Last Update: Wednesday, August 13, 2014

African American History Month in the San Fernando Valley PDF Print E-mail
Written by Diana Martinez   
Thursday, 06 February 2014 17:54

M. Terry / SFVS
San Fernando resident Melba Gilkey, better known as “Mama Hazze,” views the display of U.S. Army medals presented
to her father Jack Jones for his service during World War II at the San Fernando Museum.

This is part 1 of a series of stories this month featuring African American residents in the San Fernando Valley It seems like nearly every day, you can find San Fernando resident Melba “Mama Hazze” Gilkey, in the local community, either organizing an event or hosting one. She is a crusader for art and culture of all kinds and has been a grand supporter for first time artists. She believes in creating opportunities from the ground up and with it she brings her love for the city of San Fernando and the Northeast Valley where she grew up, with music, the spoken word and dance.

She started open Mic nights she called “Mental Monday's” at the House of Brews Coffee House on Maclay Avenue in San Fernando and has organized a long string of shows for visual and performing artists. And, While others may be reluctant, she is encouraging, and happily gives a microphone to a young person whose message may be gritty --- as long as it's respectful and honest. “My mission in life is to do for others,” Gilkey puts simply.

What pleases her most is seeing the seeds that she's planted grow. She and her son DJ Hazze, a dancer since the 70's, established the Hazze Hip Hop Culture Dream Center in 2001 where hundreds of local kids have learned more than how to spin on their heads, they've been taught the history and art of “true Hip Hop” and in the process, Gilkey and her son have uncovered lots of talent.

“I believe in a cultural exchange and teaching kids about the positive impact of art, including Hip Hop which is very positive, not the gangster image that the media has portrayed. “The kids we first taught are now grown up and have sprouted wings and formed groups like the "GR818ERS", a dance crew from the surrounding community,” Gilkey says proudly.

"They've worked real hard and now on their own, have been spreading the art of dance in the parks, youth ministries in churches and at community events. Foremost Gilkey believes in “community,” and having what she describes is a cultural exchange to teach kids about what's positive about being from the area code 818.

Early Life In Pacoima and San Fernando. Gilkey and her family is an example of African American history in the Northeast Valley. Gilkey's family lived in Pacoima in the 1950's. “There were twelve kids in our family and we later moved to a two story home in San Fernando behind the high school near the wash.”

But, Gilkey said, the home turned out to be poorly constructed and water would travel into their home so they moved to another San Fernando location on Fox and Kewen where the neighborhood store, “Gus'” was a gathering spot. “The San Fernando Mall was where we went shopping at Thrifty's and Woolworths and there was even a the carnival and every now and then a circus would come to Recreational park.

In those days, the San Fernanado pool would be free on Saturdays and for us with a lot of kids that was great,” Gilkey said. “You thought nothing of walking around in the evening. In later years, after I was married, when I was pregnant I would walk to the mall every day and went to Danny's Dogs. In the 70's, my son would meet all the kids at JCPenney's where they would meet to break dance. “Growing up, my brothers and sisters were called the N-word when they went to O'Melveny, and later there were some problems between Blacks and Latinos at San Fernando,” but Gilkey said, she was able to navigate around it.

While there was a racial push and pull with the change of demographics, the Northeast Valley also had a period of African American and Latino organizing together at the nearby Lockheed plant and on school campuses including San Fernando High School and CSUN. “People now ask me, where are all the Black people, and I feel like I've lived two separate lives.

I was the secretary of the NAACP in Pacoima and have always been around Latino culture in San Fernando. Not too long ago, Gilkey reminded long time friends about her support for them, when they failed to show up for an art show by an African American artists. “I feel like I'm a bridge of understanding,” she said.