Angela Glover Blackwell: 0:06
Welcome to Radical Imagination, where we dive into the stories and solutions that are fueling change. I'm your host, Angela Glover Blackwell. While reparations and reparative justice are just a talking point for some people, There is a growing movement in our country to reconnect Black people with land and property that was illegally stolen from them or their ancestors. In today's episode, we learned about the radical movement for land justice– a blueprint for policy change that could pave the way for reparations for Black families nationwide.
News Clip: 1:01
Now is a time for reckoning! Reparative justice is what we seek. Apologize, make amends, pay restitution to the Bruce family.
Angela Glover Blackwell: 1:01
We're now joined by Kavon Ward, a poet, an activist, and the founder of 'Where is My Land?'. She has been a leader in today's fight for reparations; helping win a landmark victory around justice for Bruce's Beach in Southern California. Kavon, welcome to Radical Imagination.
Kavon Ward: 1:19
Thank you so much for having me, Angela,
Angela Glover Blackwell: 1:21
Tell us a little bit about your organization, Where is my Land?
Kavon Ward: 1:25
Sure. Yeah, so Where is My Land is an outgrowth from Justice for Bruce's Beach. Justice for Bruce's Beach , uh, is a grassroots local organization that was focused specifically on getting the land back to the Bruce family and getting restitution for the land stolen from the family back in the 1920s. Um, and so when there was an announcement by the county board of supervisors, you know, when they announced their intention to return the land, there were a slew of families reaching out to me from across the nation, asking for my help as it relates to advocacy. And so I knew I needed to scale up. I wanted to make sure that I was providing services for people across the nation – advocacy, research, and technology services for folks to be able to do the work on their own, but to aid them in their advocacy , and potentially policy change that will allow for black families across this nation to reclaim land stolen from them . And if land can't be returned, then restitution for land stolen.
Angela Glover Blackwell: 2:24
So take us back to the beginning. How did you get involved in the fight for reparations?
Kavon Ward: 2:29
Right. So I started – and it's so weird because, as you mentioned, I am a poet – and about 10 years ago, I wrote a piece , uh, and performed it for the first time called Reparations. So I , I had no idea that it would be in alignment with what I'm doing right now. So I just find that that's really, really spooky, but in any case , um, after George Floyd was murdered , uh, in 2020, I decided to post about , um, how Black lives don't really matter in a couple of mom groups out here in the South Bay. And I learned that the people who were running those groups, those Facebook groups, they were deleting my posts. And they were deleting posts from other Black mothers who were complaining about the murder of George Floyd and naming it something political. Right? And so we just didn't feel like it was a safe space for us to communicate our feelings about what had happened. And so a couple of mothers and myself in the South Bay decided to start a group called Anti-racist Movements around the South Bay. And with that, we decided to hold a picnic to shed light on what had happened to Charles and Willa Bruce.
News Clip: 3:38
Nearly 100 years ago, a Black family was forced off the waterfront property they owned in Manhattan Beach. The Manhattan Beach City Council used eminent domain to seize the property owned by Willa and Charles Bruce, the first black landowners in that city.
Kavon Ward: 3:54
Now I learned about their story two times. The first time it was sent to me by just a citizen in Manhattan Beach on an online platform. And I , I don't know why she decided to send it to me, but she did. And so when I finally read it, I was just enraged and I was just like, we've gotta do something. So the group, and I decided to do that picnic on Juneteenth of 2020 at Bruce's Beach. And from there, it just took a life of its own. I remember being at Bruce's Beach and , um, a couple of the family members had heard about it. And so they came out and then I remember a reporter asking me what I wanted to see happen. I wanna see policy that would allow for the land to be deeded back to the family. And from that moment on, I just moved in that direction. And here we are .
Angela Glover Blackwell: 4:46
So tell us a little bit about the history of Bruce's Beach and what was at stake and why it was so important historically, and why it's important now.
Kavon Ward: 4:57
What lit a fire under me about the Bruces was that they were Black entrepreneurs. They were folks who were doing what America always tells Black people to do is pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Right? Right . That's what they did. And they, they saved up enough money, bought two plots of land in Manhattan Beach in the 1920s. Built upon that land created this safe Haven, this resort for other Black people to enjoy leisure.
News Clip: 5:25
Bruce's Beach was one of the few beaches in Southern California where African American families could legally attend.
Kavon Ward: 5:32
At the time, if you were going up and down the coast, Black people didn't have access to beach communities outside of maybe Santa Monica or the Inkwell in Santa Monica. But Bruce's Beach in Manhattan Beach was the place where Black people went to enjoy leisure, be by the water. And it wasn't just open to Black people. It was open to everyone. They allowed everyone in, but it just so happened that Black folks were the ones to go because they couldn't go anywhere else. And so in any case, they had a dance hall, they had a bath house , they had this beautiful property and it's on the strand right in front of the water. And so what they did was they created this community. And so that is what hits me the most about this is this community that was built and developed, right? They were gonna have a school there. They were gonna have a rail station there. Uh , there were a lot of Black people who had visited the resort and decided that I'm gonna buy over here. And that brought on what is now in Bruce's Beach park, right? So it was a space where Black people could be free in a sense, but instead the Bruces were harassed. Their guests were harassed. There were 10-minute parking meters , set up for visitors, right? And there was parts of the beach that was roped off. So in order for a Black folk to access the water, they had to walk a half a mile in either direction. They were mattresses burnt . The KKK tried to intimidate them. You know, they were not going to let up. But then the city of Manhattan Beach condemned the property and they took it through eminent domain. And so the Bruces had no choice, but to leave. And despite them getting the , I believe it was $120,000, they had asked for to leave. They got $14,500.
Angela Glover Blackwell: 7:30
Throughout the years. Did the family continue to try to get it back or had it just been one of those things move on?
Kavon Ward: 7:39
Angela. I , I think that the family did continue to fight, but I'm not sure that they fought to get it back because I don't think they thought they could. Right? No one thought they could get it back because it had never happened before. Right? I think at most they thought that they would sue and get, you know, get a settlement or get some money or whatever. But I don't think they imagined that they would get the land back. I think when I said it, I don't think people believed it.
Angela Glover Blackwell: 8:04
Mm . You know, this is on a different level, but it reminds me, one of the things I've been involved in, in terms of many struggles was the struggle to free Mandela from prison in South Africa. And from the moment I became an activist, I was either working on that as a direct thing, or it was one of the many things I was working on. And I remember the day that Nelson Mandela walked out of that prison, I thought to myself, you know, I never believed it would happen. And it just changed my attitude. And it really helps us see, it is always possible for what is right to happen.
Kavon Ward: 8:40
Angela Glover Blackwell: 8:41
So tell us about the pushback . Tell us about the struggle. What, how did the town react?
Kavon Ward: 8:46
Oh my God. I was public enemy number one. And I was specifically targeted by former Mayor Suzanne Hadley. I mean, there were the dog whistles that she put out to, to people in the community , uh, to make it appear as if I was coming after them and their money and their land, and I should be afraid of them. Fear mongering . That's what she was doing. Um, and then people impersonating me online making comments as if it were me and having to reach out to, you know, the local paper and threaten to sue them, to take it down because it was threatening my life. It was me being Amy Cooper'd by my own neighbor who had lived next door to for four years. It was being fearful for my life and my child's life as a single mother, you know, folks turning against me because I decided that I wanted to get a firearm to protect me and my child. But as soon as Janice Hahn with the County Board of Supervisors said, 'we're gonna give this land back', then it, it just, it was amazing how the people in the community flipped. Right? It was amazing. And I'm just like, oh, so it took a white woman to give me some approval before you all realized that I wasn't just trying to start trouble. I was trying to get justice. And that's the sad part, you know? Anything Black folk fight for, we , we are looked at as if we're we're , um, inciting violence or we're causing problems, but it's like, no, we haven't done that yet. We are actually just asking for justice. We're not asking for revenge. So get it straight.
Angela Glover Blackwell: 10:21
So Kavon where do things stand now in terms of the case for Bruce's Beach?
Kavon Ward: 10:25
Okay. So in terms of the case for Bruce's Beach, I'm not sure if you're aware of this, but the county is being sued by a lawyer out of Palos Verdes for transferring the land back . So the Bruce family has decided to align with the county and fight that lawsuit. So they're litigating that case. And they're also figuring out how to ensure that the family doesn't have this huge tax burden as a result of getting a land transferred back to them. And so the land, the actual transfer should be happening within the next couple of weeks, but it is contingent upon when they're done with the litigation , and all the legal stuff involved and entailed. Where we also stand is that the city of Manhattan Beach , um, has the power to change the zoning laws, which are now in place preventing the family from doing whatever they wanna do with the land. So they still have to use it for public use until those zoning laws are change . And of course the city of Manhattan Beach is not going to change it. The city of Manhattan Beach actually refused to apologize to the family. So , uh, any hope that they would change the zoning laws so that the family could do what they want to do with the land is, is very limited. But my understanding is that they are going to be , um, leasing the land back to the county to continue to use it as a lifeguard training facility. So they'll least see some money from it.
Angela Glover Blackwell: 11:48
Now Bruce's speech is a unique situation because the injustice was so well documented – the family had receipts and the story was out there. Even still with all of that, it took years of struggle...
Kavon Ward: 12:00
A hundred years.
Angela Glover Blackwell: 12:01
A hundred years . Isn't that something? So what do you think the implications are in terms of a blueprint for reparations? Is this an exception or is this part of the way that we can go after many other things? I know you have lots of requests, so you must be thinking about this.
Kavon Ward: 12:17
Yeah, <laugh> I, I am. And you know, I am requesting specifically from the, you know, the state of California that, you know, they create a statewide policy that allows for Black folk to get their land back ,if they can. And if not restitution, right? If it can't be a part of the reparations package, it should definitely be a standalone bill. Absolutely. There's too many cases, too many families, too many people with enough evidence, but there's also families who don't have all the evidence. They just have oral history. Right? And a lot of the, the evidence was destroyed on purpose, burnt down, you know? Um , but I'm dealing with a family right now in California, whose family has passed down important documentation, generations through generation through a Bible. And so they have receipts. They're uncovering more receipts. And it's sad because the burden of proof is on us. But the , the proof is oftentimes buried. It's oftentimes burned and non-existent. But does that mean that these families shouldn't get their land back ? No .
Angela Glover Blackwell: 13:28
Coming up on Radical Imagination, we continue the conversation with our guest Kavon Ward, stay with us more when we come back. And we're back, we continue the conversation with our guest Kavon Ward. Kavon, being an artist, probably helps you a lot to be able to imagine and envision, even when the usual legal pathways may not be there.
Kavon Ward: 14:10
Angela Glover Blackwell: 14:11
I suspect that's part of what allowed you to step into this, but you're gonna have to bring all that creativity to this work. As you continue to go forward.
Kavon Ward: 14:18
You cannot be more right, Angela. That is so true. I can't even tell you how many times I had to think outside of the box and be creative about my approach, not just in this case, but in other cases. Those decisions to be creative and to step outside of the box, yielded me some amazing results. Right? And so I do attribute that to my time as a creative artist. I'm both, right? Poetry allows for me to create pieces , um, where I can get people to imagine what a life would be like if these things existed or didn't exist, right? So you were so on point with that.
News Clip (Gov. Newsom): 14:54
And so I had the opportunity today to sign legislations for members of the community that were principles in their efforts and declaration that we needed to write that wrong and we needed to move forward in the present and in the future.
Angela Glover Blackwell: 15:06
So do you think that governor Newsom is gonna make good on his pledges? We certainly have the reparations commission that the conversation is far from over. Has there been any positive news in terms of land justice?
Kavon Ward: 15:20
So in terms of Governor Newsom, I am cautiously optimistic. Um, as it relates to him doing something statewide for Black folks to get land back and or restitution. but I'm leaning more towards believing in him than not because he, you know, he gave the green light for the, the Reparations Task Force because he signed the bill to give the land back. So based off of that, I'm just like, I believe he will do the right thing.
Angela Glover Blackwell: 15:49
And I think we all have to be cautious, which doesn't mean that we are not hopeful. It doesn't mean that we won't continue to struggle for something that is truly just. But because of the baked in structural systematic impact of racism – historically and continuing – it's hard to really make amends. And I'm curious what you think about the Black families, whose relatives were victims of eminent domain getting preferential treatment while they're seeking affordable housing. Cause when you talk about preferential treatment for Black families seeking affordable housing, what's affordable housing in the state of California?
Kavon Ward: 16:29
And not even that, Angela, not even that! I mean, and I , I think I read the story about Santa Monica patting themselves on the back because, you know, they've decided to give folks who were, you know, pushed off of their land to build that highway, preferential treatment with affordable housing. And so it's not just the point that what is affordable housing in LA because affordable housing in LA could be $2,000 a month. And it's still in affordable to folks who don't make as much money. Right? And by design, Black folk. Right. But then for me, it's like, how are you pat on yourself on the back for that? You took land from Black people. They owned it. They owned the land and you are gonna say 'here, take this a preferential treatment to be , to get to rent something at an quote unquote affordable rate. I think it's bull crap. I think that's not, that's not justice. And I don't even think that that's what Black people want or need. Right. You took land and we owned it , give it back to us . That's what we need. Now , if you're talking about interest, free loans for Black folk wanting to buy in California, right. And, and discounting the amount that the , the homes cost for us, or the State paying for half of what the homes cost for us, you know, based off our income, then you're talking about something. But if you're gonna say to me, 'yeah, sorry, we took your land that you bought and your family own your ancestors own, and we're gonna replace it with you being on a list for affordable housing,' That's the slap in the face and it's disrespectful. And it just shows how little they value us and how little they understand what reparative justice means.
Angela Glover Blackwell: 18:10
And it's part of why it is so important that we educate the children and the adults and anybody in a position to impact policy. Because so many people do not know how atrocious the wrongs were. It's like, this was not somebody called you a , a name when you were trying to buy a house, this is people took your land. Stole your property. And so when you think about how do you make up for that? You gotta come as big with the remedy as you came with the assault .
Kavon Ward: 18:40
And not only that, it's like, okay, there is just this lack of admitting wrongdoing, right? And there is still this energy of wanting to hide history and the truth. Think about all of these states that are creating these laws to ban the truth about Black Americans in American history. Look at how they have this fight against critical race theory, which essentially American history. Look at this. Like, how are we in 2022 and you are still trying to stop the truth from being told. So before you can do anything, you need to make sure that you are okay with the truth being out there. All right , you need to remove the white fragility and tell your kids the truth. Because guess what? One of the things I realize in Manhattan Beach, which I see happening around this nation, is these little white kids in these white communities being raised in these bubbles, and then once they found out what happened with Bruce's beach, they were upset with their parents. They joined the cause. They marched. They didn't want any parts to do with their family. They argue with their families because their families were trying to tell them to stay out of it. You're dealing with a whole new generation right now. Black and white and Asian, like we're coming together. The youth are coming together. And so it is definitely important that we educate them about the true history of this country.
Angela Glover Blackwell: 20:08
You know, when you talk about the history of the country, this is a country that was founded on genocide for the purpose of stealing land and human bondage for the purpose of slave labor. And so when you think about it, there are so many things that indigenous peoples and Black people are struggling with together, right? When you think about the work you've been doing, what is the differences and similarities between the land back and land justice? How do we balance land reparations for Black people with the need to write the injustices of land that was stolen from indigenous peoples?
Kavon Ward: 20:48
They're doing an amazing job. I think first we need to stop assuming that the natives want our help with what they're doing. And we need to ask if they need help and how we can help. But my focus and my organization's focus is on Black land because no one else was focusing on that. There has been a void as it relates to folks fighting for Black land, I've taken on that void. But I think as long as everybody comes together and do their thing, and understand that the culprit of white people who did this to us, then we will be okay. We we're stronger together.
Angela Glover Blackwell: 21:21
So the concept of reparations has obviously been around for a while and people have been calling on acknowledgement for decades. Yet, this is really the first successful movement. What has changed and what do you think people need to think about to make sure it continues to gain momentum?
Kavon Ward: 21:41
I have been a part of a couple of different reparations working groups. And what I'm realizing is that there is just this, this divide and disconnect, as it relates to folks defining what reparations is. Some folks don't believe that getting land back is reparations. They believe that it should be called restoration or whatever, right? And so I don't get bogged down and that I just do the work. This is what happened. And this is how I believe it should be remedied and you call it what you wanna call it. But for me, if reparations means repairing harm done, then I would classify this as a part of reparations. And I think it should be heavily considered in any state or national initiative to create policy. It should have a lot to do with being able to return Black land or to get restitution for land. That can't be returned regardless of what it's called or what people decide to include in bills, it doesn't matter to me because I , my eyes are on the prize and this is what I'm focusing on.
Angela Glover Blackwell: 22:52
So what's next, but where's my land.
Kavon Ward: 22:54
Oh my God. Close to 400 families asking us for help. You know, right now we're working on getting, like I said, the statewide , uh, policy to ensure that all Black families – not just the Bruces, 'cause it's happened to a , a lot of Black families in California, surprisingly – it's making sure that we get statewide policy passed in California and then doing some advocacy work across this nation for the other families who are asking for our help.
Angela Glover Blackwell: 23:18
Kavon I have one more thing I wanna ask you. You're an extraordinary advocate and you are really showing how to make a difference in this world. And you've done a lot of things. What advice would you give to your younger you?
Kavon Ward: Oh my God, my younger me? I would just say we going be all right . Don't stress. Have faith and focus your energy on building unshakeable faith. The most important thing I would tell myself is you are enough at every stage in your life. You are enough for that point in time in moving forward. You'll still be enough. You are always enough.
Angela Glover Blackwell: Kavon, thank you for speaking with us.
Kavon Ward: Thank you for having me. It was a pleasure meeting you.
Angela Glover Blackwell: Kavon Ward is a repairative justice activist and the founder of Where is My Land. After this interview was recorded, The Bruce family became the first Black family in US history to officially receive land reparations from the government. Thanks to progressive legislators and activists like Kavon. We heard about one Black family's fight to reclaim stolen land, but it is well documented that the horrendous theft of Black-owned land has happened on a large scale across the country since before the end of slavery. Now, finally, justice is on the horizon. Kavon Ward's courageous work reminds me how important the times are for achieving justice. We are in a season of racial reckoning. The widespread desire to do right to acknowledge the racial sins of our history and repair the harms has combined with radical imagination and extraordinary leadership. That means anything is possible.
Radical Imagination was produced for PolicyLink by Futuro Studios. The Futuro team includes Marlon Bishop, Andreas Caballero, Joaquin Cotler, Stephanie Lebow, Juan Diego Ramirez, Liliana Ruiz, Sophia Lowe , Susanna Kemp and Andy Bosnack. The PolicyLink team includes Glenda Johnson, Vanice Dunn , Ferchil Ramos, Fran Smith, Loren Madden, Perfecta Oxholm and Eugene Chan. Our theme music was composed by Taka Yusuzawa and Alex Sugira. I'm your host, Angela Glover Blackwell. Join us again next time. And in the meantime, you can find us at radicalimagination .us . Remember to subscribe and share Next time on Radical Imagination. The World Reimagined.
Ashley Shaw-Scott Adjaye: 26:20
This history about the transatlantic trade of enslaved Africans really wasn't discussed. So now that we have literally walked this trail together, what are we going to do with this history? And why is it important that we've learned it together? We want our artists to imagine what does that future look like?
Angela Glover Blackwell: 26:42
That's next time on Radical Imagination.