*Back in the day, many a Hollywood hopeful walked through the doors of the Los Angeles Inner City Cultural Center (LAICCC) to hone their craft and immerse themselves in everything theater.
Created and co-founded by Obie Award winning playwright, composer and lyricist C. Bernard Jackson, ICCC, which grew out of the 1965 Watts uprising, became a theatrical mecca. It was the place to be and the place to be seen – a sanctuary, of sorts, for a diverse group of artists whose hopes equaled their dreams of stardom. During that time the center garnered the support of Academy Award-winning actor Gregory Peck, who worked closely with Jackson and ICCC Co-founder Dr. J. Alfred Cannon (UCLA Neuro-psychiatrist and Mental Health Advocate).
What set the organization apart from other artistic organizations was its sense of community and its multiculturalism. It not only provided assistance to a wide variety of cultural institutions, its doors were open for everyone who had a creative itch for acting, directing, writing, producing, playwrighting, lighting, set design, stage managing, dance/choreography or music design.
The magic happened at 1308 New Hampshire Avenue, in a brown, brick two-story building in a neighborhood near Pico and Vermont. That’s where some dreams were deferred and others fulfilled.
Inner City, which closed in 1996, had a hand in the theatrical growth and development of some of the industry’s greatest performers. Some past and present performers, board members and supporters include: Glynn Turman, Gregory Hines, Beah Richards, Adolf Caesar, Louis Gossett, Jr., Marla Gibbs, Robert Wise, Denzel Washington, Nichelle Nichols, Brock Peters, George Takei, Ted Lange, Alvin Ailey, Luis Valdez, Paul Winfield, Marla Gibbs, Ben Vereen, Carman Zapata, Bonnie Bedelia, Ernie Hudson, Quincy Jones, Pat Morita, Felton Perry, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, Sab Shimono, George C. Wolfe, Donald McKayle, Arthur Mitchell, William Mickey Stevenson, Malcolm Jamal Warner, Luis Alfaro, Momoko Iko, Bella Lewitsky, Robert Ito, Michelle Thomas, Janet Jackson, Mako, Wendy Raquel Robinson and Forest Whittaker, just to name a few.”
Bernard Jackson’s vision and the impact of ICCC are immeasurable. That being said, the venerable center and its founder are being honored on Saturday, Nov. 4, with the C. Bernard Jackson 50th Anniversary Gala Celebration & Awards Show entitled, Out Of The Ashes: From Multi-Culturalism and Diversity to Inclusion 1967-2017. The show is directed by Hawthorne James (The Five Heartbeats, Speed, The Color Purple) and hosted by ICCC alum Ernie Hudson, who will serve as the master of ceremony.
“There are those who spend there time studying it and those who spend their lives doing it,” said Hudson.
Ernest Dillihay, C. Bernard Jackson’s friend and the chair of the LAICCC 5oth Anniversary Planning Committee and producer of the celebration, has nothing but high praise for Jackson, whom he fondly calls “Jack,” and for the legendary center.
“Jack’s vision was to provoke a different point of view,” said Dillihay, who is organizing the event with Nina Womack of Transmedia 360, Colette Toomer-Cruz and Ron Brewington (a board member and host of The Actor’s Choice). “If we look back to 1965, we only had three channels on a television. You were hard pressed to find racial cultural minorities cast in any role. Jack thought there was a need for cross cultural communication so they could see themselves in a different light. In doing that the youth were introduced to multiracial ethnic casting.”
According to Dillihay, CEO & founder at Arts Culture Entertainment, Jack was a pioneer who paved the way for many who have gone on to make their own impact on the industry.
“Jack was a great influence, not only in the world of entertainment, but in people who have gone on to do notable things,” said Dillihay, former performing arts director Cultural Facilities Division at City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs. “He really was one of a kind.”
A mainstay at ICCC during its heyday, Dillihay, who studied theater management, film finance, production, distribution at UCLA, has stories upon stories upon stories about the people who called the center home and about the open and comfortable and inclusive atmosphere that existed.
“I remember seeing Forest Whitaker when he came to ICCC,” said Dillihay, an Atlantic City, New Jersey native. There were so many actors that came in and out of the center. Some were in between jobs and would come over to ICCC. Ted Lange said ICCC was his home. He said he couldn’t experiment with things he wanted to do at larger houses. Beah Richards was always there. It was a home. It was a place to be. You could fail there and it wasn’t a fail. You pushed your craft and collaborated with other people. You had directors, writers, producers and actors there – who would help you with your projects. There was no place else in the city that you could go and have that kind of access and inclusiveness. Jack put all that together. That was his vision. His vision was to have a cultural and creative family. We really were like a family.”
Dillihay describes “Jack” as quiet and cerebral, but also a person who was prone to give out a belly laugh.
“His door was always open,” said Dillihay, who worked at ICCC after getting out of the Marine Corp. “He was good at multitasking. He would sit and write music at this desk, fill out a grant and listen to you if you had a concern. Sometimes you wouldn’t know if he heard you, or if he meant yes or no. He was a gentle soul. He worked 12-15 hours a night. We would go to our favorite pub and sit there until they kicked us out. It was called The Stockyard. It no longer exists. I have way too many memories of Jack to talk about them all. I can tell you that this celebration is well-deserved.”
The black-tie gala, which includes a pre-show and post-show reception, is presented by the alumni of the Los Angeles Inner City Cultural Center (LAICCC) 50th Anniversary Planning Committee, who are helming the third of three 50th anniversary celebrations recognizing a milestone of the history of the organization.
The LAICCC, was the “original genesis” i.e., the “O.G.” of a multicultural, diverse and inclusive arts program production philosophy in stage, screen and television.
The evening’s program will include an announcement about the launch of a LAICCC book publication, documentary film and the C. Bernard Jackson Memorial Library Legacy project.
“We are scoping locations now,” said Dillihay. “We’re talking now about the concept.”
The program will include the presentation of the LAICCC Diversity and Inclusion Awards (D&I Awards) to theater artists, organizations and those in the television and film industry who support diversity and inclusion.
Award recipients include Lula Washington (Dance Theatre Lula & Erwin Washington), Snehal Desai (the East West Players) and Margarita Galban (Bilingual Foundation for the Arts), who will all receive the C. Bernard Jackson Legacy Award.
Special recognition Diversity & Inclusion Award winners include Sheldon Epps (Artistic Director Emeritus of the Pasadena Playhouse), Michael Alexander (Exec. Dir. Emeritus Grand Performances) and Tim Dang (Artistic Dir. Emeritus East West Players).
The Elaine Gayle Kashiki/Josie Dotson award winners include: Adilah Barnes (Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Festival) and Nancy Cheryl Davis/Nathaniel Bellamy/Nancy Renee (Towne Street Theatre).
The Inner City Essence Award Winners include Wendy Raquel Robinson (Amazing Grace Conservatory), Art Evans (actor/director) and Chester Whitmore (entertainer/choreographer/director).
The Alliance of Los Angeles Playwrights C. Bernard Jackson award winner is Velina Hasu Houston (USC School of Dramatic Arts).
The Los Angeles Inner City Cultural Center (The O.G. of Diversity and Inclusion) presents C. Bernard Jackson 50th Anniversary Gala Celebration & Awards Show, Saturday, Nov. 4, 8 p.m., at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center, 4718 W. Washington Blvd., Los Angeles; www.itsmyseat.com/ERT; innercityculturalcenter.org; [email protected]; $10-$75; 213 234-1717.