SOUTH LOS ANGELES — Caseworker Tracee Jones knew something had to be done when she heard 9 and 10 year olds in her after-school program discussing conspiracy theories surrounding the murder of Nipsey Hussle.
“The kids were saying things to each other about the government and Nipsey’s death,” said Jones, who has worked with children at Community Build, a nonprofit organization, for the past two decades.
Jones knew that unanswered questions and hearing adult conversations could result in children drawing their own conclusions about the killing that would not ultimately lead to healing.
Hussle, 33, collaborated with dozens of name artists like Kendrick Lamar, Drake, Diddy, Ty Dolla Sign and Meek Mill before he was gunned down in front of his clothing store at Slauson Avenue and Crenshaw Boulevard March 31.
Although Hussle admittedly had a violent past and publicly spoke about his gang affiliation, he grew up to become an entrepreneur and community activist who was well known for his work to empower the underserved South Los Angeles community.
The rapper’s real estate investments, science and tech learning center for teens and a number of other ventures provided unprecedented access to opportunities for young adults in South Los Angeles.
“I knew we needed to provide a way for [these young people] to process their feelings and let them know that there was a beautiful side to Nipsey Hussle and all the other things were irrelevant,” Jones said
She decided to use an existing art project as an opportunity for the adolescents to focus on Hussle in a positive way.
Jones teamed up with Creative Incite, a program administered through South Bay Cultural Center Thrive LA, to lead a painting project featuring Hussle.
Creative Incite project leader Juan Gonzales used a California scene of palm trees and the beach as a serene backdrop for the rapper’s silhouette. Step by step, Gonzales walked the youngsters from painting the blue ocean and trees to adding the final black and white stenciled image of Hussle.
Raised in South Los Angeles and a former participant in Community Build’s Gang Reduction and Youth Development program, Jones knew firsthand the trauma and confusion caused by gang violence.
All of the young program participants were familiar with Hussle’s music, knew what he represented and his involvement in the community and that he had been killed in front of his clothing store just blocks away. Jones wanted to ensure that the kids had an age appropriate channel to talk about Hussle’s death and grieve.
“Being that Nipsey is from this community, I want them to know that wherever he started, didn’t end there,” said Jones. “He grew. He developed. He did all these things and they can, too.”
Community Build Vice President of Human Resources Kathi Houston-Berryman said that in addition to the painting, the children were given a “What would Nipsey do?” journal to further allow them to express their feelings.
“There are so many different things that impact our youth today — witnessing or being the victim of violence, experiencing their parents’ divorce or economic insecurities, bullying and cyber-bullying,” Houston-Berryman said.
She added that feelings of isolation and not being understood or supported by family can sometimes lead adolescents to bond with peers who may have a negative influence on their future.
Houston-Berryman said for at-risk youth, the gang program provides support and offers positive possibilities and alternatives to the pervasive gang culture.
Jones’ daughter, Deandra, was one of the youngsters that participated in the art project. Admiring her handy work, the 10-year old remarked that the portrait reminded her that “even though Nipsey’s gone, he’s still a big part of the community. We’ll never forget him.”
“As a nonprofit community development corporation in the heart of South Los Angeles, it’s our mandate and responsibility to create programs that not only bring economic development to the community, but also to address community trauma and to try to bring healing in times like these,” said CBI President and CEO Robert Sausedo.