‘Godfather’ of South L.A. rebuilding

first_imgThey call Danny Bakewell the godfather of South Los Angeles, and indeed there was a time when the real-estate developer and longtime civil-rights activist was the most feared man in the city. In the months after the 1992 riots, as the scarred city began to clean up the debris and ashes from businesses burned to the ground, Bakewell would occasionally shut down work sites for not using African-American workers, employing a level of drama befitting mythical television Mafia don Tony Soprano. “Danny Bakewell was there at ground zero, and his vision became a beacon to help guide us through very difficult days,” says John Bryant, founder and chairman of Operation Hope, which helped spur the economic recovery of South L.A. Adding to the drama of the repeated shutdowns were the advance calls to the news media from the Brotherhood Crusade, the African-American charity Bakewell headed. That ensured the camera shutters were snapping and the TV video rolling when a silver Rolls Royce cruised into view and a nattily dressed Bakewell stepped out, a menacing glare in his eyes. “And they’re happening today.” Bakewell, who was a close friend of the late celebrated lawyer Johnnie Cochran, is among those who look back and wonder what was learned from the riots and what was gained by all the federal and private pledges of rebuilding. “Did the rebuilding effort fail?” he asks rhetorically. “If I were to define the ingredients that should have been in the rebuilding effort, I would say, yes. It’s kind of like we needed a pound cake which was very heavy and got everybody involved in it, and what we got was an angel food cake. “You had a lot of people crunching statistics, but at the end of the day something got rebuilt but did the people rebuild it? Did people get jobs? Did they get trained? Do we have people who once were out of work who are now carpenters, bricklayers, brickmasons? Do they operate heavy-equipment machines? “We didn’t have any depth to what we were doing because the only thing anybody was trying to do was put out the fire.” Even Bakewell’s own crusade of demanding the hiring of more African-American workers was unable to meet its raised expectations – that, like Rebuild L.A., city and federal officials, he was overwhelmed by the scope of the rebuilding challenge. “People would call me and say, `You’ve got to come and close down this site.’ It was more than I could physically handle, in spite of the fact that I was happy to do it. But while I’m responding, something else is going awry.” [email protected] (818) 713-3761 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! “I created this mantra: If black people aren’t going to work, nobody works,” recalls Bakewell, a 60-year-old multimillionaire who lives in Pasadena and is one of the wealthiest African-Americans in Los Angeles County. “Here we were in our own community, which had been burnt and smoldering. Everybody was talking about how we have to rebuild our community and allow the community to participate in the rebuilding. But when you looked at the things that were being rebuilt in the African-American community, there were no African-Americans working.” Because of his single-minded activism, Bakewell is looked upon today by many in his community as having been the catalyst for the transformation South Los Angeles has experienced in the last 15 years. “I’m the godfather of right, of doing something that was positive because you can’t say you’re operating in the best interest of the community and allow these things to happen,” he says. He pauses, then shakes his head. last_img
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