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T.R.U.S.T. South LA: Community Organization Interview Spotlight Focuses on Community Development

From TrustSouthLA.orgOne of the main goals of MetaConnects is to hear from local community organizers about the great work that they are doing on a daily basis. The more we speak with local organizers, the more we see that the tenets of the Communication Infrastructure Approach are present in their everyday work. The work of T.R.U.S.T South LA is a perfect example - as you see in this interview, the organization works through the key pieces of the neighborhood storytelling network as a way to motivate community action.

Tafarai Bayne, Community Affairs Manager from T.R.U.S.T. South LA, spoke with us to share some of the valuable projects they are currently working on. T.R.U.S.T. South LA is a community-based organization dedicated to community-focused development and empowering residents to obtain community control over land as a means of addressing displacement in South Los Angeles.

If you’re interested in learning more about T.R.U.S.T. South LA’s projects or want to become involved with the upcoming CicLAvia South LA tour, please visit their website at trustsouthla.org.

MetaConnects: Why the acronym “T.R.U.S.T.” ? And  can you tell us about your organization’s overall mission.

Tafari Bayne: Tenemos que Reclamar y Unidos Salvar la Tierra (T.R.U.S.T.) South LA--we made it bilingual because our community is South Los Angeles and is very heavily Latino, very heavily Spanish speaking, and at the same time has a strong historical black community, so we just created a name that both communities could resonate with, which was important to us. Our work focuses in the South LA community, specifically the 10 freeway to Gage Boulevard just past Slauson and then Central Avenue to Western Boulevard, as our target area to do our main work, outreach efforts and specifically do our real estate development, which is our main focus—the community control over land and community-focused development of that land for community uses including the focus on affordable housing because our organization came out of struggles dealing with affordable housing loses in the South LA and downtown communities but not exclusive to that because our communities have a lot of needs when it comes to land use, so we talk about recreational and green space, grocery stores, economic development—how the land is used and who gets to control it.

MC: How is T.R.U.S.T. South LA structured in terms of membership?

TB: T.R.U.S.T. South LA is a land trust, and a land trust is an organization that specifically is set up to hold land and ownership for community, community control, and more specifically nonprofit control. Our organization is structured like a miniature organization where we have a charter. The charter says we have to have 50% of our board of directors so that there is 50% of community member….members of our organization have to make 60% or less of the average median income, working class or low-income, and they have to live within geographical boundaries, eligible for affordable housing as ways to help identify who are membership is and make sure our land is controlled by interest towards those populations—populations that are typically have a hard time getting ownership over land.

MC: Please share with us T.R.U.S.T . South LA’s involvement with the upcoming CicLAvia SouthLA event.

TB: The idea is to work with the CicLAvia organization to help expand what they are doing and bring it to South LA, and for us as a community organization and as community residents to help support  the education and involvement of community members in bike riding and in this activity in general. So we have a whole outreach and workshop plan to help get people really excited about it, provide opportunities to bike ride together, build relationships, build communities around event. The goal date is October 9, 2011, and the goal is to bike ride every month leading up to the date. Every month we have host committee meetings. There are groups working together right now to plan bike rides, door knock to neighborhoods, talk to people to get them excited, build a mailing list where people can be contacted directly.

I went to the first CicLAvia, and after the first one, I went home and called them…it felt like a transformative experience.  When you see what happens in Los Angeles people actually get in the streets and get that kind of level of comfort, it’s a whole different experience. You have people engaging in spaces in a different way. You can see the stores, you feel like you want to walk in them as opposed to our typical vibe just like getting through spaces as quickly as possible.  Even when you stopped at a stop light, you stop at a stop light with a bunch of bike riders and everybody is on the street, you talk to your neighbors, it’s a whole different way of engaging the space. And it’s the same street, the same streets you use every day. But when you bike ride you have the opportunity to take that space back. It’s a whole different conversation about our city…

We talked about what that would mean for neighborhoods like South LA, there’s a double edge to it. Not just community members in South LA engaged in their streets, but it’s the rest of the residents in Los Angeles engaged in South LA in a way that is much different than what they get to do. They don’t get to see our streets on the ground level, they drive through really fast. And all the stigmas and stereotypes get washed away when you actually get to walk on the streets and talk to the store owners and see the people doing their thing and going about their business. We formed a partnership with the main organization, so T.R.U.S.T. South LA is serving as the lead team as the host committee, so we’re helping coordinate and hold water. SAJE is a part of that, All Christians Center is a part of that. We’re constantly looking to grow and expand our list of organizations who are saying yes this is a great thing and yes we want to support it and figure out how the community has ownership over the process…so understanding logistical points and how community outreach, how relationship building and how organizing can help lessen those kind of (negative) impacts and create a better experience for everybody involved. It also felt like an important thing for an organization like ours to provoke that kind of awareness to step up to see how can we make that happen in the most efficiently possible way, because we need this and we don’t an opportunity like this to pass up our community because typically they do.

MC: Regarding the process of community engagement for CicLAvia South LA…

TB: Since we started in December, we have a ride or two every month in the beginning. We started off with identifying what are the important areas to get. We looked at the map and looked at the current route, we asked how many miles we wanted to get, the main route is already 7 miles, what’s a realistic expansion of that that is reasonable, and it costs money, they have to raise money. All of those things factored in to us trying to do it as organically as possible. So what’s the coolest street to bike ride coming off downtown? What are the important historical places in South LA that other people in the city should see? What do we want to highlight? What is important? The Black Panther headquarters, the first all black fire station—on Central Avenue. It’s all about getting revitalization dollars so it’s something to highlight…All those bike rides were test rides, we took folks out. We did an open call, people contacted their networks…we had one meeting where we had 8, 9 maps on the wall and all had different routes. Ultimately it’s going to be about what we can get permitted, what the city officials will be down with, what LAPD will be open or not to---all of those things are factors. But if we start with something that is true to the community and how we experience our community we can compromise…it’s about the process.

MC: How does one get involved?

TB: There are multiple engagement points. We are just getting started with the heavy outreach like in May, June, July. We’re going to get started with lots of door knocking, we’re starting workshop series’ like bicycle maintenance, bike safety training, and working withC.I.C.L.E. (Cyclists Inciting Change thru Live Exchange), increasing bicycle infrastructure in particular in communities that don’t have bicycle infrastructure. They decided to work with us and we set up workshops….we need to have bikes here to loan to residents because not everybody has a bike yet. There might be bike giveaways and bike sales, and we are trying figure out the fine-line between gifting stuff and actually making people invest in it. It’s important to make sure there is access to bicycles at the same time we’re bringing all this activity around biking and also emphasizing that it is just not about biking—it’s about free space, public space. So if you are just going to walk a dog, that’s cool too. Some of the highlight stops in South LA along the way include The African American Museum, Mercado La Paloma, City Hall South, the Farmers Market. It’s about giving people opportunities to engage in public space, to put South LA on a map.

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