Inglewood has seen dramatic changes. The Super Bowl is proof of that.


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INGLEWOOD, Calif. — First, the Lakers and Kings ditched Inglewood for a shiny new arena in downtown Los Angeles in 1999. Several years later, the horse racing track closed. Between the two, there was the financial crisis, which caused the value of houses to plummet. Things got so bad that the state took control of the local school district.

“The only thing left, really, was a Sizzler and a big donut,” said Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts Jr., referring to the gigantic steel sculpture that sits atop Randy’s Donuts. near the airport, long a strange welcome sign for visitors to Southern California.

Now, when you arrive in Los Angeles, the first sight that catches your eye is the futuristic, glittering football cathedral called SoFi Stadium, located on land vacated by the horse track. It’s one of the most expensive sports arenas ever built at over $5 billion, and brought professional football to Los Angeles with the relocation of the Rams and Chargers from St. Louis and San Diego. It opened in the pandemic year 2020, hosting games but not fans. On Sunday, it will be packed for the Super Bowl, and Inglewood will capture the nation’s attention. Having the hometown Rams in the game makes it even more enjoyable.

For Inglewood, one of the last communities in Los Angeles with a large black population, the Super Bowl is perhaps the most complete expression of a transformation that has been going on for years. Over the past decade the economy has improved and crime has declined, making Inglewood attractive for outside development. The old Forum was reopened for concerts, and people came. A new home for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Youth Orchestra has opened in a building that was once a Burger King. Another new arena, for the NBA Clippers, is under construction.

And most importantly, the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2028 Olympics will be held in Inglewood, making the city the face of Los Angeles and the country.

All of this helped to overturn the history and image of Inglewood, and the wider South Los Angeles area, as impoverished and violent. In recent years, the unemployment rate has dropped dramatically and the streets have become much safer – there were only two homicides in 2019. Even the Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles have moved to Inglewood and, like the Mr. Butts said, “When the Girl Scouts come, no one can tell you’re not safe.

So the Super Bowl, in a sense, represents a celebration of Black Los Angeles, even as the NFL itself continues to grapple with its own racial issues, from the lack of black head coaches to the avoidance of Colin Kaepernick, the former quarterback who took a knee during the national anthem to protest racial injustice. The National Football, Business and Culture Contest will highlight not only Inglewood, which is its own town in Los Angeles County, but the sound of Black Los Angeles, featuring Dr. Dre (who once rapped that Inglewood was “always up to no good”), Snoop Dogg and Kendrick Lamar as halftime entertainment.

Yet no amount of excitement over a football game can mask the downsides of all this development, community anxieties over soaring rents and displacement and fears that Inglewood is losing its identity as an African-American place. . While the black population of some nearby communities like South Central has shrunk dramatically in recent decades, Inglewood today is about 41% black, down from 47% in 2000.

Nor does the Super Bowl obscure the fact that Black Angelenos, whose population, already small at around 9% in Los Angeles County, has shrunk since the 1980s as many families moved to the east towards the Inland Empire, still suffer far more than others from the calamities of the region.

Take homelessness, perhaps LA’s defining crisis: more than a third of the homeless population is black, even though African Americans make up a much smaller portion of the general population. Or take gun violence, which has increased since the pandemic: 36% of homicide victims in the city of Los Angeles last year were black.

Even as racial disparities persist, some see an undeniable renaissance for Inglewood.

“It was traditionally the place that had been bypassed at best, or worse, where the concentration of suffering had been,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric M. Garcetti said, adding that the perception of Inglewood and South LA was shaped by the troubles. after the Rodney King trial and gang war movies. “Since then, it’s really been about turning that history around.”

The last time Los Angeles hosted the Super Bowl was in 1993 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, a moment between perhaps the region’s greatest trauma and its greatest spectacle. Then Los Angeles was synonymous with racial unrest, still reeling from the uprising following the acquittal of four officers for beating Mr King. OJ Simpson, who performed the toss in that Super Bowl, was a year and a half away from infamy.

“The Super Bowl, and the notoriety of the Super Bowl itself, and the stadium, does nothing for issues like that,” said Erin Aubry Kaplan, a longtime Inglewood resident who wrote skeptically the development of his city, and his surprise to see white people walking the dogs in his neighborhood. “Unless the population changes. And then there are no more blacks.

Rising property values ​​- when the ground was broken for SoFi Stadium, the median price of a home in Inglewood was under half a million dollars, and today it is close to $750,000 dollars, according to Zillow – has divided the community. There are those who bought long ago and held on and have now been able to accumulate, in Mr Butts’ words, “generational wealth”. Then there are those who rent whose price has been exceeded.

In 2004, Inglewood voters rejected a new Walmart that would have been built near the site where SoFi Stadium stands today, a move that ultimately helped pave the way for real estate mogul Stan Kroenke. and Missouri sportsman whose wife is a Walmart heiress, to spend billions on a new stadium in Inglewood and bring professional football back to Southern California.

Damon Haley, owner of a beauty supply store called Glow + Flow in a mall in Inglewood, surrounded by a check cashing store, a donut shop, a tobacconist and a dentist, said his business has flourished. His family also benefited, he added. Her mother has owned a home in Inglewood for 62 years. “She saw her wealth increase.”

Mr Haley sits on the board of the Inglewood Chamber of Commerce and is a great boost to the town, but he admitted the development has caused difficulties for some. “There are those who can benefit and those who will suffer at some point.”

Mr. Haley has also secured help from the Rams’ community outreach programs, which have helped small businesses, built school playgrounds and supported youth football programs in Inglewood and Watts. Mr. Haley recently received a check for $25,000 from the team, which will help pay for new mats and merchandise.

But he said he has heard many stories of business owners, faced with rising rents, who have moved out of the area altogether. And the stadium, he said, has been bad for business for some. He said a friend who owned another beauty salon — “another black guy like me,” he said — closed it because the traffic got so bad that many customers stopped coming. to come.

But those owners, Mr. Butts said, can still walk away with financial gains. “What’s happened is that if these parties want to sell, they sell and usually get a premium,” Mr Butts said, referring to long-time Inglewood owners. “So Inglewood now attracts people of all races. There’s no way that’s a bad thing.

Melissa Hebert, who has lived in Inglewood since 1974 and runs a news site there called 2urbangirls, said she felt great pride that the Super Bowl was in her city, although she resented how the stadium had disrupted life. And that pride is also tempered by the NFL’s own racial issues. She sees the league’s partnership with Jay-Z to advance social justice issues as mere window dressing.

“Give them food and cakes and they won’t revolt?” she said, paraphrasing the old saying about bread and circuses. “You are kind of distracted. You say OK, well Kaepernick moved in, they brought in Jay-Z.

Mr Butts, sitting in a conference room at Town Hall last week surrounded by memorabilia including the shovel he used for the stadium’s dedication ceremony, reflected on Inglewood’s history and his.

“Inglewood was incorporated in 1908,” said Mr. Butts, a former Santa Monica police chief. “Until 1937, Inglewood was the Southern California headquarters for the Ku Klux Klan. Black people couldn’t buy in Inglewood because there were covenants on properties that you couldn’t sell to a person of color.

All week Mr Butts thought about his late father, who moved from North Carolina to Los Angeles in the middle of the last century in search of a better future.

“Not only did he not want to be a sharecropper, but he did not want his children to grow up with such limited opportunities,” said Mr Butts, who recalls his father taking him to see the Rams at the Coliseum in the 1960s. 1960. . “And he told me that. He said, ‘I had no interest in being a sharecropper. And I had no interest in working at a sawmill in Wilmington.

Meanwhile, as visitors arrive in Los Angeles, once they’ve finished looking at SoFi, they can, if they squint as they approach the runway, see a red tent just outside. from the perimeter of the airport.

The tent is the home of a middle-aged man named Eugene, who has lived on the streets for two years. Like many Black Angelenos, he grew up in South Los Angeles, moved as a teenager to the county’s northern suburbs, and returned. He had recently packed his things, as the officers the night before had told him he needed to get away from construction work in the area.

“I’ll probably go to the next block until they tell me I can’t be there,” he says.

He said he hoped to watch the Super Bowl, maybe at a sports bar in Venice. Then he entered his tent for a moment and came back holding a jersey of Eric Dickerson, the former Rams superstar.

“I already know who’s going to win,” he said.


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