The rapper and activist’s death left a void in his South L.A. community. Brandon Sankara is one of many who have been passed the baton to uphold Hussle’s legacy.
Shortly after his death, fans and supporters crowded into the strip mall parking lot where Grammy-nominated rapper and community activist Nipsey Hussle was killed and turned it into a memorial for the slain artist.
A line extended from one side of the lot to the other as people waited to take a picture in front of a new mural commemorating Hussle. Others silently mourned and added their own prayer candle to the collection blanketing the lot. Some even kneeled at the scene.
Hussle’s untimely death left a void in South Los Angeles and in the black community, and the collective heartache is palpable. In addition to his music career, Hussle reinvested in the community where he grew up. He owned the strip mall on Crenshaw Boulevard and Slauson Avenue where he was shot that also houses The Marathon Clothing store, the restaurant Baba Leo’s and Steve’s Barber Shop. He also refurbished the basketball courts at 59th Street Elementary School and helped launch Vector 90, a co-working space and incubator in South Los Angeles. Who will fill the shoes he left behind?
Mourners gathered at the site of Nipsey Hussle’s shooting death to pay their respects and celebrate his work. Photos by Jonathan Brown.
“I don’t think anyone can fill his shoes anytime soon,” says Hyde Park native William Ross. “It’s a once in a generational thing. It’s like Tupac.”
Even so, there’s a sense of urgency in the community to not just continue Hussle’s legacy but build on the foundation he laid down.
South L.A. native Brandon Sankara is willing to put in the work. He returned to his hometown after graduating from an Ivy League school to dedicate his time to building and serving his community.
“I’m an opponent of what I consider the ‘make-it-out-the-hood’ complex that was put on us by the crack boom and pop culture that came after with “Menace II Society,” “Boyz n the Hood” and “South Central” where the main focus of the protagonists is to make it out the hood,” Sankara says. “For kids growing up watching these movies, you’re growing up with your home being a place that no one wants to be. How does that impact your perception of yourself? How does that impact your perception of people around you? How does that really hold us back as a culture? … Nipsey was someone who went against that.”
Sankara co-founded the grassroots South L.A. community organization Wisdom From The Field, or WFTF, which hosts diaper drives, a food program, political education courses and other programming based on demonstrated needs in the area, including a community therapy session to process Hussle’s death.
The first program sprung up after Sankara attended a friend’s baby shower and saw that guests were gifting diapers. His mother later hosted a baby shower and also requested diapers.
“I’m like ‘Yo, are diapers expensive or something?” Sankara says.
He conducted community needs surveys and learned that diapers were in high demand. Sankara began hosting free diaper drives with other “Tribe Members,” the name for fellow WFTF organizers.
Founded as a blog in 2012 and now a registered nonprofit, WFTF’s community center on Slauson Avenue is called The Wise Spot, which is a 10-minute walk from Hussle’s Marathon Clothing.
“I’m an opponent of what I consider the ‘make-it-out-the-hood’ complex that was put on us by the crack boom and pop culture that came after with “Menace II Society,” “Boyz n the Hood” and “South Central” … For kids growing up watching these movies, you’re growing up with your home being a place that no one wants to be. How does that impact your perception of yourself?”
Brandon Sankara, co-founder of Wisdom From The Field
“We try to … make the focus be on the tribe, not individuals within it,” Sankara says; the “tribe” being the African diasporic community — starting with South Los Angeles.
Some programming is more informal. Once, a community member needed help making his home baby-friendly, so they installed socket protectors on all the sockets and a fence for the stairs.
“[We] made it so that once the social worker comes through, there’s not going to be any glaring red flags that could lead to their child being taken away,” Sankara says. “Ultimately … it kept that family together.”
Sankara considers Wisdom 101, WFTF’s political education courses, its core programming, but believes that in order for the community to be receptive to this type of classes WFTF must first support basic needs.
“If you’re worried about paying bills, you can’t realistically expect someone to be able to sit through a one and a half hour political education class that is talking about names and places and things,” Sankara says.
Wisdom From The Field offers a wide variety of services including diaper drives, a food program, political education courses and other programming based on demonstrated needs in the area. Photos by Jonathan Brown.
Wisdom 101 is set up in modules: politics, science, education, economics and international impact of American colonialism. The courses are created to break down and make the claim that the black community is a colonized people in the United States.
“I think it was Fred Hampton who said that if you don’t know why you’re doing what you’re doing, then you’re more dangerous than anything you could be,” Sankara says. “You could end up being Negro imperialists. You end up being the very things that you fear. The role that we have to play as those people who have that understanding is to educate people as to why this ain’t what’s for us. Why we don’t have to go anywhere to do the things that we’re saying that we have to do.”
Sankara is a mobile science lab instructor and alumni coordinator at his alma mater King Drew Magnet High School of Medicine and Science. He legally changed his last name from Bell to Sankara in 2018 after Thomas Sankara, former president of West Africa’s Burkina Faso.
“Thomas Sankara had this quote where he [said], ‘I feel like I’m a bicyclist going up a mountain with precipices on either side and now all I can do is go forward … Whether I die at the top or whether I die turning around, I’m going to be dead either way. So let’s keep pushing. You just have to keep pushing in hopes that some sort of change happens,’” Sankara says. “So for me, I’m in too deep. There’s no going back.”
Losing Hussle is proof of this, and Sankara aligns himself with Hussle’s ideology and practice.
“It’s always tough when you see someone who represented the goal you’re trying to reach for gone,” Sankara says. “It’s like if I was a rookie in the NBA, and Kobe retired. I never got to play him. If I could have played him in the game, I could see where I’m at. If I could just cross Kobe up, I know I’m on.”
Nevertheless, the marathon continues, as Hussle would say.
Herman Douglas aka Cowboy, Hussle’s close friend and employee, echoes this ideology today as he reflects on individuals like Sankara.
“Life is a marathon,” Cowboy says. “Run a lap. Nipsey ran his lap. Now it’s just encouraging people to run their lap.”
The Wise Spot, 2623 W. Slauson Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90043