Community Organizing in Compton

Compton, CA: Hub City.

As I drove down Rosecrans listening to Kendrick Lamar’s “Sing About Me” I realized I was a bit nervous. I had done plenty of community work at Compton High and had close friends who I visited often, but Compton remained an enigma to me. How do I come back to Hub City, build trust with the community and introduce them to The Burg, an honest dedicated space for the community?

This city is known worldwide for its cultural impact, producing some of the most remarkable cultural leaders of our time from Serena Williams to Kendrick Lamar. Compton is a tight knit community built on pride and a rich cultural history that has persevered against the stigma of a low income South LA neighborhood. It is its own city with its own identity; a "city on a hill."

People don't often realize that it’s not only a rich cultural history that defines Compton, but sadly a rocky political history as well. Trust between the local government and the people of Compton has often been spotty, and sometimes nonexistent. Folks have been betrayed by the leadership in local government and law enforcement. There are too many examples of this. In the 90’s the police force was disbanded after a massive corruption scandal, a few years back a mayor was convicted of gross misappropriation of public funds, once a deputy treasurer stole 3.7 million, and three city managers were fired in the last 5 years . .  . the list goes on.

If there is anything I've learned as a organizer, its best to find people where they are and the people of Compton are often at Dollarhide Community Center. I was a bit nervous, but thankfully the Chairwoman was more than receptive. When I told her I was working on a project to encourage people to vote, she was thrilled and immediately granted me the opportunity to speak . . . 

The Chairwoman calls to order the community, I walked up to the podium, took a long pause, and dove in:

I just had a great conversation with the Chairwoman. She told me that in her family voting isn’t just a right, it’s a tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation. You haven’t lived unless you’ve voted. That’s an example to be proud of. Voting is a right that our ancestors fought and died for, and we want to make it easier to for the people of Compton to access the resources and information they need to comfortably and confidently engage in the local political process.

As I spoke her eyes lit up and I almost forgot I was actually presenting. I closed out my speech:

The Burg is a way to pick it back up, to let our voices be heard, to organize our community. Today, there are parts of Compton where brown water is coming out of the tap. Brown water, y’all. That shouldn’t happen in the 21st century. These things happen and continue to happen because we don’t have good ways to connect and organize, and that’s why we built The Burg.

At The Burg we are trying to build a space for communities to thrive; a “front page of Compton” where voters and residents can congregate together and unite. We found out that there is a small local paper, called the Compton Herald, which many residents enjoy and we just added it to our local news aggregation so the Compton Burg will get every new article.

The first challenge and perhaps the most difficult is gaining the trust of the community so I did what any South LA resident would: pound the pavement and start building that relationship. We need to prove to skeptical residents that we are committed to bridging this gap, and that we can help build a connected Compton. The only real way to win this trust is the old fashion way: form a relationship, build trust, and deliver.