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NAJEE’S NOTES: A proper L.A. tribute to Barack Obama

City Council President Herb Wesson’s motion that would direct the city engineer to begin the process of renaming a segment of Rodeo Road — a major east-west corridor in South Los Angeles — as Obama Boulevard was unanimously approved by the Los Angeles City Council last year.

On May 4, from noon to 6 p.m., the community will celebrate Obama Boulevard being a reality with an all-day festival at the intersection of King Boulevard and Rodeo Road, now known as Obama Boulevard. 

The all-day festival will include celebrity performances by hip-hop performers Yo-Yo and Doug E Fresh and other musical artists along with several food trucks and vendors.

The ceremony will begin at 5 p.m. and Wesson will be joined by U.S. Rep. Karen Bass, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Los Angeles Urban League President Michael Lawson and other civic leaders.

The name change in honor of former President Barack Obama, was a great idea by Wesson. Obama Boulevard will cover an approximately 3.5-mile stretch of Rodeo between Arlington Avenue and Jefferson Boulevard on the Culver City border. The street passes directly by Rancho Cienega Park, where then Sen. Obama held his first Los Angeles campaign rally after announcing his candidacy for president in 2007.

Los Angeles already features a number of streets named for former presidents, including Washington Boulevard, Adams Boulevard and Jefferson Boulevard.

With the addition of Obama Boulevard, this creates a presidential row that will draw tourists all across the nation. This is a fitting tribute to Obama, who was a student at Occidental College from 1979 to 1981.

“Nine years ago I had the honor of introducing then-Senator Obama at his first campaign rally held at Rancho Cienega Park,” Wesson said. “The renaming will enable everyone who travels the boulevard to recognize the road as a fixed landmark within the city of Los Angeles dedicated to celebrating the legacy of President Barack Obama.”

On a personal note, there are some in the community who are cynical of elected officials for always being self-serving, but in this case Wesson should be congratulated. He felt the heartbeat of the community and delivered for us by ensuring that Obama’s legacy will always be a permanent part of South Los Angeles.

I wouldn’t miss this celebration. It was in 2004 when I lived in Chicago that I stopped in to volunteer in the downtown campaign office of a young community organizer who was running for the Democratic nomination for the Illinois Senate. I was eventually asked a few weeks later to fly back home to Los Angeles and help organize a political fundraiser on the candidate’s behalf which I immediately agreed to do.

The day before the fundraiser, I invited one of my best friends, former Wave Columnist Betty Pleasant to join me as my guest. We had a wonderful time that night and at its conclusion I walked Pleasant over to meet our candidate from Chicago.

She broke out in a big smile and shook his hand and welcomed him to Los Angeles. As we exited the fundraiser, comedian and actor Chris Tucker joined us and we walked our candidate to his awaiting car, stopping quickly for one last photo. I will treasure that moment  and photo with our candidate Barack Obama the rest of my life.

We all know the ending of his historic political journey. But I can truthfully say I was there at the beginning and one of the first black leaders in this city  on his team from day one before he became nationally known after his 2004 Democratic National Convention speech.

As I drive down Obama Boulevard May 4, I will remember the beginning of the Obama legacy.

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