\o7 In September, Lance E. Drummond, chairman of Economic Resources Corp., a nonprofit, Lynwood-based company, announced that he had signed a joint-venture agreement with Kansas City-based American Multi-Cinema Inc. (AMC), a major national theater chain, to operate movie theaters in South Los Angeles.
The joint venture has been applauded as a model approach to solving the nagging problem of attracting new businesses into the city's beleaguered urban core.
For years, Economic Resources Corp. has successfully owned and operated the Baldwin Theater, the only black-owned first-run theater in the nation. Inner Cities Cinema Inc., the newly formed joint venture group, is 51% minority owned. It will operate a new eight-screen \f7 theater in the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, as well as the Baldwin and a movie house in \o7 Hawthorne Plaza. Drummond, Inner City Cinema's chief executive officer, hopes to expand the company to operate theaters in other cities.\f7 Q: Why have so many theaters and other businesses abandoned the inner city?
A: We operate the Baldwin. But many of the businesses that abandoned the inner city were not owned by blacks in the first place. The floodgates were opened in 1965, after the riots. That's when whites started to leave. When they left, they would have sold to blacks, but the banks would not lend the money. Other ethnic groups have access to more money or they were able to get support from their (homelands). Most of the theaters were not the modern, first-run, multiscreen theaters. They were those $1 houses. The modern theaters were built in the suburbs, in Century City and Westwood.
Q: Are joint ventures between minority entrepreneurs and major corporations a way to breathe economic life back into the inner cities?
A: Yes. In African-American communities we don't always have the financial muscle, and the banks don't work for us. We have brilliant young people with wonderful ideas, but they lack the capital to make it happen. When you can bring in a major corporation, like an AMC or a Xerox, the banks are more willing to sit down and listen to what you have to say. We can become much bigger players in the business world if we can joint venture with major American businesses in manufacturing and high-tech. This is a capitalist country, and joint ventures are a way to get into what really makes America tick.
Q: How do corporations benefit from these ventures?
A: Like any business, they benefit by getting a return on their investment. This is not charity; it's not a gift. Major corporations can turn a profit by penetrating new markets. These companies might be reluctant to go it alone, but when they are participating with community (entrepreneurs), there is a greater sense of belonging. I'm looking to one day see bigger stores (do) joint ventures in black communities. I'd like to see blacks own a piece of a Vons or a Thrifty.
Q: What did the riots reveal about the future of black Los Angeles?
A: The black community--and the rest of Los Angeles, too--got a real wake-up call. It was clear that something was rotten and the odor was out. Something has to be done. The riots brought out the neglect that has been in the city for years. But people tend to think this is a black problem. It's not. It's not a Los Angeles problem. It is a national problem. It's a problem of poverty. African-Americans and Chicanos have been shut out of the mainstream, the good life. The anger and frustration reached the boiling point.
Q: What should be done to assist those who need help now?
A: The answer is to have more jobs. The answer is not to give away money. Programs like welfare only handicap minorities, breeding generation after generation to live without hope of getting off. People have to have a chance to earn a living. If you earn a dollar, you respect a dollar. But welfare penalizes poor families. It destroys fathers and breaks up the family. We have to make welfare a stepping stone to independence, not a crutch. Children respect parents when they see them getting out and working. We have to create respect for work, but also respect for the father who is taking care of his family.
Q: What role does education play?
A: It's very important. My wife is a schoolteacher. She is frustrated because she doesn't have the tools to work with. The computer she has in her classroom I gave to her. We cannot expect children to grow if we are only partially educating them.
Q: After Tom Mayor Bradley steps down, what kinds of adjustments will African-American leaders have to make when dealing with the next City Hall Administration?
A: All that means is that we have to work a little harder. Bradley's always had a sense of what was going on (in the African-American community), whether he acted on it or not. We may have to raise more hell with a mayor who is not of African descent. Sensitivities to our needs may not be as great, but the mayor represents all the people. It may mean that we have to be more diligent. We certainly cannot become complacent.