“Nobody’s free until everyone is free.” Those were the words spoken by legendary activist and organizer Fannie Lou Hamer in 1971 while addressing the National Women’s Political Caucus. In this speech with the same time, Hamer shared how Black and white women had to work together toward freedom for all. In some instances, Black people, at times, feel like freedom is a state of being that can sometimes feel situational or even transactional. Freedom ebbs and flows like waves that wash onto to shore.
Black Pasadena residents continue to fight to experience the full sense of agency that is associated with freedom. According to the Pasadena Historical Society, the presence of Black people predates the actual incorporation of the city in 1886. From then until now, Black families have strived to attain three things that would equate to the state of Black Pasadena being strong: stability, service and safety.
Many families strive for a security that comes from being able to have safe and affordable housing, a job that provides respectable wages, and the opportunity to provide quality education for their children. Stability for Black Pasadena has been a shapeshifter of sorts. The anchoring businesses and institutions of our community have been disrupted through redevelopment, freeway construction, systemic bias and de facto segregation of local public schools.
From the earliest Black residents in Pasadena to those of us who remain here today, we continue to strive for stability for our community. Much of the early struggle entailed establishing neighborhoods, creating connectivity, providing goods and services, and developing institutions to serve Black people. Today, we still strive to preserve and protect the remaining neighborhoods, businesses and institutions from the pressures of gentrification. Rising home prices and skyrocketing rents are causing a significant number of Black residents to seek stability outside of Pasadena, leaving those of us who remain to fight to maintain our quality of life and to wonder what lies ahead in the future for our children. Will they be able to protect and grow the legacy of Black Pasadena?
Black Pasadena’s quest for stability parallels the need for quality service from government and elected leadership. At its core, government is supposed to serve the people it represents. All residents should have comfort in knowing that municipal services, public utilities, public institutions like schools, parks, roads, and libraries are available and accessible to everyone. Black people in Pasadena have struggled for equitable access to these critical public resources. The challenges that Black Pasadena residents have faced in accessing public schools, parks and swimming pools have been well documented over the years. However, today’s Black residents still struggle for equity in access to these vital public assets. Our elected leaders work tirelessly on our behalf, but the levers of democracy keep churning when people are active and participatory.
Safety is probably the most sought-after elements among the three tools for strong communities. Black Pasadena wants safe neighborhoods. We want protection from law enforcement that centers a “do no harm” model of service. Our families and communities still reel from the pain and hurt of losing loved ones from deadly law enforcement encounters. We remain optimistic that our safety landscape will improve through incremental improvements in policy and transparency. It is difficult to repair the harm from loss of life, but we look ahead to progress in safety via increased communication and collaboration. We are optimistic about the newly formed Community Police Oversight Commission. We are resolute in our vision of a safety model that recognizes and values the humanity of Black Pasadena.
The overall State of Black Pasadena is strong. The task before us is to put tools in place for future generations of Black Pasadena to have the stability, service and safety they need to continue to thrive. We must take steps now to make rent more affordable and homeownership attainable, ensure that our government and leadership provides quality service, and safety that focuses on a do no harm model of service delivery. Providing these critical tools for transformative communities to our children will help us keep Black Pasadena strong.
-Patrice Marshall McKenzie is an Educator and Community Advocate who was raised and continues to live in Pasadena with her family.