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Leimert Park Workshop #4: Community Interviews

It was a hot Saturday afternoon when the Youth Voices students came together to finalize their questions for their community interviews and begin to set up for their first interviewee. They were scheduled to interview a group of experts and community residents who could share a wide array of information regarding Leimert Park's history, art, and residential life.

Joy and Zechariah work with Lee Rosch to set the camera
Joy and Zechariah work with Lee Rosch to set the camera

First up was Dr. Christopher Jimenez y West, professor at Pasadena City College and expert on African Americans in Post WWII Los Angeles. The interview took place at Leimert Plaza Park in the midst of abundant afternoon activity, complete with noise, motion, and creativity throughout. Along with carefully setting up the camera, the students were very conscious of securing the best audio in the cacophony of the park.

Christopher Jimenez y West sits for his Interview
Christopher Jimenez y West sits for his Interview
Anbiya asks questions as Joy monitors the camera and audio
Anbiya asks questions as Joy monitors the camera and audio.

The students asked questions regarding the origin and history of Leimert Park, as well as when and why African Americans moved into the community. As the students traded production roles -- camera, audio, light, and interviewer -- Dr. Jimenez y West provided great information detailing how the housing structure and neighborhood layout, designed by the developer Walter H. Leimert, along with his collaborators the Olmsted Brothers, played a key role in how the community evolved into the cultural hub of Black Los Angeles. He drew a compelling picture of the city in the early to mid 20th century and the unique challenges and opportunities faced by the Black community in Los Angeles.

Ben Caldwell at KAOS Network
Ben Caldwell at KAOS Network

For the next interview the students moved to the much quieter confines of KAOS Network to interview founder and stalwart of the arts community, Ben Caldwell. The students' familiarity with Mr. Caldwell allowed them to feel at ease, asking both questions about his personal and professional history. It was wonderful to hear of his history in Leimert Park, starting with his work with the Brockman Gallery in the early '70s, and his continued involvement as a filmmaker, educator, and founder of the iconic arts center, responsible for countless programs including the legendary Project Blowed -- a weekly open-mic workshop that has nurtured a number of rappers and rap groups such as Aceyalone, Medusa, Busdriver, Freestyle Fellowship, and Jurassic Five.

Demaris and Dennis Smith get ready for their video portrait
Demaris and Dennis Smith get ready for their video portrait

As the day progressed the heat and the constant move from one location to the next was taking its toll on the energy of the students. But all were able to stay focused as they moved on to interview Damaris Bernard Smith and Dennis Smith, founders of Kidz @ 43rd Place, a non profit performing arts organization serving the children and families of Leimert Park. Damaris and Dennis shared how their own experience with the challenges of providing their children with arts opportunities led them to create Kidz @ 43rd Place. The main goal of the organization is to help children build a lifelong appreciation for the arts.

It was a long and fruitful day of production that saw the students stretch their creativity and technical skills as well as their endurance. It was wonderful to see them take on the various roles of production with so much positive energy.

Look for the full Youth Voices community interviews in the coming weeks.

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