually obscured by city leaders and elected officials who simply don't see the same thing.
I have come across some political idealists/reformers/activists in my time, not just in Inglewood but other towns like Compton. But seeing Inglewood not just as another crucible of urban black struggle but as something bigger, a place of ideas and art and even intellectual ferment, a cultural and artistic hub that's valuable on its own terms and always has been -- well, that's radical.
Teka-Lark Fleming is fine being called a radical. She's a 37-year-old conceptual artist -- she used to work out of a space downtown -- who sports long dreadlocks and favors cowboy hats and vintage overcoats. A recent appointee to Inglewood's Arts Commission, she's also the publisher of a new paper in town called the Morningside Park Chronicle, which she launched in November after failing to get traction on a reading series she was looking to mount at a local library (alas, that branch is now closed). A lifelong Inglewood resident, Fleming was fed up with what she saw as the bureaucratic lack of imagination that has kept the city moribund in more ways than one. She was already publishing an online black arts magazine called Inglewoodland (a great name, I thought), as well as a broadsheet called Brickbat Revue that mixed art and political messaging. But she evidently needed to go further. "People said, 'when are you gonna start a real newspaper?" she recalled. "So I did."
The Chronicle, named for one of north Inglewood's more picturesque neighborhoods, seeks to breaks a tradition of black community news that tends to be overly boosterish or overly concerned with issues of poverty and urban pathology that define Inglewood -- and Compton, and South Central -- to the outside world. While Fleming doesn't deny the problems that exist, she wants to round out the picture by detailing other aspects of its daily life that almost always go unexamined. "I wanted to fill that empty space between positive news and 'everybody's a piece of crap' -- represent alternative black people, and by that I mean those who are not Cosby and those who are not derelict," she says with characteristic bluntness. "There needs to be a medium. This paper showcases people who are never given a voice."
Format-wise, the MPC is not terribly radical: a mix of news, business profiles, features, reviews, and commentary. But its insider energy and independent spirit is distinctly different from any media produced in Inglewood before; in the current issue, a pictorial boasts the headline, "Ash Avenue: Your Block Rocks!" There's a long disquisition about the movie "Django Unchained," a piece about a couple of enterprising young locals who've started an internet clothing line called the Wood Class. The front page raises questions about veteran Inglewood pol Danny Tabor, who is running for city council, and a story about how the city proposed a 700-plus percent hike in the city's property transfer tax. All of it is meant to challenge the notion that the Inglewoodians are not paying attention or not interested or invested in change that reflects the complexity and possibilities here -- "bringing the structure of Inglewood in line with the people," as Fleming puts it.
Fleming has already shaken things up: she recently got a death threat from one unhappy reader and business owner who was jarred by the way she and her paper are presenting things. But she's hardly deterred. She has plans to start a book publishing enterprise as an expansion of the DIY spirit of the Chronicle and her earlier endeavors. "There needs to be a place for artists, writers and thinkers to go, where I can be my bummy self," she says cheerfully. "Yeah, I'm taking on the system. But what concerned citizen wouldn't?"
You can read the paper at www.morningsideparkchronicle.com.
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.