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The Valley Roots Of Nicole Chase Are Strong And Deep PDF Print E-mail
Written by Mike Terry   
Thursday, 20 February 2014 03:56

Nicole Chase visiting Humphrey Park in Pacoima. It was known as Fillmore Park when she was growing up in the community.

Growing Up In Pacoima Helped Make Her The Success She Is Today

Nicole Chase is a Valley girl, heart and soul — even if she wasn’t born here. The second of three daughters born to LeRoy and Shirin, Chase made her debut in Salt Lake City, Utah in 1967.

But she and her sisters Kymberly and Danielle — both born in California — were raised in Pacoima in the 1970s and 80s when it was a bustling African American community in the Northeast Valley. Kymberly, the oldest and a movie make-up artist, and Danielle, the youngest and a veterinarian, live elsewhere. So has a good chunk of the African American populace that Chase and her family grew up around.

The Pacoima she knew is now a Latino community. But Chase has stayed in the Valley along with LeRoy, the executive director of the Boys & Girls Club in Pacoima, and Shirin, who works as a counselor and therapist.

Chase works at the club, where she been the Development and Marketing Director since 2008. She lives in Sylmar but is never far away from Pacoima, geographically or emotionally.

The memories are too strong, too good. “My family came back here and first lived on Sepulveda, which I don’t have much recollection of,” Chase said. “But I do remember living on Remington Street in Pacoima right on the border of Lake Terrace.

We were very fortunate. At that time there was a strong African American community. “If you got in trouble, which we did a couple of times, before we got back home, it was like Dead Man Walking. You had people coming out saying, ‘We heard what you did,’ ‘wait ‘til your mother gets home’ — getting reprimanded all the way home.

The windows were open, the doors were open; people were watching you, they knew you, they looked out for you. And you could be spanked before you got home; there was a certain level of respect that was instilled. You respected your elders, your seniors; you respected your property and your community.” And, in part through LeRoy’s work with the Boys & Girls Club, she got to connect with some notable community activists.

Chase fondly remembers encounters with Nancy Avery, the first African American postmaster in Pacoima from 1961-1984; Jose De Sosa, a former local chapter NAACP president from 1978 to 1994, who successfully fought for fundamental changes in LAPD policies including the controversial use of the chokehold as a way to subdue suspects; and civil rights icon Ida Kinney, who successfully pushed for the integration of a Lockheed Corp. union in Burbank during WWII, helped found the area’s first black church in the Valley, successfully pushed for a multipurpose senior center in Pacoima and helped persuade Valley hospitals to allow black women to have their babies there, and who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s.

“I got to sit down and talk with her when she was 103,” said Chase of Kinney, who died in 2009 at age 104. “She was one of the first persons to support my father when he ran for the L.A. City Council.” Still, life here more often centered around attending the Mary Immaculate School in Pacoima and Our Lady of Corvallis High School in Studio City; swimming and hanging out at Fillmore (now Hubert Humphrey) Park; riding horses at Hansen Dam, taking part in community nature walks and participating in local sport teams from Sylmar to Verdugo Hills.

When she went off to college at UC Berkeley, graduating in 1990 with a degree in Industrial Psychology, Chase stumbled into her calling even if she didn’t fully realize it yet. She loved helping people, working as a campus tour guide and a tutor for Oakland elementary school children. But she also became interested in theatre arts. In fact, upon graduation, Chase had planned to relocate to Atlanta with a theatre production company.

But the company wound up moving into Pasadena instead, and she returned to Southern California. Her time with the company was short-lived, however. Chase soon joined the Los Angeles Business Expo, working there as a director for the next 17 years. Among her duties was producing the West Coast Music Festival, and the Teen Leadership & Entrepreneurial Summit. It was here the seeds of working with and helping out young people that had been planted during her college days sprouted.

“I noticed I’d have conversations with some of them and they wouldn’t look me in the eye. There was a young man who was 6-4 and pushing 300-pounds; when I shook hands with him, it was like shaking hands with a six-year-old.

The inability to have a strong conversation about global issues — even some local issues; that’s when ‘the calling’ started to evolve,” Chase said. “I saw the differences and inconsistencies in education of what a young person would receive at Taft High , and what a young person would receive in the inner-city. I didn’t believe it until I saw a book. Now this is the early 1990s. But I saw an inner-city student working from a book dated 1976, and I saw the Taft student working from a book dated 1990.

I thought when they go to compete, there’s going to be a problem.” She saw her Pacoima neighborhoods changing as well in the 1990s. “When I come back from Berkeley, I’m not coming back as a radical, but with a more realistic view at that age in terms of what’s going on in the community,” Chase said. “And when you see the undercurrent of change and hate, no representation… I had a chance to work more closely with Marie Harris (who formed the Pacoima Property Owner’s Association and pushed for the Valley’s secession from Los Angeles), De Sosa, and other leaders I saw when I left.

Still I wondered where were the new leaders being cultivated and prepared to keep building up opportunities. “That’s when I understood there was a migration of black families leaving the area to go to San Bernardino and the Antelope Valley.

You saw a shift in the churches; attendance appeared to be down. You still had your older community members, but the newer, younger ones weren’t as prevalent. Maybe it was an opportune time; you had families with larger incomes looking for a bigger home.” There was a genuine concern, Chase said, about what she sensed was “a competition” between African Americans and Latinos in Pacoima, and other parts of Los Angeles. “It’s my understanding that, at one time, the place a black family could buy a home here was in Pacoima,” she said.

“So you had a strong black community. There were 16 churches, give or take. At one time those churches were overflowing. They had activities for young people. Young people were encouraged to excel, to go to college, do different things. You didn’t feel the existence of gangs the way you do today. You weren’t oblivious to it, but you didn’t feel it. You didn’t feel the competition between African Americans and Latinos the way you do today. “That may be due to the shift in demographics.

You have a community that was established because it was the only place people could buy property. We had to fight for things, for the right to live and exist. And when you have other groups coming in, some people say ‘they’re coming in on the road we paved.’ And as the demographics changed, people wondered if the services would change if they still access to them.

That was something that was always asked. I’d tell people ‘it’s not about getting access; those services are for you, you need to go after them.’ Besides working for the Boys & Girls Club, Chase has been steadily building political cred in local and state Democrat circles. She has served as a representative for Los Angeles City Councilmember Richard Alarcon and former state Sen. David Roberti, working as a community liaison, addressing constituent concerns, organized community events and executed projects initiated by the elected official. Most recently, she was honored to be appointed to the Los Angeles County Library Commission by Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and appointed to the Valley Regional Volunteer Neighborhood Oversight Committee for Proposition K: L.A. for Kids Program by Alarcon.

Chase has twice run for public office: the Los Angeles Community College Board of Trustees in 2011, and the Los Angeles City Council in 2013 when Alarcon reached his term limit. Both attempts were unsuccessful, but they have not discouraged Chase from considering future campaigns. “I’m the realistic optimist, and I hold on to being an optimist,” she said. “As we become an even more global society, I know we have to come together. If we want our communities to survive, we have to work together.”