PUBLISHED AUGUST 12TH, 2015 ON KCRW
Video and photos by Alexandra Garretón
Web and Radio Story by David Weinberg
Wearing a glittering crown and a bright smile, Miss Compton 2014-2015 Ja’Tiara Fuller knows what it’s like to represent a city that’s trying to shed its reputation for violence and poverty. “Representing Compton is such an honor,” Fuller said at a recent event for this year’s pageant contestants. “But it’s also very exciting when you get to go outside of Compton, because a lot of people have negative stigmas on people from Compton so it’s very important to me to showcase Compton in such a positive light.”
Fuller said people are surprised when they learn that Compton isn’t all about N.W.A. and drive-bys, that it has things that most other cities take for granted, like a Chipotle and a Target.
However, even with new stores coming in, Compton still has a long way to go. Its school district is rated 3 out of 10, the unemployment rate is about twice the national average and the city has struggled to keep up its infrastructure.
Despite these challenges, Compton’s Mayor Aja Brown, who at 33 is the youngest in the city’s history, is optimistic. “At the height of N.W.A.’s success Compton had triple the homicides than we have today, Compton is much safer than it was before,” she said.
Fifteen years ago the L.A. County Sheriff’s department took over the Compton Police force. According to Brown, that change along with community policing measures and gang intervention have helped to reduce crime in Compton enough to attract national chains to invest in the city.
“This really is a great signification of hope and transformation and growth for the city,” Brown said of the Gateway Towne Center, the local shopping center where Chipotle and Target are, along with other staples like a 24 Hour Fitness and a Home Depot. Not only is it the first major development in the city in over 30 years, it’s a place of community, said Brown. “You can run into family members, neighbors, get basic things that other communities take for granted.”
Longtime resident, Carlos Acevedo has watched Compton change. He owns Frank’s Carburetors, which has been in business for 52 years, and is also president of the Latino Chamber of Commerce. Acevedo was born in California and grew up speaking Spanish and he’s watched while Compton’s Latino population has increased steadily; it’s now two thirds of the population. But the city’s political leadership doesn’t reflect that change. Only one of the city’s four council members is Latino. None of the school board members are Latino.
Behind the counter is a poster he made with a picture of Cesar Chavez, and Martin Luther King Jr. and a copy of the Voter Bill of Rights.”This poster really signifies representation and opportunity for all of us. It’s not to push anybody out but it should be more sharing in the democracy and the power.”
On Friday the movie “Straight Outta Compton” opens in theaters, and Compton’s reputation as the home of gangsta rap will be re-established. But Ja’Tiara Fuller’s focus is on the city’s future, not its past. Last Saturday, she passed her crown on to the 2015-2016 Miss Compton. But she will go on to represent Compton again — at this year’s Miss California pageant.