LOS ANGELES — An important spot in Watts is no longer in immediate danger of being torn down and redeveloped, but living in the community you’re trying to help is another struggle.
There’s a different kind of nervous you get when it’s not yourself on stage, but your child. Chelsey Flagg watched her son perform at the Watts Fam Poetry Jam. It was held Saturday at the Mafundi Center after a long fight to preserve the place, known as an artistic haven established in 1969.
“There’s history in this building. My children are here today,” Flagg said. “They’re 9 and 10 years old, but when their grandfather was in high school, he was a member of this, of Mafundi, and came here and did programming, so it’s important that you have those intergenerational pieces of the community.”
Rita Cofield worked hard to save and set the stage. She leads Friends at Mafundi, the group responsible for getting the center protected as a historic-cultural monument. The Los Angeles Conservancy said less than 4% of these places “reflect LA’s African American heritage.”
“Sure, we saved it. Sure it’s a historic-cultural monument now, but what do we do with it,” Cofield said. “If nothing comes of this, it’s just a relic.”
The Mafundi building has a long history as a hub for Black creatives, so writer Darryl Lewis, known on stage as “Subject Matter,” feels comfortable bringing the tradition back.
“It’s just as important as a football player playing on a football field or a baseball player playing on a baseball field. We’re poets, so we have to have our venues to entertain and to exercise,” Lewis said.
Cofield’s work to revitalize the center is far from over, but those thoughts are pushed back a little on the short drive home. Her mother died and left Cofield her childhood home, more than a year ago, yet only recently she moved her things into her mother’s old room.
Cofield is cautious about getting too settled because she is on the verge of losing her childhood home. At any moment, she could be told to leave by the bank.
“I’m just finally kind of trying to make it my own, but it’s still a little difficult,” she said.
A new job and a new, excited audience give Cofield hope on both fronts.
“It makes me really proud to be able to be here and participate,” Flagg said.
To improve and to stay in the community are two converging struggles.