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NAJEE’S NOTES: Facts behind city’s eviction of firefighters’ organization

I’m currently in Washington, D.C., attending the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Conference.

This year’s conference is especially important to me. Rep. Karen Bass is the current chair for this year’s Congressional Black Caucus and I had to be here to support her. She’s been my friend and biggest supporter for 25 years.

Also in D.C. for the CBC is Los Angeles City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson, who’s a guest speaker at the conference. In full transparency, I’ve known him for 25 years as well. I first met him when he was a young social justice warrior and community organizer for the Community Coalition, which was then under the leadership of Bass.

Harris-Dawson is immersed in a controversy that is now the talk of South Los Angeles’ black activist community. I knew something was wrong because as soon as my plane landed in D.C. this morning, I had several text messages and emails condemning Harris-Dawson for not wanting to renew the licensing agreement for the AFIBA Center, a city-owned building on Crenshaw Boulevard and 57th Street.

Black activists who contacted me were outraged .They used slander and derogatory comments and without question were very upset at Harris-Dawson.

I couldn’t believe it myself. Harris-Dawson has always been a champion for the people ever since I’ve known him. I’ve been in the trenches with him protesting against the over proliferation of liquor stores in South L.A. after the 1992 civil unrest and other quality of life issues.

I was taught there’s always two sides to every story. And as luck would have it, I saw Harris-Dawson at the CBC and after his speech ended iasked him about the controversy. To his credit Harris-Dawson didn’t duck and dodge me.

He told the truth of what exactly was going on and stated that his office has worked tirelessly with representatives of the African Firefighters in Benevolent Association, an unincorporated association, to extend an agreement with the city of Los Angeles to use a city-owned building on Crenshaw Boulevard. Unfortunately, after nearly a year of repeated requests, face-to-face meetings and written communication, AFIBA representatives remain unwilling to meet the most basic requirements of using a public facility.  

First and foremost, the building must be available to the residents of our community. That includes neighborhood councils, community organizations and the city of Los Angeles (the owner) itself.

Secondly, the building must be opened and well maintained. Since the agreement does not require any payment by AFIBA, the expectation, outlined in the agreement, is that AFIBA would maintain the property, provide stated programming and services, and carry the necessary insurance coverage to provide for injury and/or mishaps.

Notwithstanding these failures, I have tried to negotiate a new agreement that would allow AFIBA to continue to use the space. The requests for negotiation have been met with silence by AFIBA. 

This week, the city department that manages public assets was refused entry onto the property. That is completely unacceptable and inevitably triggered eviction proceedings.

Since AFIBA is unwilling to work through these issues, we will move forward to make sure the building can in fact be used for the stated purpose of the agreement. All groups or activities that have been able to use the AFIBA center will be able to continue to do so after this situation is resolved.

After speaking personally with Harris-Dawson and getting the facts from him, why are black activists outraged? He’s doing what he should do as any responsible leader in our community should.

Harris-Dawson, keep doing what the people elected you to do. I’ve always stated to you and all elected officials and community leaders, when you do wrong I’m obligated to report and when you do what’s right for the community, I will report that also.

I will have more to report in next week’s blog about my adventures at the CBC. If you can’t wait, my social media followers can see what’s going here on my Facebook and Twitter pages.

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