The group’s volunteers are your neighbors, fellow parents, and local ESHS students.
By Maureen Kingsley
There is no one in this group who doesn’t love El Segundo,” says Genesis Jackson of the team of friends, neighbors, and interested citizens who make up the recently formed El Segundo for Black Lives group here in town. “We really love this community.”
Genesis, a mother of two boys and a resident of El Segundo, volunteers on the group’s Web Design and Events committees and was active at the local peaceful protests that took place in the wake of George Floyd’s death earlier this summer. “I discovered the El Segundo for Black Lives group at that very first El Segundo protest, held at Main Street and Imperial Avenue,” Genesis says, and she quickly felt welcome among the passionate parents, students, and young adults who make up the network of volunteers and supporters.
Her motivation to join, Genesis says, was her two school-aged sons, both Black and one autistic. “My younger son is only five years old,” she shares, “but he’s big and strong and is an autistic, hyperlexic savant with a sensory disorder. He processes the world differently and doesn’t act or respond in the way people expect.
“All it takes is one person to say he looks suspicious” to put his life at risk, Genesis continues, with emotion tugging at her voice. “He will grow up to be a very big, strong Black man who instead of being seen as autistic will be seen by some as erratic and threatening.” She worries that some of his atypical behaviors could be misinterpreted and that he might become a victim of mistreatment or violence as a result. With those concerns weighing heavily on her mind, joining what she describes as a “passionate, dedicated group” of people working for change at the grassroots level felt meaningful and right.
El Segundo for Black Lives, Genesis says, “aims for more accountability and transparency for law-enforcement practices and within the school system, including outlined consequences for any racial incidents at school.
“We want a framework set in place to ensure that discrimination of any type will not be tolerated,” she adds. “That’s what I need to feel my children are safe here.”
Taking shape quickly after George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis on May 25th of this year, El Segundo for Black Lives is a diverse network of community members of various races, ages, and occupations. (The group is wholly unaffiliated with the Black Lives Matter organization. It is a grassroots, independent effort.) Tanya Taylor, an El Segundo resident and parent who sits on the group’s Leadership and Events committees, lists among the group’s main goals bringing an end to racial profiling by police and helping to make education in El Segundo’s schools more inclusive and diverse. In pursuit of those goals, El Segundo for Black Lives has already drawn up two documents and submitted them to the El Segundo Police Department and El Segundo Unified School Board, respectively, asking for steps toward positive, measurable change in policing, city policy, and education. El Segundo High School’s Students for Change coalition, which includes the Black Student Union, the Hispanic Student Union, the LGBTQ Club, and Bridge Between Cultures, was an instrumental partner in writing up the document focused on increasing inclusivity and anti-racism in El Segundo public schools.
The document the group sent on June 27th to El Segundo Police Chief Bill Whalen, Mayor Drew Boyles, the members of El Segundo City Council, and El Segundo School Board President Dr. Jeanie Nishime specified demands made in the areas of law enforcement, city policy, and public education, and includes calls for reviewing the law-enforcement budget; empowering the new Diversity, Inclusion, and Equality committee; and hiring more diverse school staff; among others.
The document written up by El Segundo for Black Lives and Students for Change and delivered to the school board asks for a required two-year allyship course for all students; a Zero Tolerance Policy for hateful and offensive speech, discrimination, or harassment occurring within the school community; and the formation of a Community Council at El Segundo High School to investigate student violations of said Zero Tolerance Policy.
S. Eusufzai, a rising El Segundo High School junior, and Gabriella Desch-Obi, a graduate of El Segundo High School’s class of 2020, both joined the El Segundo for Black Lives’ leadership team in June of this year. In their roles, they are “working with both the school board and the El Segundo High School staff and administration,” Gabriella says. “We want the high school to be a warm, welcoming, empathetic space for all students, and we want to implement a curriculum that educates youth on diversity and minority cultures.” S. Eusufzai adds, “We want to make school an inclusive community. I want all kids to feel welcome and included at El Segundo High School.”
Ben Watkins, head of Demands, sees the demands documents as “raising awareness, defining the problems, and offering solutions.” He adds, “An important part of moving forward is owning up to past mistakes.” Ben says the group would like El Segundo to “acknowledge its racist past and continue moving towards a better future. We are coming at this from a place of love,” he stresses. “Everyone here in this group loves El Segundo and wants El Segundo to love them back.”
Peaceful and Passionate
El Segundo for Black Lives is an all-volunteer community group. Committee heads are assisted by volunteers, and supporters of the group attend the events and engage in discussion on the group’s social media pages. “We are a friendly group,” Tanya says. “We welcome parents, children, and seniors who are interested in creating more justice for marginalized residents.”
At a recent Zoom meeting held on a Sunday afternoon in July, Coordination Head Keith Puckett, an El Segundo resident and parent, made a presentation for the group on how to remain calm and composed when faced with angry counter-protestors during a peaceful protest or rally. “We don’t stoop. We take the high road. We have a good collaboration with ESPD,” Keith explains, “and an open line of communication with them.” He continues: “Chief Whalen has set a specific tone for the department. We support that.”
N. Lee, an incoming El Segundo High School senior and volunteer with the group, describes the group as “one-hundred percent peaceful. We are working together with the city—not against it—to foster more community here.” Part of a mixed-race family, N. Lee joined El Segundo for Black Lives because she felt “ready to be involved,” and, she says, “I love how this is happening at a local level, safely.”
A Diverse Group, United
“Out of many, one” is both the motto of the United States (e pluribus unum) and the theme of the interactive digital artwork currently on display at ESMoA, our local art museum—and it just as aptly fits the membership of El Segundo for Black Lives. “Our different backgrounds and professional skill sets are keys to our success thus far, and contribute to our ability to operate as one,” says T. Scott, head of Community Education.
“People in the group are lending their time and individual talents,” Genesis adds, “and we are representative of the community demographic here in El Segundo.”
One such individual is Anthony Boisselle, a law-enforcement officer (not with ESPD) with 21 years of experience and children in the El Segundo public school system. He is a member of El Segundo for Black Lives and has this to say about the group: “We are solutions-based and our intentions are pure. We are not extreme. Our goal is to raise the standard of living to where everyone is treated equally.” As for his choice of career, Anthony simply says, “I like helping people, and I always wanted to make sure people felt safe.” He points to Inglewood Mayor James Butts, Jr. and USC professor and counterterrorism expert Dr. Errol Southers as his mentors, and he is an advocate of what he calls “positive policing.”
“Right now the climate is so intense,” he says of race relations in the United States and the scrutiny of law enforcement. “We need to educate each other on both sides, and we need to be thoughtful and analytical to maintain credibility” as ideas are shared. Anthony appreciates the diversity of thought present in the El Segundo for Black Lives group and says that the members don’t always agree but are always respectful and work to seek common ground. “All the members of El Segundo for Black Lives share a common goal, though our paths to get there may be different,” he says.
One aspect of El Segundo for Black Lives that is notable is its welcome inclusion of youth in its membership and at its events. El Segundo High School student S. Eusufzai holds a leadership position within the group, as does recent El Segundo High School graduate Gabriella Desch-Obi. The group also partners with Students for Change at El Segundo High School; in June the two entities worked together to hold a peaceful student event at Library Park.
“The students in this group handle themselves beautifully,” says Anthony of the younger members. “They are such intelligent, loving, caring kids.”
Head of Demands Ben finds the younger group members inspiring, too, and says, “This movement and momentum are driven by youth. That bodes well for this being a sustained effort and opportunity for permanent change.”
Student member N. Lee says she feels heard by the adults in the group. “The leaders really listen. They are super-inclusive.”
Here To Stay
El Segundo for Black Lives is an active group that plans to stick around. “We plan to keep our events going and maintain a presence,” says Tanya. “We plan to keep the community engaged.” She cites an upcoming collaboration with ESMoA that will produce short videos of experiences of marginalized persons in El Segundo.
“We are reaching out to groups who align with our mission and values, and we are always looking for guest speakers for our events,” adds Keith, “and additional meetings with public officials.” He mentions, too, that in his role as Coordination head, he has reached out to representatives of the family of Andres Guardado, the teenager from Gardena who was killed in June by a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputy.
The group looks forward to liaising with the city of El Segundo’s newly created Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Commission, and Genesis says she is “excited about the support from local government and the community in general.”
Adds N. Lee: “We are a one-hundred percent peaceful organization that will not rest until the culture and institutions that foster inequality in our city are reformed to better serve all members of our community.”
Open and Welcoming
The leadership, volunteers, and supporters of El Segundo for Black Lives are individuals you’ve likely passed by and smiled at on the sidewalk, inside one of our local coffee shops, at the library, or in school. “We are your neighbors,” Tanya says. “We are public and transparent. We have no secret agenda, no scary plans. We are open. Come talk with us and offer suggestions.”
Adds Gabriella: “We are a movement built of positivity and a force for good.”
Genesis concludes, “Everyone is welcome. We are here to celebrate the diversity in this town. In El Segundo for Black Lives, everyone appreciates each other, and that makes it easy.”
On Facebook: El Segundo for Black Lives
On Instagram: el_segundo_for_black_lives
On Twitter: @ESforBlackLives
This story appears in the August 2020 issue of The El Segundo Scene.