As I exit Rancho Cienega Park, shoulders slumped, and my “swoosh” style shoes hooked between my two fingers, I realize I have been exposed. My age has exposed the lack of horizontal quickness necessary to keep up with some twenty-year-old, who's rocking his form fitted university t-shirt. I literally find myself at a figurative intersection in life. With a quick head swivel each way, I slide through the cross streets and turn up the radio to hear the news. It was announced last week that City Council President, Councilman Herb Wesson of the 10th District, submitted a motion to rename a stretch of road between Jefferson Blvd and Exposition Blvd to honor our 44th President, Barack Obama. This is the part of the speech where you insert “hold for applause” in parentheses and take a small step back to soak it all in. I’ll admit, I was in the process of leaving my seat to put my hands together, but around the second or third clap my smile shifted to an disapproving smirk. With my eyes squinted, my elbow at a 45-degree angle, and rotating my wrist exposing my palm to the rafters, I expelled an audible “Bruh”.
Salute to the City Council members for unanimously approving the motion, and directing the City Engineer to begin the process of changing the name of Rodeo Road, between Jefferson Blvd and Arlington Ave, to Obama Blvd. Their thoughtfulness and their desire to respect the legacy of the former president will be cemented for the foreseeable future, but was this the only street that failed to renew its street name registration?
For starters to commemorate the first Black President of the United States of America, we the people were given Rodeo Road (pronounced Ro-Dee-Oh) in Baldwin Village; as opposed to the glamorized Rodeo Drive (pronounced Ro-Day-Oh) in Hollywood, which always seems to confuse new visitors. The street, soon to be formally known as Rodeo Road, extends from the Ballona Creek, in the west, and merges with Exposition Blvd just shy of the Expo/Western Metro stop in the east, spanning 3 ½ miles in total. President Obama Blvd will be added to the list of other presidential streets: Washington Blvd, Adams, Blvd, and Jefferson Blvd, but before the bell rings I have a few questions for the class. How is Adams Blvd over twice as long? Which President Adams came to mind when naming the street? And How do both Jefferson and Washington Blvd receive nationally recognized locations, but President Obama Blvd doesn’t?
Washington Blvd is the longest presidential Boulevard, stretching 27 miles, getting you from the sands of Venice Beach to cities and neighborhoods east of Los Angeles. Respecting his military accomplishments and his position as the first President of the United States does not preclude me from criticizing his unfair treatment of indigenous tribes and his reluctance to free the slaves he owned. Not long before his death he sold his slaves to friends and family at a discount but said once he and his wife passed away his friends were to free those slaves (not sure how he intended to enforce that idea).
I rejected the notion of Yahoo searching Adams accomplishments because a President we intend to honor shouldn’t have to be Googled. Whichever Adams was chosen resides among the ranks of presidents with smaller paragraphs – along with William A. Wheeler, Rutherford B. Hayes, and Zachary Taylor (I am sure of this because one of those men wasn’t a president). Adams Blvd guides you just north of the University of Southern California, but for those who cringe at the necessity of turning left or right to cruise the USC campus, Jefferson Blvd is the route designed for you.
Jefferson Blvd brings you from the yachts docked in Playa Vista, through the campus, to the east side of the 110 Freeway – traveling through some of the more prestigious neighborhoods of southern Los Angeles. The legacy of Jefferson is becoming more tainted with time as people realize his words of “freedom and liberty” didn’t align with his actions of owning slaves, raping and sexually abusing the slaves, then using those children to grow his workforce. The National Museum of African American History has a moving display of Jefferson. His statue is in the center of the room with his notable quotes about freedom and liberty inscribed on the base, and behind his statue are the names of some of his slaves etched on bricks. Stacked higher than he stands, the high walls lay the foundation for his legacy.
If asked, they would say the location was assigned for other reasons, but the fact two of the most influential Black men post slavery, are crammed together and suggested to "stay over there in your little box we designed for you”, is rather poetic. The reality of the street named for the man who dared us to dream ending at the street assigned to the man who told us to hope, connecting at the U-Haul Moving & Storage of Baldwin Hills location, deserves at least two snaps. “We gave President Obama a street, when will you be satisfied?” is the question I assume will be asked, but I will respond with, “Never!” Never should we be satisfied with what is given to us, especially when it pales in comparison to others who are under qualified or undeserving, simply based on a narrative that is manufactured to warp the minds of individuals to think one is better than the other.
So, with notifications enabled on my phone, I am waiting for the announcement of which day I’ll be able to see “President Barack Obama Blvd” in all capital white letters, freshly pressed on the standard green background. As people gather, cameras flash and the media spins this moment to fit their narrative, I'll be there. Not for the 'Gram, but for history. And when all the local newspapers leave, when all the tourists fill their IG stories, and as the residents struggle with giving their friends directions because they’re accustomed to saying “Rodeo Road”; I will stand on the south side of the intersection, and look up. Not to marvel at the sign, but to see how far we are away from the Hollywood Hills. And when I fail to see the silver screen in the distance I will be reminded that our community, our struggle, our heroes, and our lives, still won’t be in the picture.