In Articles, Strategy & Soul

Dear members and supporters, last year I wrote to the organizers of the Taste of Soul festival in an attempt to solve what we have felt amounted to passive aggressive hostility toward The Strategy Center and Strategy and Soul and other local businesses in their method of operating the festival. We never received a response, and based on this years more of the same I have taken time to write my full thoughts into an article included below. 

This article will be published on the Strategy Center website, and we are submitting it to other news outlets. 

Below the article you can see the full letter I sent prior to last year’s festival.

Please tune in tomorrow October 24th @8am to Voices from the Frontlines  on KPFK to listen in on a conversation with Eric Mann on this article and how you can help. 

Taste of Soul; Locked Out of Our Own Black Community, Thoughts from a Black Organizer in South Central Los Angeles

Quite the interesting dynamic this weekend at Taste of Soul… I’ll start off, saying that we have never had a positive experience with the Taste of Soul festival. The festival leadership has never reached out to me or anyone at Strategy and Soul to find ways to work together, and they have always only left a notice of street closure on our door.

But before getting into the details, for comparison sake, let’s look at what a good festival/big event looks like in our neighborhood.

When Ciclavia comes to South LA, organizers canvas the neighborhood 3 months in advance to encourage local businesses to be open and to take part in what is a car free festival. Thanks to the Bus Riders Union for forcibly putting in our demand of No Cars in LA into the conversation.

In a responsible method that every big festival should do as part of their role in bringing hundreds and thousands to the neighborhood, Ciclavia wants to encourage the thousands of people to enrich that area. One of the big benefits of a street festival is to bring light to elements of the neighborhood that would otherwise go unnoticed. You know who else carries out that responsible method? The Kingdom Day Parade, The 10th anniversary of Black Lives Matter LA, The Pan African Film and Arts Festival, the Strategy Center when we had our small block party to block off the alley behind our building.

Not Taste of Soul! You know what they do instead, they put up gates in front of the local businesses to make it very clear that the local businesses are not part of the festival and to discourage people who go to the Taste of Soul festival from at any point, paying attention to any of the local businesses. Just like the white power structure, The Taste of Soul operates the same way. The festival leaders want the area because it’s known as a Black, (and that is they’re profitable brand) but they don’t actually want the Black people in the area as anything other than consumers of their niche inclusions in their festival ?.

As a result, we chose not to participate. We closed our doors this year and we went somewhere more important, a protest in support of the liberation of Palestinian people.

This doesn’t come out of nowhere. The first year Strategy and Soul opened in 2016, we, under my encouragement, printed 5000 fliers to reach out to the audience of more than 50,000 people to let them know about a new afrocentric bookstore opening. Not only did the festival organizers not reach out to us to encourage our participation, the next year, they began placing a fence in front of our center. Out of the 5000 fliers we printed, less than 100 people even wanted to pay attention. For clarity, the character of a festival’s participants is influenced by the festival organizers. As a contrast we are openly welcomed by the Kingdom Day parade, many of the volunteers of the Pan African Film Festival are active organizers and activists across many civil rights and social justice organizations, and PAFF actively reaches out to every organization that can reach to invite them to participate.

If this year’s festival is like any of the others from previous years, I can take a guess that there were very few social justice organizations and institutions, just like the Juneteenth festival. For those of you that want to say that, well Taste of Soul is different because it’s about food. My answer is that food is very political. Ask yourself, how much did this festival do to address the problem of the food desert in South LA? How much of the food offered at the festival was deep fried in grease and known to cause hypertension, diabetes, and many other endemics that the Black community is suffering from?

Just look at the corner of King and Crenshaw, or what I call downtown South-Central LA. You have Krispy Kreme on one corner, Louisiana fried chicken on a second corner (now closed), Macy’s on a third (now closed), Walmart on a fourth corner (now closed). Albertsons is a 10 minute walk from the corner and is behind a gate with bushes. Strategy and Soul is a one minute walk from the corner.

All of this context is extremely important because it makes the tactic of gating active businesses even more damning.

The Taste of Soul festival chose to put up gates in front of the few businesses and institutions that are left in the area. They chose to block them off and discourage thousands of Black people who have already been pushed out of the area, who come back for one day for this festival, discourages them from even looking, or thinking about and recognizing the local businesses that are left!

In a year after Eso Won Bookstore has closed, the Taste of Soul Festival opted put up gates to discourage people from coming to Strategy And Soul Bookstore, one of the last Afrocentric bookstores in Los Angeles. Maybe no one wants to think about it in that way, but that is exactly what they did.

The physical dynamics of a street festival mean everything, and it seems that there are at least two festivals that come to town every year that are very hostile to the local Black community. One of them is the Taste of Soul festival and the second one is the Juneteenth festival.

We always talk about, as Black people, we should come together. I think we need to reflect on the hostile tactics of both of these festivals in order to not perpetuate the racism against the Black community. There is no coming together if major proponents in the Black community continue to do hostile tactics against the Black community and its Black institutions. I’ll go further. There is no coming together if the subset of people can only see Black people as their constituents, consumers, voters, or elements to be used in their grander plan to gain power for themselves, rather than lifting up the whole Black community.

Channing Martinez is the co-Director of the Labor Community Strategy Center. He produces Voices from the Frontlines radio show on KPFK Pacifica 90.7fm in collaboration with Eric Mann. Channing ran for Los Angeles City Council District 10 in 2020 and received 10% of the Black vote. Channing is an alumni of the Weingart Foundations John W Mack Fellowship. He is an alumni of Crenshaw High School, Audubon Middle school and Otis College of Art and Design. Channing welcomes  comments at channing@thestrategycenter.org


Read Channing’s Letter to the Taste of Soul

From: Channing
Sent: Friday, October 7, 2022 1:42 PM
To: Amira@lasentinel.net
Cc: Barbara Lott-Holland <Barbara@thestrategycenter.org>;dannyjr@lasentinel.net
Subject: Seeking your advice, Strategy and Soul open during Taste of Soul

Hi Amira,

I’m reaching out in response to a notice we received here at our Strategy and Soul on King and Crenshaw.

The notice said that all streets in the area will be blocked off and there will be no exceptions for anyone.

I’m sure you understand that it puts us in a complicated situation, since we are always open to the public on Saturday’s and will need access to our parking structure for our organizers and myself.

As the Director of Organizing for the Strategy Center, one of my duties is to manage the Strategy and Soul Movement Center. Strategy and Soul a Black owned and operated community center and a project of the Labor Community Strategy Center on the corner of King and Mc Clung. Strategy and Soul opened in 2016 and the Strategy Center has organized in and around South LA for more than 30 years.  I and we have never received such a notice nor had any trouble like this around taste of soul previously. Given our mission to reach out to as many Black and Latinx residents as possible around social justice issues to contribute to building a movement, it is imperative that we maintain our hours of operation and especially important that we’re open during large community events. We have worked well in the past with others around community events including working with Ciclavia when the route was scheduled to run down King Blvd and working with CORE LA each year as they put on the Kingdom Day Parade.

I want to find a way to work together to make sure my organizers are able to make it to work that day to be able to run the center. I think there are creative ways we can manage it… like giving them passes to identify their car and that they are coming to Strategy and Soul to park in our parking lot to work.

I do hope that we can work together on this and that we’re not prevented from carrying out our work.

I’m available for a call today and next week. I also called last month and was assured someone would get back to me. I called again today and was given the run around

I look forward to your call.

I’m ccing my collogue Barbara Lott-Holland, our associate director for the Strategy Center.

Channing

Channing L Martinez, Director of Organizing

Labor/Community Strategy Center

Tel 323-903-6238 Cell__

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