COLUMN: Long Beach Shows Its Heart, Pride

Ask anyone from Long Beach, and they’ll tell you they’re proud to be from Long Beach. Sometimes they’ll say it without you even asking. That’s certainly been true of me for most of my adult life—but I’ve never been prouder to be from my city than I was last Monday.

The night before my wife and I had spent hours watching local televised news coverage of civil unrest across the city, as the hours-long peaceful protest against police brutality had ended and stores were being broken into and looted. I felt helpless, watching small business owners lose their livelihoods, including several who I knew personally were black or were Cambodian refugees.

I agreed wholeheartedly with the protests, and I honestly found it hard to muster much sympathy at video coverage earlier in the weekend of a Target in Minneapolis being ransacked. I know how corporate insurance works and I knew they wouldn’t take much of a loss.

But it was different watching people rush into Jean Machine, past a store owner who I’ve personally seen giving major discounts to community kids who couldn’t afford new clothes but wanted to look nice to the new school year. It was different seeing footage of the School of Self-Defense on fire, a black-owned self-defense gym downtown. Those images hurt me to the core, especially when I logged onto social media and saw how many kids and young people in Long Beach shared my pain, including some of those who’d organized Sunday’s peaceful protest.

So I posted a message that I’d be driving around with a broom and some garbage bags Monday morning, trying to help anyone who needed help getting their store back in order. The next morning I was overwhelmed as I tried to make my way into Downtown Long Beach, where thousands of people were working to sweep up glass, board up businesses who needed help, and sweep up debris in the street.

I ended up in front of Jean Machine with Iman Marshall, a Long Beach Poly alum currently playing football with the Ravens. We remarked about how amazing it was to see people of so many ethnicities and backgrounds coming together to help put the city back on its feet—every street corner was filled with people looking to help. We commiserated about how we wished the local TV channels would cut into their programming for hours of live helicopter coverage of this scene, the way they had the night before for images of destruction.

Iman and his friend Michael hopped in my van and we drove away from Downtown, towards Poly and Cambodia Town, where, sure enough, there were plenty of businesses still in need of help further away from the more tourist-friendly areas of the city. At the corner of Pacific Coast Highway and Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd there was a storefront that had been smashed in, with glass left all over the sidewalk. There was a barber shop in the same parking lot, and the owner lent us some buckets we were able to use to get the area cleaned up.

We drove up and down Anaheim, using our limited construction skills to help board up a locally-owned jewelry store at the corner of Anaheim and Walnut. While we were holding up sheets of plywood for them to screw into the metal window-frames, they pointed at the holes already in the frame.

“Those are from 1992,” he said.

It was a powerful reminder. Civil unrest isn’t new, and racism and the other issues today’s protesters are trying to solve aren’t new, either. But Long Beach has stuck together to try and bounce back before, and the city’s doing the same right now. 

After Monday’s city-wide cleanup effort, we’ve had a week of peaceful protests in the city. And the businesses that sustained more than superficial damage, like the School of Self Defense, have been well-supported by the community on GoFundMe. The SSD has raised more than $100,000 to help rebuild. A Cambodia Town relief fund raised over $20,000 as well, with more than a quarter of a million dollars collectively going to local businesses on GoFundMe.

I won’t pretend to know how to solve the issues of racism and police brutality that we’re confronting as a city and a nation—but I know that if we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it together. And in Long Beach, the people are still standing together.


Mike Guardabascio
An LBC native, Mike Guardabascio has been covering Long Beach sports professionally for 13 years, with his work published in dozens of Southern California magazines and newspapers. He's won numerous awards for his writing as well as the CIF Southern Section’s Champion For Character Award, and is the author of three books about Long Beach history.