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A Global Village : Creating an Africa-Themed District Along Crenshaw Boulevard Would Create Character in the Community and Make It a Place Where People Want to Live and Others Will Come to Visit.

July 10, 1994|MELVA JOYCE PARHAMS

Melva Joyce Parhams need only look around her office to see her dream of the future. Taped to the wall above her desk is a map of Africa, land of her ancestors, while just outside her second-story window is bustling Crenshaw Boulevard, the main thoroughfare of her longtime home. Parhams, a Cal State Los Angeles student and longtime community activist, wants to fuse the spirit of the two disparate locales by creating the African International Village, a themed district that would run the length of the Crenshaw corridor from Adams Boulevard to Florence Avenue. She was interviewed by Geoff Boucher.

During the riots I was at home watching TV like a lot of people, watching the looters out there burning my district down, and what I saw was an apathy about the place we live. How can you do that to a place you care about? I think creating the African International Village would uplift our community psychologically and spiritually, and give the people a sense of ownership. Most of all it would help the children, educating them and making their community a better place to live.

The place is here and the time is now. It is only six years until the end of the century. This project would create a character for this area and make it a place where people want to live and others will come to visit. The community supports this; they tell me all the time. The grass-roots support is there; people think it's a beautiful idea. But it's the leaders who are not responding.

A lot of the politicians and leaders have this attitude that, "If we didn't think of it, we don't want anything to do with it." But we're all on the same side. I know there have been a lot of programs, and there is a lot of money being spent on them, but there are still unemployed people everywhere, the gangs and crime are still there. There are children still sleeping in the streets. And I'll tell you this, it's not the white man's fault. We have to make these changes for ourselves if we want a better place.

Our professionals, once they get established, a lot of them never come back and contribute. Maybe that is because of slavery in our history, when family kinships were torn up. I think that left us with an "everybody for themselves" attitude. We need to know ourselves, and feel good about ourselves. We need to jump back past the slavery to celebrate who we were in our own country, when we were kings and queens. We have the shackles off our hands, but not our brains. We need to find dignity and hold our heads up.

The Village would help by giving us reminders of that past, by educating our young people and creating business. I've paid out of my pocket for three years now, but now we need others to help. A lot of people tell me I have dedication, they say that people usually only do things for themselves, and I tell them it's because I have a dream. I have a long-term goal: to see the children of the 21st Century have a better chance than the generation we have now.

There are 10 architects, artists and engineers who have stepped forward and made all these wonderful designs and I have these maps that show where everything would go. They're planning out the buildings and the transportation. The business owners in the area support it. There would be African theme shops, and arts and crafts for sale. I dream about seeing the hotel shaped like one of the Pyramids there at Adams, also. And there would be a memorial there with the names of all the people that have died because of gangs and violence, so young people can see the cost.

People think of Africa and think of spears and little huts, but there is far more to it than that. They need to know about Egypt, for example, and how it was a black land.

It would be something everyone could be proud of.

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