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SOCIAL INSECURITY : If You're Black in Orange County, Options for Making Friends Can Be Bleak . . . at First

May 26, 1988|A. DAHLEEN GLANTON | Times Staff Writer

Congratulations! You've landed that big promotion and you're moving to Orange County, one of the most affluent, expensive and fast-growing areas in the nation.

There are a lot of things to do here when you get off work, right? Surfing, trendy restaurants, night life and countless opportunities to meet and socialize with other people just like yourself. Well, that's not always so, if you happen to be black.

According to a survey by Donnelley Demographics, blacks make up only 1.6% of the population in Orange County. The 32,000 here are scattered from Seal Beach to San Clemente, so there is no identifiable "black community" or central location as in other metropolitan areas in which they can gather to socialize and exchange information.

Newcomers often find Orange County to be a hard nut to crack. For blacks, the first few months here can be frustrating, boring or downright depressing. They have no idea where to find a black hairdresser or pick up a black newspaper. And worse, they don't have a clue as to where to go and meet other blacks who can provide some answers.

"I was here 2 1/2 years before I decided I didn't want to leave," said Garilynn (Gee) Dickson, a Mission Viejo resident and president of The Neighbors, a group of about 80 black families that welcomes black newcomers to the county. "I didn't know anyone, especially blacks. That was the reason for our organization, because so many other people felt the same way.

"People hear about us or we run into them at the grocery store or while shopping. Sometimes I just approach people and say, 'How are you doing? Do you live in the area and do you have any kids?' Then I invite them to the next function. Sooner or later you will run into a couple that knows about The Neighbors."

Gwendolyn Kenner Johnson, who has lived in Chicago, San Diego and Oakland, said she never had problems connecting with other blacks until she and her husband moved to Irvine a year ago.

"Orange County is very different from any other place I have lived because it's a conglomerate of little cities. It makes it difficult to know where the center is, because there really is no center and there is no sense of neighborhood," Johnson said. "There is no place to go and get information . . . so it makes it very difficult for a newcomer."

Despite the small number of blacks, there is an active network of social, political and professional organizations in Orange County that provides a variety of outlets for adults and children. Most of the national black sororities and fraternities have chapters here, there are branches of the NAACP and the National Urban League, black Masonic lodges and about 30 black churches.

While blacks who belong to organizations may find it easier to gain entrance to the social scene, those who are not affiliated with any groups are often left out.

"Just by having an organizational tie, you can locate local chapters. You see people in the store and you ask them to come with you to meetings and events. You learn things here basically by word of mouth," said Gloria Dredd Haney, a college professor and president of the Ethnic Women's Network of California, an advocacy group that was founded two years ago to bring issues concerning minority women to the forefront.

Each year, the black organizations in Orange County come together to sponsor a formal Christmas dance, an event that has grown from about 200 guests when it began in 1986 to about 500 last year.

"To us, that's a beginning. We meet once a year to recognize we are here and that we are actively trying to do things. And it gives us an opportunity to meet other blacks," said Haney, who lives in Anaheim Hills.

Lorna Reddicks moved to Garden Grove a year ago from Atlanta. Because she had no ties here, the transition from a predominantly black city to an area that is about 87% white was difficult.

"I had a problem just knowing where to go and find the black population in Orange County. I heard (blacks) were in Santa Ana, so I went to Santa Ana and I didn't find them. I was asking people in the stores, the clerks, where to go and get your hair done or to get your makeup," said Reddicks, who works in the advertising department of a home supply company.

"When you're the only black person in your office, that doesn't help. I just made work occupy my time. It was the main part of my life. What I really hate is that I didn't want it to be like that. In Atlanta, there was a large black population at work and at the apartments where I lived. Since I've been here, I eat alone and I go to plays alone. My biggest support as far as knowing where to go has been the (Los Angeles) radio stations."

It is only a short drive to Los Angeles, which has more than 500,000 blacks, or San Diego, where there are almost 80,000, but many Orange County blacks said they would rather seek out local activities than bother with the traffic and crime in other cities.

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