This was just the early 2000’s, and Sterling was clearly the largest property owner in Beverly Hills, having purchased the Ardmore in an attempt to increase his real estate portfolio by including properties toward Koreatown and downtown Los Angeles.
However, according to court testimony and court documents, Sumner Davenport, one of his property supervisors, it was a priority with Sterling that his tenants “fit his image”, so he didn’t want recipients of government-housing subsidies, Blacks, Mexicans, or “brats”, as he was known to call the children playing in the building. She shared testimony to this in a future 2004 deposition for a separate case; including the fact that he actually wanted current residents with children to be evicted.
Well, mom fell into at least two of the categories he didn’t see as fitting the image he wanted living in his buildings! Therefore, despite the growing list of issues quickly arising for the residents of the apartment complex, the property management team employed by Sterling increasingly made things difficult for those particular tenants embodying the characteristics on his least desirable list.
Rent checks were being refused, with accusations then made about those same individuals of nonpayment or late payments. There were unscheduled inspections with threats of eviction for alleged violations, although calls for repairs were being refused or ignored.
Mom’s one bedroom apartment had mold in both her living room and bedroom. Aside from the roaches, she had to deal with a toilet that was breaking down and required that she use a plunger every time she flushed it. The oven did not work; just the range top. And her refrigerator was going out.
Therefore, it was no surprise that not too long afterward, a serious leak began; apparently caused by construction work. This led to the second floor apartment flooding, causing the mold condition to increase due to water leaking down into her unit.
Ms. Davenport was assigned to survey the damage and after arriving at apartment 121, she met my mother face to face walking about the residence with many of her personal things just floating in several inches of water.
Even in the midst of the mess, my mom still took the time to show the property supervisor pictures of me and Jazmine! She was upbeat, though flood water was destroying the very photo albums which held snapshots of her fondest memories.
After the site visit, Davenport went back to the office and shared with Sterling the horrific situation she had witnessed at the Ardmore Apartments, making sure he knew mom was asking to be compensated for the loss of her things due to the water damage.
To this day, Sterling’s response as recorded in court testimony breaks my heart and brings tears to my eyes… He said, “Is she one of those black people that stink? I am not going to do that. Just evict the bitch.” Believe it or not, things not only didn’t change, they got worse. Soon the shower stopped working. Then, the toilet.
My mom, who was paralyzed on her right side, barely able to stand up straight, legally blind, and needing medication to control her high blood pressure and to thin a clot in her leg, would have to dispose of the feces in plastic bags by hand.
TIME TO ORGANIZE
None of these issues were being addressed, let alone remedied; despite multiple calls and requests to do so.
Mom had even walked to the apartment manager’s office on several different occasions, repeatedly requesting that they provide help to reconcile issues with the broken stove and toilet, the dripping water from her refrigerator, the non-working dishwasher and lack of heat in the apartment. Not to forget the damage caused by the flooding. all to no avail.
Being a firsthand witness to the conditions my mother was living in and the lack of care being taken to resolve the concerns, I wanted my mother to move out and come stay with me. But she insisted that she wasn’t going anywhere and would stay and demand that Sterling’s company make things right.
Why should she leave when she paid her rent on time every month?
It was clear to me that mom felt she had the right to stay in her home and not need to be dependent on others. All she wanted was to be treated fairly and with respect; and left alone to live in peace and relative comfort. Mom never asked for anything. She was blessed and thankful for every day God allowed her to wake up.
So, since this was her decision, I made it my priority to do everything within my power and ability to support her and make her life as secure and comfortable as possible, especially considering all of her health issues.
I paid for additional caregiving hours on the weekends and evenings, for the additional diapers and perineal sprays she needed, while arranging for her to get out and meet with counselors at the braille institute to learn to read braille.
I also chauffeured her around so that she could pay her bills and do her grocery shopping; spending time with her every evening after work and on weekends. My mom was my world after my day job. I even stop attending classes at school because I needed to focus my time and energy on her.
And, although I knew she wouldn’t accept it since she came from a time that believed black folks shouldn’t expose their personal issues with everyone, I went ahead and set-up counseling sessions so that she could talk to someone about her illnesses and personal life. But again… she quit after attending only one session.
My mother did not believe in racism and she would try to come against it until she took her last breath. At night, she secretly shed many tears trying to understand why someone could be so cruel as to attempt evicting her just because of her skin color and disability. It was horrible to think that in 2002 this level of racism existed; especially by someone who owned a basketball team consisting primarily of African-American men.
So, since she knew that she wasn’t the only one affected by Sterling’s discriminatory practices, she took the lead in speaking to the other residents, while encouraging them to come to the housing center to speak up and help fight against him. This diminutive Jamaican woman with a loud voice caused people to listen when she spoke passionately about the issue. and listen they did.
By the next year, mom had enlisted 19 other tenants to join her in filing a lawsuit against Donald Sterling; and, with the assistance of the nonprofit Housing Rights Center, this they did.
During this time, I began again to see the strength she had previously possessed back when I was still a little girl living in the Princess apartments. I had to agree that she was right in demanding justice, so we geared up for the fight of our lives.
THE FIGHT BEGINS
With my mother leading the charge, a housing discrimination case was filed against Sterling by the Housing Rights Center of Los Angeles in February 2003, on behalf of the tenants of the Ardmore apartment complex.
Understandably, mom was a bit scared and a tad brave; both at the same time.
This was huge!
It was getting harder and harder for mom to get to the Housing Rights Center three times a week, as she was always in pain, but she did it. She knew how important it was that she took a stand against injustice, despite her health, which was causing her to become depressed. Being able to fight for not only her rights, but also those of her neighbors, gave her a sense of pride.
While giving her testimony throughout the days in preparation for a possible trial, I could tell she felt like she was showing me and Jazmine how to stand up for ourselves as well.
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