Neighborhood collective Reclaiming the Community aims to rewrite the story being told about Southeast San Diego.
Google search "Southeast San Diego" and the first three links will be Wikipedia, SanDiego.gov, and UrbanDictionary.com. But then the tone changes — "Just HOW Dangerous is Southeast San Diego?"…"It's A War Zone Down Here"…"Detectives Probe Two Gang Shootings in Southeast San Diego"…
Neighborhood collective Reclaiming the Community is devoted to holding those storytellers accountable for the narrative being told about Southeast San Diego. And a story is being told. It goes something like this: "Southeast San Diego is a dangerous war zone where detectives come in and probe for justice in their battle against gangs." Is this an accurate tale of the goings on in the heart of America's Finest City, or are there authors who have been reckless with their power, who are responsible for the exaggeration of negative perceptions, and who must be held accountable for the fallout from such recklessness?
Reclaiming the Community is made up of small businesses, community leaders, and residents who share an appreciation for the history and culture of Southeast; they tell a different, richer story about their neighborhood.
Among the many platforms Reclaiming the Community uses to share its narrative, one is music. On Tuesday, July 28, RTC will be releasing an album that will serve as a thesis statement, an introductory paragraph of sorts.
The Reader met with RTC member and one of the record’s executive producers Parker Edison to learn more about Reclaiming the Community and their musical message.
SDR: What is RTC?
Edison: Reclaiming the Community is about reclaiming the narrative [of Southeast San Diego]; there's a lot of media perversion of what happens in, and what comes out of, that neighborhood. It's about us taking control of the narrative and the way we are represented [in the media].
"As One," Odessa Kane
Reclaiming the Community album promo. The record is due to drop Tuesday, July 28.
SDR: What is an example of how "media perversion" has misrepresented Southeast San Diego?
Edison: This is not new. An easy quick [historical] example could be how what was going on in Harlem during the Harlem Renaissance was being twisted, and how [contributors] were being labeled gangsters and heroin junkies. The same thing is happening in Southeast, where you [read] articles about residents therein being called criminals, and [the media] not being honest and not telling the full story about those they are misrepresenting. Things that paint Southeast as being full of criminals, or the four corners of death, as opposed to having some of the oldest black churches in San Diego, churches that are functioning and are healthy churches. It's a thriving community and it doesn't get that reputation.
SDR: Who are the members of RTC?
Edison: Reclaiming the community is a group of businesses set in Southeast San Diego. The Imperial Barber Shop, Pillars of the Community, One Hundred Strong. It's a set of like-minded businesses who want to do stuff to effect change in their local community. They were the ones boycotting Bonnie Dumanis. The ones bridging the gap between the marginalized and those in positions of power.
SDR: How did you and the rest of the musical artists get called upon to create this music under the banner of RTC?
The Reclaiming the Community CD will serve as a statement of purpose for the collective — to revise the narrative being told about their neighborhood.
Edison: Paul Khaled Alexander, one of the professors at City College [reached out to] me, and said, "Yo, I have a bunch of rappers rapping about [what's going on] and you deal with rappers and can make the music machine move easier than I can; why don't I give you my influence politically, and you can pull it together artistically, and we'll put the two together." So it's part music, part movement.
SDR: What are some fruits of RTC's labor that signify progress in the community and in retelling the narrative?
Edison: Well, here is just one example: one side of Pillars of the Community is Reclaiming Our Stories. It's a diverse group of women who get together and do a writing workshop. Through Reclaiming Our Stories we are watching women from all walks of life connecting with other women on complete opposite sides of social structures working together, and becoming better for it. On a grass-roots level, we have one person helping another person.
SDR: So, how does music function in the framework of what seems like more of a grass-roots political group?
Edison: Well, we have artists coming together, I mean bloods and crips who have violently stayed apart from each other [in the past] and we take it right back to that grass-roots thing, where these hard gangsters are being encouraged by other reputed gang members to "keep doing this, we've been waiting for someone to do this." As soon as that starts happening, the floodgates are open. So the music is doing similar things to what Pillars of the Community is doing. We also threw a [hip-hop] show [Let Me Vote], where we educated disenfranchised people, people with felonies, or with felonies that were dropped to misdemeanors — they didn't know if they had the right to vote — so that those who were able could vote.
SDR: How will you judge success after the release of the music?
Edison: I'd say three things. If there are two less killings this year than last summer, we will have succeeded — a huge part of this is quelling the gang violence in Southeast. If we can give the people [other outlets] they can look to for information. We want the record to be the icebreaker that the artists use at their shows to speak about current events. Because Big June is on the record, maybe he goes on a radio show and then he can talk about current events there. And then, maybe at one of his shows, someone approaches him to talk about [what he said] on the radio show — now this record becomes the platform to have this discussion.
SDR: How can people get in touch with Reclaiming the Community and their hands on the music?
Edison: The Reclaiming the Community Facebook page. The record will drop July 28 in honor of the Fourteenth Amendment, guaranteeing due process, going into effect. You will be able to stream it on Bandcamp.com and Soundcloud.com, but to buy it, you have to buy it from the artists, you have to buy it from Access Hip Hop, M-Theory, and Off the Record, you have to buy it in a select group of mom-and-pop shops, like Green Cat, in Southeast.