For his prowess in combining activism and civic-focused entrepreneurship that for five decades has brought diverse groups together to benefit the underserved communities of South Los Angeles, Danny Bakewell, Sr. will be honored with the Community Builder Award during California State University, Dominguez Hills’ (CSUDH) Founders’ Dinner on Oct. 8.
The Community Builder Award is presented to a local business owner who demonstrates exemplary citizenship, commitment to the community, and has made contributions that significantly and positively impact the quality of life in the region.
The Founders’ Dinner is part the university’s year-long 50th Anniversary Watts Rebellion Commemoration. It will recognize the rebellion by highlighting the university’s role as a catalyst for change in its aftermath, and by honoring those who have made an impact in the community.
Bakewell is founder of The Bakewell Company, one of the largest African American commercial real estate development groups in the Western United States, and parent company of Bakewell Media, which owns the Los Angeles Sentinel and the LA Watts Times newspapers, as well as WBOK radio station in New Orleans, where he was born and raised.
When Bakewell moved to Los Angeles at the age of 21 to pursue his career ambitions, he arrived at the height of the turbulent 1960s when the Civil Rights Era was in full swing. In the late 1960s, his long commitment to L.A.’s African American community began through his work with the anti-poverty program Neighborhood Adult Participation Project.
“My memories of first coming to Los Angeles was that it was a real exciting time. It was right after the Watts Rebellion and the city was just sizzling with activity. There was a thirst on the part of the community to really force institutions to change,” said Bakewell. “But there were still so many things that needed to happen.”
A considerable shift toward positive change didn’t happen until African Americans began to gain political power in California, according to Bakewell.
“I remember very distinctly that there was an explosion at the time that was very different. That’s when Merv Dymally was elected [to the state assembly in 1963]. That’s when Gilbert Lindsey was elected [in 1963 as the first African American city councilmember in Los Angeles], and when Tom Bradley was elected [as mayor of Los Angeles in 1973],” he said. “Then you started seeing significant change going on in Los Angeles, and in Sacramento as well.”
Bakewell’s activism over the years has included the development or participation in several community service-based organizations designed to help create upward mobility for African American communities.
In the early 1970s Bakewell was made president and CEO of the L.A.-based community development organization, the Brotherhood Crusade. He served for nearly 30 years in that capacity and is currently chairman of its board of directors. Under his leadership the non-profit has provided more than $60 million to community programs and services throughout Southern California.
Bakewell is the chairman of the African American Unity Center, a multi-purpose service center, and is also co-founder of the National Black Unity Fund. He launched Mothers in Action, which has provided school supplies and valuable resource information to needy children in Los Angeles’ poorest communities for more than 15 years.
His numerous awards include the “JFK Profiles in Courage Award” from the U.S. Democratic Party, the “U.S. Congressional Black Caucus Adam Clayton Powell Award,” and the Martin Luther King Drum Major Award, among others. He has also been honored by the NAACP and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and was inducted into the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame.
Bakewell’s annual event Taste of Soul, which is presented by the Los Angeles Sentinel and benefits both Mothers in Action and the Brotherhood Crusade, has been dubbed “Los Angeles’ largest street festival.”
“In the past, Taste of Soul has amassed as many as 350,000 people on that one day, and more than 1.5 million over a 10-year period. It has become an institution in and of itself,” said Bakewell. “People say, ‘Well, after Labor Day, we’re looking forward to Thanksgiving, to Taste of Soul, and then Christmas.’ Now that’s a real tribute. But what’s important about Taste of Soul is that it brings forward the best economic development in our community.”