by Bunthay Cheam
photos by Susan Fried
Exactly one week after he passed away, more than 100 people gathered in MLK Memorial Park to celebrate the life of rapper, philanthropist, and community organizer Nipsey Hussle. On Sunday March 31, he was murdered in front of The Marathon Clothing, a store he owned on the intersection of Crenshaw Boulevard and West Slauson Avenue in South Los Angeles.
Although it was forcasted to rain, supporters held vigil on a dry day with occasional sun breaks. Scores of blue balloons danced alongside the crowd who sat in the park amphitheater listening to a line up of speakers buoyed by Nipsey Hussle’s music.
“I know the city was feeling the same way I was feeling, a sort of disbelief and despair and I wanted a real place where we could grieve in a peaceful place, where are we going to really feel one as a community” said Antonesha “Toto” Jackson, an organizer for the vigil.
Nipsey Hussle, born Ermias Asghedom, is of Eritrean descent. He made his name into the music industry with a slew of mixtapes including The Marathon and Bullets Ain’t Got No Names series. In 2018, he would go on to release his debut studio album, Victory Lap.
Although he was a talented musician, he was equally known for his philanthropy and community activism.
“I think he was more than music. I think he was about community, about his own people, and he wanted to uplift not only his people, but everyone around him,” said Feven Werede. “And he wanted to make sure that we came together as one and we’re able to help one another. He promoted unity and that was his ultimate goal. And I think that’s something that we need to continue to do ourselves.”
The event not only celebrated the life of the artist but also provided space for community members to reflect upon themselves and their community.
“I want to be a leader. I want to navigate through the obstacles that America puts on us,” said Natu Abraham, a University of Washington sophomore. “I saw a video of him yesterday that really spoke to me because of the words he said, ‘stay focused, keep working hard. Believe in yourself. Overcome obstacles that you face. Stay motivated and chase your opportunities no matter what age, what color, no matter where you from.”
Abraham saw himself in Nipsey Hussle: “As an Eritrean, when you come to America or if you’re born in America, I feel like you got to try to balance two different cultures. Your parents tried to really center [the Eritrean] culture at home but you try to balance it out in high school and things like that. Nipsey was really talking about how he had to do the same thing.”
Antwan Fellows had the opportunity to join Nipsey Hussle’s security detail during a tour stop in Seattle and provide grooming services to his entourage: “To say I had responsibility to guard that man’s life and keep him safe so he can be able to say to this day that Seattle was one of his most favorite cities to perform — it was everything to me.”
According to the Los Angeles Times, Nipsey Hussle purchased the strip mall on West Slauson Avenue in January that includes his flagship Marathon Clothing Store. The construction of a Metro line along Crenshaw Blvd that will connect it to Los Angeles International Airport brought fears of gentrification.
Teme Wokonda grew up in the Central District and relocated for a period of time to South Los Angeles and witnessed the construction of the Metro line along Crenshaw Blvd. When she returned to Seattle, she was shocked by the shutdown of 23rd Avenue and the changing landscape of the Central District: “Each community has suffered from systematic gentrification; Crenshaw Blvd is 23rd Ave! Regardless of how it affected his community, Nipsey continued to show up in his community to reinforce hope, tenacity, resources and a plan for his loved ones.”
She also urged attendees to network: “If Nipsey was here, he’d be chopping up with everybody. He’d be like, ‘Yo, if there’s barbers in the house, everybody needs to know who’s a Barber. If you’re a barber, if you work in nursing, everybody needs to know who’s a nurse,” he said. “Everybody needs to link up. Everybody needs to know who they could depend on where their support system is because we can’t spread ourselves thin by hugging everyone. But we can do a lot by hugging each other.”
Asked what good could come out of a tragedy that has reverberated across the nation, Jonathan Gooden, who also helped organize the vigil, reflected, “Recently I saw a post where it’s like, you kill one Nipsey a thousand are born. And in that there’s a lot of people that maybe aren’t represented here today that have been affected by his message, his music, and his vision. So in that I see a rising of black, brown and disenfranchised people who previously maybe didn’t think anything of themselves or anything of the opportunities that they may have in this world. And for them to take stock within themselves and make a change and put their best foot forward.”
According to TMZ, Nipsey Hussle’s memorial service will be held on Thursday, April 11 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Following the service, there will be a 25-mile procession through South Los Angeles, stopping by points of significance to the rapper.
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Featured Image: Participants signed a tribute poster for Nipsey Hussle at a vigil held April 7 in Seattle for the LA rapper and activist. (Photo: Susan Fried)