After I started my work as the Leimert Park community liaison for Center Theatre Group’s Through the Looking Glass, I quickly learned that people were excited to be involved in a project that could help dispel myths about their South Los Angeles neighborhood—and the people who dwell there. They were also clearly excited to learn about the people in Montebello, about whom they will be writing “autobiographies” in the coming months. The heightened level of racialized animus in the country seemed to inspire people to play a role in improving race relations. Many people I spoke with acknowledged that a project rooted in art had a real opportunity to make an inspirational difference. In this time of unprecedented attacks on black life and culture, people who live and work in Leimert Park are especially excited to share their experiences—and learn about the lives and experiences of others. Ultimately, the Through the Looking Glass project will create a cultural bridge between the communities of Leimert Park and Montebello.
Through the Looking Glass is the brain-child of playwright and poet Jerry Quickley. The initial iteration of the project was developed while Quickley was in residence at Stanford University. Quickley assigned Stanford students and Alameda County incarcerated youth to write imaginary autobiographies of the “other” group based on what they thought they knew about them. The project’s second phase involved the group members meeting each other, and then writing revised autobiographies. Quickley crafted this raw material into a play, which was then presented as a staged reading. Leimert Park- and Montebello-affiliated residents will go through a very similar process.
The outreach process involved talking to Leimert Park stakeholders and having them recommend people for consideration. We also placed flyers at businesses throughout the area. And, we spent time on the streets speaking with anyone who seemed like residents as they walked through the neighborhood. After reaching out to dozens of people over the last couple of months, the final Leimert Park project participants were selected. Excitement was the common theme that seemed to connect the prospective participants throughout the selection process.
As I made phone calls to alert individuals of their acceptance into the project, I received genuinely emotional responses. One especially moved participant asked me to repeat the exact words I had just told him to his wife. Apparently, they had been talking a great deal about the possibility of him being accepted, so when my call came, he wanted to share his joy—and the excitement of making a difference.