By Jon Wolff
Original Save Venice held its annual Venice Black History Month celebration in the Abbot Kinney Memorial Library on Saturday, February 18. This was the first opportunity for Original Save Venice to have activities indoors at the Venice library since before the Covid lockdown. The library director John Frank, and the library staff and security, made extra efforts to provide the space for the 2023 event.
The program for the day included mounted photographs and history books to help visitors learn of the unique history of the Venice Black Community. Speakers took turns detailing the struggles of the People of Venice. And local musicians played live music for the attendees.
But this year’s event focused on one speaker named Jataun Valentine. She is particularly notable for being a descendant of Irvin Tabor, one of the primary Black Founders of Venice. Ms. Valentine is born and raised in Venice and, at 86 years old, is considered by many in the community to be the “Queen Mother of Venice”. Venice had the privilege of seeing her in person this day by the help of her daughter Jenny and son-in-law Benito.
Jataun Valentine’s role in Venice is not just as a mere figurehead though. Her lifetime of activism in Venice has contributed greatly to the preservation of the Venice we all know and love. Ms. Valentine served on the Grassroots Venice Neighborhood Council when the council was composed of women and men who genuinely stood for the interests of the people in the community. She worked with the tenants of Lincoln Place Apartments and protested to save their homes from being demolished by corporate gentrifiers. She fought to put art in the Oakwood Recreation Center. She helped to start the free breakfast programs for schoolchildren in Venice in the 1970s. And Ms. Valentine was on the front lines in the fight to save the historical Black church, the First Baptist Church of Venice, from being turned into a mega-mansion.
Jataun Valentine spoke of the past struggles in Venice. She talked about how the Pro Active Code Enforcement (PACE) program targeted only the homes of People of Color in order to force them out of Venice to make room for gentrifiers. She helped start the Venice Neighborhood Action Commission to stop selective code enforcement. She recounted the times when the LAPD broke down Black elderly residents’ doors to intimidate them and to push them out of Venice. She described the police’s gang injunction, which was used to displace Black families, but which was later declared unconstitutional. Back then, Ms. Valentine had boldly told the police, “You guys need to be re-educated. You’re going by old rules.”
Jataun Valentine talked about the issues concerning Venice today. She mentioned the ongoing problem with gentrifiers letting their dogs run loose and off leash in the park. This is a problem that the police refuse to deal with. They let affluent White dog owners break the posted laws daily, menace children and seniors with large dogs, and verbally abuse local People of Color when told to observe park rules. This lack of police response contrasts sharply with their regular practice of stationing police cars at the park every time a Black family has a barbecue or a birthday gathering at the picnic tables. Ms. Valentine assured the audience, “We’re still working on it.”
Jataun Valentine, who is born and raised in Venice, has always spoken about homelessness in Venice with far greater compassion than any and all of the newcomers to Venice. At the library event, she addressed the subject of homelessness simply: “They’re unhoused and they’re people too.”
Jataun Valentine acknowledged the contributions to Venice by many of the people in attendance. She encouraged everyone to keep on fighting until we win. And that once we start something, we finish it. She said that Venice is worth fighting for. About her own contributions to the fight for Venice she said, “I’m a little bitty part of it.”