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Afiba Center Become Focus of Contentious Battle with Community Members and Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson

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Tina Samepay

The A.F.I.B.A. (African Fire Fighters Benevolent Association) Center has operated in a city-owned property on Crenshaw for more than 20 years, providing cultural programming and resources to the African-American community. But in recent years, the center has become the focus of a contentious battle between District 8 City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson and Executive Director of “the Afiba Center”, Jabari Jumaane.

During the height of the coronavirus pandemic, Harris-Dawson’s office placed padlocks over the gates and evicted the Afiba Center. Dawson’s grounds for seizing the property was that the center did not allow the city access when requested.

Jumaane disagrees, adding that he believes he became a sore spot for Harris-Dawson after he began to question the Councilman’s commitment to the Black community, especially the Destination Crenshaw project.

“His project Destination Crenshaw has come under a lot of scrutiny,” Jumaane expressed. “All of us like art, but if that’s all you are proposing, you need to put something in place that helps these young brothers and sisters own these commercial spaces.”

Destination Crenshaw declares the goal of the multi-million dollar project is to ensure the Black esthetic of the area remains in the face of gentrification. Jumaane feels the Councilman could ensure this, by putting the full force of his office behind making sure the people are not easily replaced from the community.

“He [Dawson] is good at photo-ops, showing up places and smiling, but they are selling you out on the back burner. It is time for somebody to be in that office who is going to stand up for our people,” Jumaane said. “If you can’t be bold and speak out now–when will you be able to?”

In recent months, a mediator had been brought in and Jumaane was under the impression that the Afiba Center was close to reaching an agreement with the Councilman’s office. At one point, calls and texts to the mediator went unanswered. When Jumaane was finally able to make contact, he was told the mediator had been sick.

The Councilman’s office then authored a motion on June 2, suggesting the Afiba Center be leased to the non-profit, Community Build, at no-cost. The motion was seconded by recently elected City Councilwoman Nithya Raman.

This caused supporters of the Afiba Center to protest outside of Community Build’s current office in Leimert Park.

“Saucedo did not offer any ill words, he brought refreshments out and I let him know that although we had spoken, it was the community that said they wanted to come out,” Jumaane illustrated. “If people are speaking up for the institution, I am going to be speaking up with them.”

During a zoom call Jumaane says Saucedo had not yet committed to taking over the space and shared that Community Build does not want to hurt their name by getting caught between the feud.

When reaching Community Build for comment, Saucedo made clear the space on Crenshaw which houses the Afiba Center, is not large enough in size to handle the operations of Community Build.

“We are not moving. We have been asked to manage the building and programming,” Saucedo said.

Community Build was made aware of the ongoing dispute of the space by Harris-Dawson’s office.

In a statement, Community Build responded, “The councilman made it clear that because of Community Build’s reputation with implementing processes and being systematic in our endeavors, he felt these strengths would bode well for achieving his vision for maximizing the use of the AFIBA Center by the entire community.”

According to Harris-Dawson’s office, the recent motion is to create a pathway for community groups, neighborhood councils and non-profit organizations to readily use the space every weekday of the year, free of cost,

“The building is for the community and any community group will be given the opportunity to use this public space for programming,” stated a spokesman for the Councilman.

Jumaane says Saucedo shared he has a plan of bringing 5,000 jobs to the area and that he was interested in the space still being called the Afiba Center. That is, if Community Build agrees to manage the space.

Still, Jumaane continues to fight back against what he calls an unlawful lockout that was denied  to the councilman in a 2020 court order. He views the recent motion and actions on behalf of Harris-Dawson’s office as blatant disrespect, and an overall disregard for the decimation of Black cultural institutions in Los Angeles.

“Anyone can make a mistake, that’s what makes you human, but disrespect is intolerable,” Jumaane shared. “We are the only district with any real percentage of African culture. That’s what this district represents, and it’s being eroded.”


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