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Peninsula Group Fosters Black Identity

May 26, 1985|ANN JOHNSON | Community Correspondent

A few weeks after Barry and Janet Baszile and their family moved to Palos Verdes Estates 10 years ago, a racial epithet was spray-painted on their front walk.

The Basziles, who are black, felt devastated. They had lived in nearby Rancho Palos Verdes for three years and were active in St. Peters by the Sea Presbyterian Church. Janet Baszile was a volunteer for several civic and community groups. They had felt welcome.

Fortunately, they say, the incident has been almost completely eclipsed by many signs of community acceptance. Last year, for instance, their eldest daughter, Natalie, was crowned homecoming queen at Palos Verdes High School. Except for an occasional insensitive joke, the children encounter few race-related problems, Janet said.

Indeed, four years ago the Basziles and several of their black friends in the area started to feel a different concern: that their children might become too assimilated by this generally well-educated, largely white community.

Protecting 'Their Roots'

"We didn't want them to lose all their roots," Janet said. They feared that the children would have problems when they left the relatively sheltered area, she said.

So the Basziles and other black parents who shared their concern organized the Black Heritage Foundation to bring the Palos Verdes Peninsula's black children together.

"These kids did not know each other because they were widely spread," said Marilyn Peters, a tax attorney for an oil company and president of the foundation. "We want them to be assimilated, but yet we want them to know other black kids who are going through the same problems," such as a lack of racial identity and a lack of understanding of black issues and history.

To promote such awareness, a group of about 25 students from three high schools meets monthly in a member's home to focus on issues the schools generally don't touch upon, said Janet Baszile, who is youth coordinator for the foundation. Speakers are brought in to discuss everything from teen-age sexuality to blacks in the movie industry.

Students Research Topics

When speakers are not available, students are responsible for researching and leading discussions on assigned topics such as apartheid.

Members have learned that black history is "more than just slavery," said Jennifer Baszile, a Palos Verdes High School sophomore. "There's a self-esteem in learning those things and a sense of importance."

The senior high group's president, Charles Mason Jr., said he had not realized that there were a number of other black teen-agers on the Peninsula until he joined the group two years ago.

The foundation also tries to help affluent black youth adjust to life outside the Palos Verdes Peninsula.

"After they leave the Peninsula, they have a difficult time fitting into the general black community if they haven't had interaction with blacks," Janet Baszile said. "There's a definite period of adjustment. They're not comfortable in an all-black group because they've never been part of a total black group. They have the cultural background of the majority here. So they don't have many things in common with a group whose only cohesiveness is that they're all black."

Berkeley Student

Natalie Baszile, a freshman at the University of California, Berkeley, echoed that concern. "It's pretty diverse up there," she said. "I can say that while I don't think I've had difficulty, the kids I've chosen to associate with are from my basic class background."

The group does have a less serious side. At a recent board meeting, six students made preparations for an upcoming discussion but also planned a camping trip and an excursion to Magic Mountain.

The 1980 census counted 69,000 people living in Rolling Hills, Rolling Hills Estates, Palos Verdes Estates and Rancho Palos Verdes. Of that number, only 975, fewer than 2%, were black. Real estate brokers estimate today's black population to be about 1,500. It is largely an affluent group--doctors, attorneys, business people, judges. Barry Baszile owns an aluminum distribution company in southeast Los Angeles. Peters' husband, Joseph, is an ophthalmologist.

Most of the black families choose to live on the Palos Verdes Peninsula primarily because of the good reputation of its schools, Janet Baszile said.

'Unrealistic View'

But living there "leaves all the kids with an unrealistic view of life itself," she said. "We don't want them to have the feeling that blacks who aren't as comfortable are inferior."

In addition to the senior high group, the foundation offers meetings for blacks in junior high and grammar school and for children under 6.

This year, the foundation plans to develop special-interest groups for black adults, Peters said. Gourmet cooking, bridge, tennis and theater groups are planned in the hope of attracting childless couples as well as parents. A special committee will work like Welcome Wagon to help new black families feel at home.

The Black Heritage Foundation has already made moving to the Peninsula easier for at least one family. Charles and Bucilla Petross and their family moved to Rancho Palos Verdes from Bloomfield Hills, Mich., in September. Their oldest daughter was uprooted during her senior year of high school and they expected problems.

On the contrary, it has been easy, Bucilla Petross said.

They Fit Right In

The Petross children learned of the foundation at school through word of mouth. After meeting with their age groups, they encouraged their parents to get involved.

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