Stories About Meaningful Connections in Long Beach

  • 05/06/2019
  • Melina Paris

Carmen Sima speaks on finding love while starting a business

What are the stories that could only happen in Long Beach? There are many.

The Long Beach Literary Arts Center went in search of people with stories about the meaningful connections they’ve made in Long Beach and, or with the city itself.

This effort culminated into, MADE Storytelling: Making Meaningful Connections. The event in downtown Long Beach April 18, felt like a community event, complete with raffles, or rather “opportunity drawings” and prizes of gift cards from local businesses. It happened just off of LBLAC’s Common Ground event on April’s First Fridays in Bixby Knolls, which paired people with a set of interesting and meaningful questions. Participants answered until they shared the same answer and then could “bond over their similarities.” Then they could discuss their differences based on a list of questions — not about divisive topics. The idea was that it should be easier to discuss your differences once you’ve discovered your similarities.

Storyteller, Tasha Hunter speaks at MADE storytellers Making meaningful Connections

Storyteller, Tasha Hunter speaks at MADE storytellers Making meaningful Connections

The storytelling event at MADE also included an open mic that attendees comfortably participated in, within the hospitality of this room, which brings me to the venue. MADE is a sizable Pine Avenue storefront selling wares from local artisans. It frequently holds performances and art events. In the back of the space there is a semi opaque, glass door which leads to a bar and houses another room off to the side. This is where the event took place on this Thursday night.

On a night like this, walk in, get a drink and say hello to any number of people you’d be inclined to know, pretty well. Continue toward the storytellers gallery with intimate tables for two and extra chairs to accommodate. It was a comfortable space.

For a town going through massive changes right now, in development and housing and prevalent gentrification, this was a good way for people to connect. What’s true in Long Beach is that there has always been a sense of community, no matter who you are. Many of its dwellers do go to great lengths to support each other and are vocal about it, with community groups, political action groups, and great support of its own small businesses.

Almost every walk of life lives in this city— residents of urban downtown, of the beach, of suburbia and yes, even the depreciated area’s. It’s part college town. The rich and the poor and Long Beach born and raised live here. It is a top 10 most diverse city in the nation with a significant immigrant population. Families of every kind live here, gay, straight, non traditional and non binary. For as many mom and pop businesses that thrive in Long Beach there is as significant a presence and great support of the arts with an abundance of galleries, museums, artist communities and events.

In a town like this there could be so many meaningful connections. It makes sense to want to showcase this within the community.

The stories

The speakers were engaging and funny, bringing both stories and readings. In one particularly Long Beachian narrative, Tasha Hunter, the Long Beach Arts Council President who has at least five other titles, talked about the events that brought people together around good music. After an witty opening, Hunter expounded about running into the same people who were all at a nightclub, Birdland West Jazz Club on Pine Avenue no less, 30 years earlier. Fast forward to now and many of the same people found themselves at The Wilmore club on “Soul Night” recently, in Bixby Knolls. The song that played was Gil Scott-Heron’s, Home Is Where the Hatred Is.

Upon returning from the restroom, Hunters husband heard the jazz legends song and — announced more than asked — “Is that Gil Scott-Heron?”  He said he [and his wife] hadn’t heard the artist since he played Birdland 30 years ago. Another lady said she was there at Scott-Heron’s shows too, as they discovered through further declarations were several other Wilmore patrons—gathered together by chance through music, only in Long Beach.

The other stories and readings ranged from Bixby Knolls Neighborhood Association executive

Blair Cohn, who also carries many other titles. He described himself as someone who works to connect all of the Long Beach businesses to the entire community. And another relatable and charming story was told by ayurvedic practitioner, Carmen Sima about finding the love of your life while opening a business and making a decision to leap or not to leap. Local blues, jazz and spoken word artist, Shy But Flyy who is originally from San Pedro talked about

Shy But Fly.

finding a great community in Long Beach. Shy has initiated several open mics at different clubs around town. Local, humble baker of Gusto Bread, Arturo Enciso, told about how he got started baking. He happened upon an oven, built by “people who maybe didn’t know each other” for a local garden where it served the community. A friend gave him a book on how to use this outdoor fire powered oven along with recipes. He dedicated one day a week to make bread. He learned and eventually went on to make a living from this tool “made by the community.” Writer, Liz Gonzales shared a funny story about her beloved feral cat, Espresso with the opening line, “I am not a cat person. I am a dog person…”

Community is what thrives in this big little town. Long Beach Literary Arts Center elevates voices in the community by providing professional development, inclusive literary events, and resources for artistic cross-pollination. Their vision is a city that supports the literary arts.

This vision is taking shape. In true form, Long Beach residents have responded in action and participation. By all appearances it was a successful night for community.

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Melina Paris

Melina Paris is a Southern California-based writer, who blends her passion for writing and connecting people to their local community into pieces centered music, cultural events, the arts, and most recently, the intersection of art and social justice.

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