The LAPD will be out in force on the streets of Skid Row on Saturday, April 21. No, not that LAPD, the “other” one, as they prefer to be called.
The Los Angeles Poverty Department will hold its fourth incarnation of the biennial Walk the Talk Parade and Performance, an event that chronicles and celebrates the history of Skid Row and those who work, live and contribute to the neighborhood. “The idea is to put all these people out there who are not recognized,” says John Malpede, founder of the other LAPD, the Row’s community theater, visual arts and performance group.
The event is very much a for-us, by-us affair, with wacky costumes, a brass band and community music ensemble. Got something to make some noise with? Join in. Residents come and go as the parade, a movable feast if there ever was one, wends its way through Skid Row.
The parade is also about bringing a sense of engagement and community to an area not often thought of in terms of “community.” Organizers describe the event as a “people’s history” of the community.
“This gives a positive perspective to what’s going on in the community,” says Steven “Cue” Jean-Marie, pastor at the Row Church and one of eight people who will be honored at the parade. “We need more positive examples.”
This year the event honors activists and artists who have been deeply involved in lifting up the residents of Skid Row. They range from leaders of well-known institutions such as the Rescue Mission, to neighborhood activists, to a renowned L.A. Philharmonic violinist.
Vijay Gupta, a believer in the power of music to propel social justice, is a co-founder of the Street Symphony, which has performed for the homeless and incarcerated populations more than 300 times since its founding in 2011. The Street Symphony’s Skid Row performances of Handel’s “Messiah,” with its iconic hallelujah chorus, have been featured in L.A. Weekly and other publications.
Also being recognized is the Row Church and Cue. Also known as the Church Without Walls and the Street Church, the Row is a place where parishioners can find “beauty amid the chaos.” Jean-Marie, who goes by Cue, is a former rapper with Virgin Records who turned to evangelism in 1994. He has conducted outdoor services on Fridays for the past 11 years in the heart of Skid Row.
“We have no building to meet, worship or pray in, but that suits us just fine considering the majority of our congregation is used to sleeping under the open night sky,” the church’s website says.
To Cue, being recognized by the Poverty Department is particularly meaningful, because it comes from a group that calls Skid Row home, rather than a large corporation or government group. “They’re folk who are actually on the ground,” he says. “You know it comes from a genuine place.”
Steve Diaz of the Los Angeles Community Action Network also will be feted. Diaz was formerly homeless and lived in the notorious Frontier Hotel on Fifth Street. “I definitely got to see two sides of the people who live downtown,” Diaz says of the experience.
Now director of organizing at the Community Action Network, he has become an expert on the ins and outs of housing, particularly for the homeless.
Honoree Bobby Buck first came to Skid Row in 2011. Since starting off as a shutterbug in the area, Buck has launched a variety of online projects such as the Bobby Buck Show podcast, a talk show with local personalities addressing social and personal issues.
Tiffany A. Rose, a producer, writer and actress, is the founder of My Friend's House L.A., an outreach center that provides meals, clothes and a variety of social services.
Other honorees are Demetra Wilson-Washington, outreach minister with Central City Community Outreach; Andy Bales, executive director of the Union Rescue Mission; and Eddie H., a Skid Row advocate who was active in creating the ReFresh Spot, a hygiene center with restrooms and soon to add laundry services.
Along the parade route, participants will stop at eight spots, each one relevant to at least one of the honorees. At each location, the actors and performers of the Los Angeles Poverty Department will enact a scene depicting the person or organization being recognized. “We interview each of them ahead of time,” Malpede says of the honorees. “Then we distill a scene from their words.”
Each of the scenes lasts about 10 minutes, and then the party moves on.
The parade includes an eclectic assortment of floats, costumes and sets designed by community artists.
In the course of the four-hour event, crowds can range from several hundred to more than 1,000. “I think the whole thing has a joyous spirit,” Malpede says.
The parade began in 2012 as the alternative to an envisioned public arts project to posthumously recognize Robert Sundance, a Skid Row alcoholic whose class-action lawsuit helped reform how police work with chronic and homeless alcoholics and drug addicts on the streets.
The plan had been to install plaques in the sidewalk commemorating social activists in the area, in the style of the stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The city balked at that idea and, according to Malpede, “We decided to do a parade.”
Organizers became so enthusiastic about the idea that, before they quite knew it, there were more than 30 honorees in the inaugural event, which spanned three days. Malpede said the event has since been scaled back to more manageable proportions, in part to allow organizers time to devote to their daily endeavors and causes.
Instead of plaques, the honorees are presented with portraits by local street artists. This year, Skid Row artist and muralist CruShow Herring is doing the art. Honorees also are remembered in the Skid Row History Museum and Archives, run by Malpede’s organization.
Organizers say the parade helps present Skid Row in a more positive light and highlights the people. “People think Skid Row is all about tents and don’t pay attention to the community that lives here,” Diaz said.
Walk the Talk Parade, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sat., April 21, 800 E. Sixth St.; lapovertydept.org.