Residents of Black Pasadena continue to struggle to experience the full sense of agency that comes with freedom. According to the Pasadena Historical Society, the presence of black people predates the city’s actual incorporation in 1886. Since then, black families have strived to achieve three things that would equal the strength of the Black Pasadena state: stability, service and security.
Many families yearn for the security that comes with the ability to have safe and affordable housing, a job that pays decent wages, and the ability to provide a quality education for their children. Black Pasadena’s stability has been something of a metamorphosis. Our community’s anchor businesses and institutions have been disrupted by redevelopment, freeway construction, systemic bias, and the de facto segregation of local public schools.
From the first black residents of Pasadena to those of us who remain here today, we continue to fight for the stability of our community. Much of the early struggle was to establish neighborhoods, create connectivity, provide goods and services, and develop institutions to serve black people. Today, we still strive to preserve and protect the remaining neighborhoods, businesses and institutions from the pressures of gentrification. Rising real estate prices and skyrocketing rents are causing significant numbers of black residents to seek stability outside of Pasadena, leaving those of us left struggling to maintain our quality of life and wondering what awaits us in the future for our children. Will they be able to protect and grow Black Pasadena’s legacy?
Black Pasadena’s quest for stability parallels the need for quality service from government and elected leaders. At its core, government is supposed to serve the people it represents. All residents should be reassured to know that city services, utilities, public institutions like schools, parks, roads and libraries are available and accessible to all. Blacks in Pasadena fought for equitable access to these essential public resources. The challenges residents of Black Pasadena have faced in accessing public schools, parks and swimming pools have been well documented over the years. However, black residents today still struggle for equity in access to these vital public goods. Our elected leaders work tirelessly on our behalf, but the levers of democracy keep turning when people are active and participatory.
Security is probably the most sought after element of the three tools for strong communities. Black Pasadena wants safe neighborhoods. We want law enforcement protection centered on a “do no harm” service model. Our families and communities are still reeling from the pain and hurt of losing loved ones to deadly encounters with law enforcement. We remain optimistic that our security environment will improve through incremental improvements in policy and transparency. It is difficult to undo the damage caused by the loss of life, but we plan to make progress on safety through increased communication and collaboration. We are optimistic about the new Community Policing Oversight Commission. We are resolute in our vision of a safety model that recognizes and values the humanity of Black Pasadena.
Black Pasadena’s overall condition is strong. The task ahead of us is to put the tools in place so that future generations of Black Pasadena have the stability, service, and security they need to continue to thrive. We need to take action now to make rent more affordable and homeownership accessible, ensure that our government and our leaders provide quality service, and a safety-driven, no-harm service delivery model. Providing our children with these essential tools for transformative communities will help us keep Black Pasadena strong.
-Patrice Marshall McKenzie is an educator and community advocate who grew up and continues to live in Pasadena with his family.