Nipsey Hussle greets kids at the Nipsey Hussle x PUMA Hoops Basketball Court Refurbishment Reveal Event on October 22, 2018 in Los Angeles, California.
Photo: Jerritt Clark (Getty Images for PUMA)

It’s important for people to understand why it’s OK for Nipsey Hussle to be seen as a hero in South Los Angeles. But we have to get a few things straight.

Don’t get distracted by the fact that he was a Rollin’ 60s Crip; people join gangs because they seek a sense of community in a society that has discarded them. Don’t get distracted by the tattoos, because when you’re not interested in fitting into a society that has discarded you, you are free to express yourself in your own way. And don’t let that little bit of guilty feeling invade your brain, the one that says, “Well, what do you expect? He was a gang member, so he sorta deserved it.” Nah kid, Nipsey was from South L.A. (formerly South Central), just like me, a college educated and so-called respectable husband and father in the neighborhood, and he deserves the same respect that comes from being a product of our rich community.

Because I want you to see Nipsey Hussle through my prism, as he’s not that much different than me. Before we moved to Inglewood when I was 6, we lived in the Rollin’ 60s, right next to the old Langendorf Bakery factory. It was so ubiquitous to my childhood, that even today, over 40 years later, whenever I smell baked goods, it always brings up those memories of living on Cimarron and Gage, right in the heart of those notorious Rollin’ 60s blocks. Twenty years apart in age, I got out, but Nipsey didn’t.

That said, in some ways, Nipsey was the American dream. Started from the bottom, not with some “small” million dollar loan from his daddy, but the hard way. He developed his musical talent and sold mixtapes on the streets. Worked in the neighborhood. Went to school in the neighborhood. Got his first job in the neighborhood. If you’re from around here, probably got your order for fish from him at the Bayou Grille in Inglewood.

Then he blew up. Got a Grammy nomination. That should be celebrated. Made mistakes. Those, he acknowledged. But he also did what we all want folks who come from South L.A. to do. He stayed in the neighborhood.

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I’m one of the owners of The Metaphor Club, a creative co-working space on Crenshaw Boulevard, right in the heart of South L.A. But about six months prior to our opening, Nipsey helped create Vector90, a co-working space for young black folks interested in STEM. And he put it in that old Langendorf Bakery factory, smack dab in the Rollin’ 60s, about 10 blocks away from our Metaphor Club.

He transformed the space. Created programming to provide opportunities he didn’t have, for people who looked just like him. You know, the things that would make a young black kid living in the Rollin’ 60s choose coding over slinging because you finally got a fucking choice like kids in other neighborhoods.

But he wasn’t done yet. He then took an old fish market a few blocks over, right on Crenshaw and Slauson, renovated it and installed his clothing line, Marathon, the same spot where he was murdered Sunday.

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And that is a tragedy.

Out here, in the last remnants of a disappearing black Los Angeles, when we talk about stopping gentrification, it’s not just about getting pissed over clueless white people jogging around South L.A. with tiny dogs and demanding shit. It’s not just throwing up a middle finger at people who tell us that our area is an ‘undiscovered gem.” Nah, that’s just the stuff that annoys us.

The fight against gentrification is more about hoping that South L.A., denigrated for so long as the bastion of crime because it’s populated by black people who look like Nipsey and me, will some day be a safe place for the black people who both survive and thrive in it, and also want to be alive in it.

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Nipsey Hussle is a different generation than me. But we are the same. From the same neighborhood. With the same mentality about loving your own people by investing in your own people. And for that, I feel fine calling him a hero to this South Los Angeles community.