First Lady Michelle Obama is a winner.
At least she was Thursday evening in north Long Beach, when a majority of those attending a community meeting agreed that naming a new library there after her was a good idea.
More than 150 people gathered Thursday, Jan. 21, at the Houghton Park Community Center to figure out what to name the library at Atlantic Avenue and 59th Street, which is currently under construction.
Ninth District Councilman Rex Richardson has spearheaded the campaign to name the library for Obama, and he kicked off Thursday’s meeting by showing the same slideshow and video presentation he’d previously shown the City Council. The council has voted — twice — to support reviewing the name. But others have opposed it.
“There are questions about whether certain things are legal or not legal,” he said. “What’s before you has been endorsed by the city attorney. The argument that someone must be deceased is not true… The next argument: it has to be a local figure. Like I’ve mentioned before, 63% of all public buildings in North Long Beach are not named for local people. Can you select a local figure? Absolutely. Is it a rule? No it is not.”
He then announced that those gathered would work in four “focus groups” to talk through the Obama proposal and consider alternatives.
“Because we would be here all night by having one person on the mic (microphone) talk to me and I respond and talk to me and I respond, we put forth a process,” he said.
In addition to considering library names, Richardson asked each group to give feedback on how to improve the naming process for public buildings.
“There are a number of park clubhouses that are in the process of being rehabilitated, which local neighborhood associations have expressed interest in naming,” he said. “So I want you to understand, this is the beginning of a long conversation, guys.”
The process for naming the North Library “really hasn’t been fun,” he added.
The randomly-selected focus groups were divided among North Long Beach residents, high school students, Library Foundation members and others.
Supporters and detractors largely broke along racial lines, with many Caucasians speaking out against the naming, and people of color showing support.
North Long Beach’s Ruth Nunn did not support naming the library for Obama.
“The name on a library is not what should be inspiring the children,” she said.
She said the biggest impact on children should be their parents.
But Juanita Doplemore, a North Long Beach resident and Girl Scout troop leader, disagreed. The library should reflect the nearby population by being named for “somebody they can see in themselves,” she said.
“The Michelle Obama library has resonance,” longtime North Long Beach resident Uduak-Joe Ntuk said.
Ntuk, an engineer, added that he “got into science because of all the books I read over on Orange (the current North Branch Library site).”
Martha Thuente said Michelle Obama hadn’t accomplished her goals as First Lady.
“I don’t see any fewer obese children than I did before,” she said. “There’s a lot of bragging, but I got a feeling that it failed.”
Bill Bolin said Obama’s focus on healthy living did not fit with the library, and suggested naming a farmers market for her instead.
Many alternative names were floated, including the Uptown Library, the Renaissance Library and even the Snoop Dogg Library — although that one didn’t receive any votes.
Several people expressed interest in maintaining North in the name, in some cases combining it with the Obama name.
But after Obama, the most popular name choice was the one the library currently has: North Branch Neighborhood Library.
Thuente was among the residents who wanted to keep the original name.
“Leave it the North Branch. Retain the name that it’s had since the 1920s,” she said.
Theunte also argued that people won’t know who Michelle Obama is in 30 years.
“We’re not thinking far enough out,” she said.
Jordan High School senior Benjamin Miranda was among the students who originally proposed the name to Richardson. He said Michelle Obama was a figure his classmates — especially the girls — look up to. At the conclusion of the meeting, each focus group reported that a majority of its participants approved of the name.
Regarding the process for naming public buildings in the future, there was much broader agreement.
Nearly everyone expressed that the system could use some tweaks. Several people suggested that focus groups could take place before the motion went to City Council. Others requested proportional representation, wider public outreach and starting the process with a larger list of names.
The next phase in the library naming process will be a hearing before the council’s Housing and Neighborhood Committee. After that, the issue will return to council for a final vote.
No date for that has been set.
- Written by Gazettes Editor Jennifer Rice Epstein
Read the Story from Gazettes here.