A Lesson In Adulting: The Kevin de León Conundrum

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Los Angeles Councilmember Kevin de León helps to unveil the Willis O. Tyler Square at 2nd and Spring Streets in downtown on Mon., Sep. 25. 2023.

When I was told that Councilmember Kevin de León was involved with the square dedication for Willis O. Tyler, the Black attorney who won the landmark case that made adding racial covenants to block Black people from living in white neighborhoods in California illegal, the irony wasn’t lost on me.

I am one of the many Black Angelenos who still believe that he should not be on the city council after audio was leaked last year of him participating in a conversation where racist and disparaging comments were made about Black people, among others. And to be fair, my beef with de León extends long before that. He took a lot of money from Ed Buck, a white Democratic donor sitting in prison right now for causing the meth overdose deaths of two Black men. For years de León dodged the issue and talked around why he didn’t return the money to the fund set up to support Buck’s victims.

Jasmyne Cannick in Council Chambers October 11, 2022.
Council Chambers October 11, 2022.

I really considered backing out of helping with it altogether lest my participation be seen as a validation of support for de León.

It took a lot for me to get over myself and my feelings to show up Monday for the square dedication at 2nd and Spring streets in downtown Los Angeles.

I had just spent a week communicating back and forth via email, phone, and text with de León’s staff helping to plan the event. I even managed to show up one morning to meet his communication’s director for a walkthrough of the site. I was cordial. Curt, but cordial.

I am a former staffer. I served as a Special Assistant to former City Council President Herb Wesson. Sometimes, as staffers, we tend to look at other staffers as mini-mes of the councilmembers they work for.

I came to that walkthrough with that mindset. That the man I was meeting was a mini-me of de León. So I was curt. While we were meeting on the corner of 2nd and Spring streets, I thought, he probably expects me to be this angry Black woman. You know the angry Black woman stereotype that is a racial trope in American society and media that portrays Black women as inherently ill-mannered and angry.

So I quickly changed my attitude. I didn’t want him going back to his office saying that I was a typical angry Black woman but more importantly, he wasn’t a mini-me and that’s really not who I am. In my line of work, I am constantly around people I don’t like or trust and they are none the wiser. I keep it to myself. Why should that suddenly change today?

If I had to give myself a grade for how I handled working with de León’s office prior to Monday’s event, I’d give myself an A-, no, maybe a B+. Afterall, I was curt to his communication’s director when we first met.

Let me say from the start that I didn’t want to go to today’s unveiling. I did not want to grace Kevin de León with my presence. He doesn’t deserve it and didn’t want him to think for one moment that we were cool and all was forgiven — because we are not and it has not been.

But I had to go. Because as one of mentor’s once told me, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good!”

The Willis O. Tyler Square at 2nd and Spring streets is the first square to be named after a Black person in downtown Los Angeles. It’s an incredible honor for the late Mr. Tyler, his friends and family, but equally important to this city’s Black community where it seems that the only areas boasting an increasing Black population are ones that encompass and include Skid Row in downtown.

Unfortunately, Tyler’s former office at 2nd and Spring streets is in de León’s district. It is what it is.

Do we not recognize and honor Tyler and his work because we don’t like the councilmember whose district it’s happening in?

Do I not go because it’s in de León’s council district and I don’t like him?

“Jasmyne, girl, don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good” — me to myself.

So I woke up at 5 a.m. and got to talking to myself and getting my head right. I needed to listen to some gospel and meditate.

I chose my outfit carefully and accessorized it with a pair of Louis Vuitton Madeleine’s I scored on Poshmark and my OnTheGo. The symbolism was probably lost on most in attendance today, but that’s okay, I knew why I wore it.

Jasmyne Cannick in front of the Willis O. Tyler Square in downtown Los Angeles.

I don’t know what happened but somewhere between me leaving the house and walking across the street from the parking lot to the site, I lost it and as the young folks say, I became triggered. So when de León’s deputy greeted me and tried to shake my hand I just looked at him and then made up some excuse about being worried about COVID-19 to avoid shaking his hand and walked away.

In my head I was screaming at myself, “Ugh Jasmyne, why did you do that?”

I took a couple more sips of my skinny vanilla latte and pulled myself together. It was hard. Very hard. And I felt bad too because I know de León’s deputy saw me shake other people’s hand and greet them warmly. Apologies. I was having a moment. It happens.

I did pull myself together because in this life a huge part of adulting is having to do things we don’t necessarily want to do and sometimes being in uncomfortable positions. I work in politics and government and a lot of times in my work I have to put my own personal feelings aside and look at the bigger picture.

I am good at what I do and I don’t have a history of randomly attacking people in public and that wasn’t going to change today. That’s just part of the same angry Black woman stereotype and racial trope put on Black women with strong opinions. Just because I don’t like you doesn’t mean that I am going to embarrass myself by cussing you out in public. But at the same time, as the adage goes, if you f — k around you will find out.

I went and I made sure that I was never close enough to de León to be caught in a photo with him, well at least tried to. Fingers crossed. But I can tell you that there will be no photos of Jasmyne smiling standing next to de León.

I stood right in front of de León the entire time he spoke, holding my LV and looking right at him. I tried to display my poker face as best I could for as long as I could.

While he was speaking I was reminded of a conversation I had earlier with someone about forgiveness. I found myself looking at de León and asking myself if I ever thought I could forgive him for what he did.

I don’t know, maybe. I have done things I am not proud of in my life, thankfully it didn’t amount to a national news story. I have asked for and earned forgiveness from others more than once and will probably have to again in the future.

It’s true that people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. But we can be hurt, disappointed, and angry.

For me, some things are unforgivable. Most murders, for example.

Being an arrogant racist jerk — I guess that’s forgivable if you somehow prove that you are no longer an arrogant racist jerk which means making amends and acknowledging what you did.

Kevin has a long way to go before that happens with me. In fact, he hasn’t even hit the road yet and is still sitting in the parking lot with the car idling as far as I’m concerned.

Image of Kevin de Leon's staff.
Hire some Black people please. More than one so that they are not lonely.

I don’t need my poker face to say that I appreciate de León agreeing to support the Willis O. Tyler Square and to thank his staff who really do all of the work. I want to say to de León’s deputy who I was rude to, I apologize and that I saw you offer that mentally ill unhoused Black man some of the refreshments that were at the event and I appreciated that.

2nd and Spring streets is now officially the Willis O. Tyler Square.

Thank you Kevin. It’s a start.

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