• J. Jamal

Unity Heights vol. 3

Updated: Jan 6

You must be new around here. Welcome to Unity Heights. We’re a small subdivision of downtown Los Angeles, and uhh...a side of town that you don’t hear from or about much. Well, the name came from this intersection right here. We’re standing at the point where Union Street meets Unity Hills. Yea, the make up and ideologies of these 2 respective areas are as different as the Apple Store and the liquor store on these opposing corners. You should check it out some time. Not the best store I’ve ever been in, but their selections are pretty good considering the location. Of course the Apple Store, why would I be in the liquor store? Well, anyway, these two neighborhoods are more alike than anybody wants to admit. Matter of fact, I’d argue that they directly influence each other in some ways, and mirror each other in others. It’s really easy to get lost in the hype on either side. I like to think some day, I’ll be able to be one of the bridges between our communities and I’ll be able to bring about some real unity around here. It is in our name, after all. So it’s only right that it’d be in our nature as well.

My name is Demetrius, but everybody calls me Preach, you might as well too. Junior, Union Street High, and a Morehouse Man. Well, I haven’t gotten in yet, but my whole family’s gone there. My dad, his dad, his dad, they’ll all watch me walk that campus soon. Our family is sort of the beacon light of Unity Heights, that small group that didn’t allow our perceived disadvantages to stop us from making a name for ourselves. You should come by U Street Baptist on the 2nd Sunday. I’ll be preaching my first sermon for our Youth Day. No need to worry, the gangs have enough sense to stay away from our church, so it’ll be safe to come out. We’ve buried enough of their friends, they owe us that much. If you’re coming, you’ll be able to meet my brothers, Prince and Niko. Well, hopefully Niko. He may have other obligations, seems like he always does. I’ll be so glad when we graduate and get outta here, I can’t let The U ate my brother alive. I just hope my uncle can talk some sense into him one of these days.

Speaking of uncles, What up Uncle Mack? Quit driving so fast, man, for real. Yea, pop’s inside, he told me to watch out for you.

Sorry about that, that’s my uncle Marcus. Have you been to the Community Center yet? You should check it out sometime. Uncle Mack paid for and designed it, it’s really cool.

Even Unity Hills loves our Community Center, they’re working on building one just like it. I don’t really see the point in that. There’s literally one stop light separating us, why not share it? If we all come together, there’s no telling what we can accomplish. We might finally get some changes made around here that way, instead of having a “my block, my way” attitude. I hate it. How beautiful would The U be with a lake, or even just a swimming pool for the summer? Why can’t we replace fast food and liquor stores with Whole Foods and work spaces? They sit up on that hill and laugh at us while we just...wallow down here, eating and drinking ourselves to death, if the gangs don’t get to us first. Isn’t the point of a community uplifting your brothers? Isn’t that the purpose? If we can’t rally together and around each other, we don’t deserve to call ourselves brothers. I think...sorry about that, I guess now you see why they call me Preach. But seriously, something’s gotta give.

There’s Nik over there. Yea...the one with the...gun.

You should get going. Just in case that’s not the only gunshot we hear tonight.

Let’s meet at The Hills next time.

Welcome to Unity Heights


“You know I saw your boy out there, Meech,” Uncle Mack says as I walk into the kitchen.

“He’s harmless, unc. You know that as much as anyone. That’s the only reason you’re able to relax a little bit now. If you had a bunch of loose cannons running around, you’d have to keep your eyes open a lot longer.”

“Yea, he’s harmless right now. But how long’s he gonna stay that way? I feel like the longer I’m down, the sooner one of these lil kids feels like they can challenge me.”

Uncle Mack has led his crew in the U for almost 30 years, and he’ll remind you every chance he gets. He’s been around me all my life, and this is the first time I’ve ever sensed some insecurity or vulnerability from him. He’s always been on the front line...nah, he’s always been THE front line. He’d still be out there right now if not for his diabetes. Selfishly, I don’t mind at all that he’s slowed down and spending more time with us. If that’s what it takes to keep him off the streets, I’m glad it happened.

“Either way, who’s stepping to you? You’re a boss in this city, and not just here, all over LA. Nobody’s coming for you. So just sit there and be old for a little while,” I smile and nudge him, getting a laugh out of him.

“Anyway, you got that sermon ready? You’re not gonna embarrass the whole family Sunday, are you?”

“Embarrass? I’m taking our name to another level Sunday, you better sit on the front row, so you can get a good look.”

“Yea, okay. Over there looking like your dad. Bet you’re gonna sound like him too. Up there yelling and wheezing. How many words did he teach you for your first sermon?”

“Don’t act like I don’t already have an extensive vocabulary, unc. Don’t play the prophet.”

Uncle Mack bursts out laughing at this point, and I love these moments. The rest of the U knows him as this ruthless mob boss or something. To me, he’s just uncle Mack. The guy who bought my first Bible, and read some of it with me every chance he got. When my dad tried to get me to wear a clergy collar on my first date, he was the one that gave me one of his, and taught me how to tie it myself. Having him around more often has been great, for him too.

“Don’t forget about the cookout at the community center after church. Talk about things coming full circle, huh?” I smile and we do our handshake before I go. I hope he knows I’m proud of him for all he’s become. The Community Center will be his legacy someday, and I’ll honor him for it every chance I get.

I don’t know who this is knocking at the door right now, but I wish they weren’t.

“Oh, what’s up Prince?”

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