When WestCoastStyles.com first broke the news of the passing of Skid Row advocate and hip-hop legend, General Jeff Page, it came as a shock to downtown Los Angeles but even more of a shock to his family and friends, who were still praying for his recovery at his bedside during his final days spent on life support.
A fighter for equality and the betterment of the human condition, General Jeff was not alone, but he was outstanding. A man of integrity and character who steadfast in his beliefs. He was brave and relentless when it came to standing up for our city’s most impoverished community, known as Skid Row.
Jeff stood tall, exhumed confidence, and had a lovable quality about him. If given a chance, Jeff used his keen intellect to recruit others by engaging openly with anyone who wanted to converse.
Jeff had no problems articulating the needs of the Skid Row community, which he often expressed, if met, would produce a desirable effect on the long-term well-being of Downtown LA as a whole.
For those who do not know, this area of DTLA called Skid Row (currently being rebranded as Central City East), is roughly 40 square blocks consisting of some of the most impoverished, marginalized citizens in the nation.
Centralized between Main and Alameda exist city service workers, social service providers, and slightly overwhelmed nonprofit organizations who stand as forts in a losing battle against the lawlessness of drugs, crime, mental illness, and homelessness that have run rampant in the area for almost a century.
General Jeff moved to this impoverished district of DTLA in the early 2000s and since made it his life’s mission as a community member to advocate for the improvement of Skid Row for its residents.
As an activist, Jeff fought for those coming into the area seeking social services and its long existing unhoused population.
“I was forced to confront disparities after being discriminated against by those put in power who were supposed to help.”
Believe it. That is what Jeff did best. Whatever preconceived notions you might of had about Skid Row or whomever you wanted to blame, Jeff just had a way of helping you conceptualize who was responsible, how and why.
Anyone who’s ever taken a walk through Skid Row with General Jeff would come back changed. Jeff changed hearts and minds with facts, persistence and understanding.
“You see the trash?” Jeff told us during our tour back in 2013, “this is from people coming and feeding the homeless but never bringing enough trash bags or taking the trash back with them. If you look around, you will see this community has no public trash cans whatsoever…And that trash over there, this is caused by the food industry, the produce and the fish industries that exist here that dump anywhere they please yet manage to go unchecked by the city.”
“There are no bathrooms here, there are no water fountains, and look at the sidewalks (pointing to a broken curb with failing yellow caution tape blowing freely in the wind), the city should make the sidewalks safe for pedestrians…and where is our bike lane?”
This was at a time when it seemed like all of Downtown LA was developing while Skid Row was steadily being neglected.
After looking around with Jeff as our tour guide, we began to notice the lack of fresh paint, trees, shade, the dismal grays, lack of public art, and roads of rundown properties surrounded by urban campers with dejected faces to match.
… and then there were the property pimps.
Question: What major nonprofits do you support in Downtown, Jeff?
Answer: None of them. They all take advantage of the situation for money and have no intention of ending the homeless situation.”
Huh? Hearing this for the first time, we admit it was hard to wrap our heads around.
Yet, talk was cheap, and Jeff knew it, so he had long set out to prove his point and put his words into action.
In 2007, he had turned to the Downtown Neighborhood City Council (DLANC), becoming one of their Board of Directors and Former VP of Outreach and Communications.
In 2012, with a revolving board of new DLANC members with votes swaying towards gentrification and what Jeff perceived as little effort being put towards Skid Row, he left DLANC with a new level of frustration but stayed committed to his work; becoming an appointed official on several city, county and state boards.
Immediately after leaving DLANC, he served as an Official California State Department of Public Health Office of Health Equity Advisory Committee member until 2015. He Co-Chaired the Skid Row Community Advisory Board for the Department of Mental Health until 2017.
Jeff chaired the Skid Row Public Space Task Force while being appointed Official Consumer Representative on the LA County Health Agency Integration Advisory Board and became Chair of LA County Health Agency (IAB) Subcommittee on Homelessness; both seats he held until 2018.
The entire time Jeff spent researching the law and seeking federal resources aimed at supporting the disadvantaged, including gaining access to Section 8 vouchers for people living in SROs and hotels so they can move to other places in the city. Jeff also advocated for local hiring in CRA-funded projects and kept in close contact with like-minded officials and federal judges.
For nearly two decades, Jeff collaborated with a network of like-minded Skid Row leaders, including Pastor Cue JnMarie, Katherine McNenny, Bobby Buck, George “Pancake” Herod, Daniel Garza, Pete White, Manuel Compito, Ron Crockett, Charles Porter, Tom Grode, Mary McLaughlin, Danny Park, Tony Anthony, Demetra Wilson-Washington and many others plus a long list of connections he had made over the years.
General Jeff and his army of advocates worked side by side to improve the living conditions and morale of the people in Skid Row.
Together they gained victory after victory, ending plans for beer and wine sales at proposed storefronts at the base of SROs intentionally meant for recovering alcoholics and drug addicts and ending the overnight guest fees at SROs.
General Jeff’s army brought faith, hope, and beauty, along with cafes, trees, public art, art shows, music, festivals, water, trash bins, and worldwide attention and accountability. More changes included shower stations, bathrooms, water fountains, a neighborhood basketball league, and a brand new basketball court for Gladys Park sponsored by Nike.
By this time, and with minimal intervention from DLANC, Jeff had gained a pretty good understanding of how our town’s bureaucracy worked. In 2014, Skid Row activists, led by General Jeff, came to a conclusion, “To address the immediate needs efficiently and consistently of the Skid Row population…” they would have to break away from DLANC and establish their own Skid Row Neighborhood Council.
That’s how the fight for Skid Row began.
However, despite hundreds of Skid Row residents showing up in mass for the first time to establish their own voice, with a democratic vote, their zealot effort was shot down by what Jeff and others still feel was a collaborated effort, nothing less than betrayal from mendacious City leaders, philistine BID heads and their peanut gallery of ingratiated DLANC members who existed at the time.
Consistent with Jeff’s nature, the Skid Row Neighborhood Council Formation Committee challenged the election results, filing a lawsuit that is still active against the city and county to this day.
So imagine now for a second that you’re a downtown resident living in the Historic Core, or any other place where there is a higher concentration of urban dwellers whom, for the most part, chill at home enjoying life’s relaxing moments, but instead of coming outside and being greeted by 2 to 3 drug-addicted or mentally homeless people on your doorstep, there are dozens sometimes hundreds. Would it not make sense for you to advocate for a better neighborhood?
And what would you do if most times you tried, you came up against opposition, lallygagging and complete apathy from the people who professed to help you?
This is why Jeff and his regimen continued to advocate for a Skid Row Neighborhood Council.
Jeff used social media as a platform for what he called “healthy dialogue in my book,” many times taking on multitudes of commenters who did not understand him, thought they had better points, or those who were intentionally truculent in their attempts to silence his voice and discredit his name. “While we are playing checkers, the naysayers are playing chess”, he once told our paper.
Following the sharing of two back-to-back controversial posts about the possibility of misused funds from measure HHH and UN investigations over human rights violations in Skid Row, Jeff was banned from our town’s main social media group meant solely for community discussions in 2017.
Yet again, relentless Jeff began supplementing his freedom of speech by writing articles for CityWatch while making guest appearances on KPFK FM, Spectrum TV, and other major news outlets, ultimately widening his forum and exposing more of his truths.
This may have seemed like a ploy to strike back at his opponents but mostly fell in line with the strategic nature to bring hope and attention to the Skid Row resident’s positive movement.
“If more people would hold the Skid Row nonprofits, the businesses, and property owners accountable, Skid Row would not be crumbling. Rest assured, there are active options taking place right before your very eyes which will secure Skid Row’s longevity and increasing improvements.”
Before Jeff died, he gave DT Weekly a list of grassroots nonprofits, business leaders, and activists in Skid Row whom he felt deserved media attention and those he felt could carry the torch.
Jeff did return to the recording studio recently to recapture some of the fire from his younger days with Rodney O, Joe Cooley, RUN DMC, and Uncle Jamm’s Army, one of the earliest hip-hop groups on the West Coast.
As part of West Coast Hip-Hop history…Jeff once wrote…” If I can use any of that [HipHop era] energy to help bring more attention to Skid Row and all of the positive things the residents are doing to help, you damn straight, I will very well use it!!!!!!!”
Jeff’s work moves forward within the newly existing Skid Row Park Advisory Board, a City-recognized advisory panel covering Skid Row parks. This project took years to get off the ground. And there’s that bit of unfinished business in the form of a lawsuit challenging the results of the Skid Row Neighborhood Council Election.
From beginning to end, General Jeff Page was a maverick and pillar of strength for the Skid Row Community and despite him no longer being with us, his works, his passions, and his memory will remain inside of the hearts and minds of Skid Row and beyond for decades to come.
Rest in Power, General Jeff. And thank you for your service, Sir.