A conversation with Heavenly Hughs and Victor Hodgson of My Tribe Rise
The brief, yet abundant, life of My Tribe Rise demonstrates a type of indigenous community organizing that is becoming more common in neighborhoods throughout the country. Community members with lived experience are stepping forward and taking the reins of social justice initiatives that inspire and elevate. Who, more than someone who has worn the shoes of the marginalized and segregated, will know better how to bring folks together around a common vision for peace and justice.
In just over two years since the founding of My Tribe Rise, Heavenly Hughes and Victor Hodgson have have delivered hope for change and created positive places for action for their community. The number and breadth of these initiatives is astounding, particularly when considering that they are supported by such a small cadre of team members. From providing access to health care, to food distribution, to reducing discriminatory law enforcement practices, to gang violence interruption, My Tribe Rise is truly a grassroots organization dedicated to creating a peaceful and unified community.
The most recent accomplishment for for Heavenly and Victor was to partner with dozens of other agencies, organizations and individuals, to bring Altadena its first community-wide Juneteenth March and Block Party at Charles White Park on June 19, 2021. The following interview was conducted a few days after that landmark event to understand better what its impact will be on Heavenly, Victor, My Tribe Rise and on the families of Altadena/Pasadena. (The interview has been edited slightly for clarity and length.)
From your perspective what was the impact of Saturday’s Juneteenth March and Block Party event? How might it be used to further organize or benefit our community?
It was intended to be a day of celebration, so we started at the Altadena grocery outlet by giving them an award for addressing food insecurity and housing issues and being a part of community engagement. Vendors from throughout the community were there. I saw clearly then how the community can come together and mobilize for a purpose. At the evening Freedom March and Block Party it was an example of true unity in the community and the importance of celebrating this critical event and recognizing the injustice that has been placed on BIPOC people throughout history. And people really came together to celebrate! Right in our small town of Altadena! And we appreciate our neighbors from Pasadena coming to join us to celebrate with us. Just to see the diligence of the organizations and businesses that wanted to make this day of jubilee and celebration a success. People put their hearts together to celebrate Juneteenth. It was an overwhelming response! I am in tears, again, because the responses were so touching. I cried several times that day because I was so humbled by the community’s response. We can’t wait to do it again next year. An experience of unity that was unforgettable! Even the relationships that were created, true, deep relationships were birthed through this day of jubilee. By working together on this project we built relationships that will last a long time. So many people came together and it was true love. I felt love being ushered in throughout the community. It was a success because my wish always is that people are touched in an unforgettable way. And I believe that is what happened.
While Juneteenth is now recognized as a national holiday, there is still much work to be done. Where do you think efforts should be placed to create a community that is more equitable and inclusive?
First, I want to say that many people came to me during the event because my speech was about the fact that ‘we are free’ and they asked me: ‘are we really free’? All I can think about the word is that they (the slaves) were free; and as a descendent of slaves that we are free. As an African-American just being able to say those words ‘we are free’ is amazing! So I am going to speak about what that means for us as black, enslaved people to say that we are free. And that we should keep that word and action in our thoughts and minds because the day will come when we will have absolute freedom. We will have our civil, political, human rights and that we will receive compensation and reparations for our suffering. First of all, the US government needs to repent, to accept its wrongs and admit the truth that the US broke the backs of Black people for its own benefit. What I love about Juneteenth is on that day my ancestors believed in a jubilee and joy that I cannot imagine. To hear that ‘you are free’, even if it wasn’t the complete truth, I can imagine what they felt when they heard those words after 250 years of slavery. That does not mean that the US is perfect, the US must transform its entire system to include the well-being of Black people including an economic system that was built on slavery and an education system that does not teach what happened. When the US corrects its wrongs, that will be the true moment of jubilee. When the US values our Black lives as much as any other and when there are reparations to our people, that is when we will truly be free.
How might your organization assist with activities in that area?
It took about 30-40 years for the civil rights movement to penetrate the government system that we are all manipulated by. So we must mobilize a movement that may continue for another 10-20 years and make demands for reparations, corrections, transformation, and rebuilding of the truth with elected officials and other leaders. We must speak to each other in ways that motivate us to stand with one another throughout this process. We will go to the White House with a mobilization of the people so powerful that the changes that we are demanding will be implemented. We will speak to one another until we completely transform and take down officials and force them to admit that they were wrong. i don’t see this will happen right away. This is a life that we have taken on. I am just full with joy! We had two original Black Panthers who passed the baton on to us on Saturday. It was an incredible moment! One that we take very seriously! We touch people by caring for them. Housing, food, job insecurity, mental well-being, etc. are all services and resources that we offer to our community. When you are able to touch the heart, then you are able to move someone to join a movement.
What ultimately is the type of community that you want to live in?
Know that life is worth living for a purpose. Doing these acts of kindness gives people purpose and thus we ask them to join the movement on the road to reparations. When we talk about our local organizations I love them because each one has the compassion and diligence to reveal the truth. And that where there is power in unity and we are showing that unity in our community is powerful. I am inspired all the time, like with the Vision 20/20 Initiative, for example. Our goal is to truly organize a movement for compensation and recognition through reparations. And to uplift and revitalize our people. For those at the top to reach down to bring up folks from the bottom. So when I hear from White, Asian, Latino colleagues who see the truth and ask why there is such disparity between our races, I see what their gift is, what their purpose is, and that everyone is doing their part and that this is the foundation of the movement to come.
How does our history shape how we act/behave today? How might it be used to assist with charting a path forward?
Hank Jones and Florence Zinzun (wife of Michael Zinzun) were Black Panther Party members in LA in the 60’s/70’s. When they passed the baton of activism on to me and Victor, I was inspired and honored by their words. We are implementing many of the initiatives that the Black Panthers used around food, housing, education, etc. “I believe in you guys and we have been watching you and the passion and purpose is there. There may be sleepless nights, but you two will continue to mobilize our community,” Ms. Zinzun said to us. We take it (the responsibility) very seriously. They fought for our community! They did so many positive things that even to this day the government has implemented several of their projects to help our families. For example, the school lunch program that the Black Panthers started in the 60’s is being provided by the government today. We want to continue this legacy! We also want to continue the legacy of Felicia ‘Fe Love’ Williams – her words to me were: “…you are going to change this world and make peace profitable.” I need to live up to her legacy. She was amazing! It is just like alchemy – you start with nothing and you create something powerful! God has given us the power through compassion and love. Don’t make people trick yourself, because I know there is still a lot of work to be done and we still do not have freedom, so we will fight white supremacy until we have complete freedom.
My Tribe Rise would like to mention that their next ‘Brothers Connecting with Brothers Retreat’ will be held on July 31, 2021.
We will focus on healing within our community, understanding the purpose and power of unity and peace, economic growth within the black and brown communities, and reparation.
For more information, please check the My Tribe Rise web site: https://mytriberise.org
If you want to find out more about some of the issues we discuss in this article, please visit the links below.
Altadena’s first Juneteeth Parade:
Martin Luther King in Pasadena:
California’s racist past: