By Alysha Conner
INGLEWOOD — As gentrification contines to be primary issue in the city, one of its residents has become the voice of the people affected by gentrification by documenting their realities.
Aliyah Thomas is a 26-year-old filmmaker and Inglewood native who is currently working on a documentary project called “Woodification.”
“Woodification” was created to bring awareness to the underlying issues of gentrification in Inglewood. The six-part documentary series unpacks the various layers of how Black families and Black-owned businesses are being affected by gentrification.
“I started Woodification because I felt like nobody was talking about what was happening in Inglewood,” Thomas said. “It was almost a taboo topic, but at the same time, you have people that are getting evicted and put out of their homes. It was only hushed about.”
“I was driving one day, and I said to myself, you know what, I’m about to make a documentary called “Woodification.” I wanted to capture Inglewood before it was no longer recognizable and give people an outlet to speak.”
Thomas adopted the nickname “Young Harpo” while attending Tuskegee University, a historically Black university in Alabama.
Although Thomas studied business administration at Tuskegee, she always admired Oprah Winfrey and had a passion for investigative journalism.
After graduating from Tuskegee in 2017, she moved back to California and discovered firsthand how gentrification was taking over Inglewood.
“Over these last few years, they’ve been getting to it in a sense,” Thomas said. “When I moved back home in 2017, I was angry. I’ve lived here and struggled here for years. This was our low, middle-class area for Black people to live comfortably.”
“I feel like me coming back from the South to gentrification was a perfect parody in a sense,” Thomas added. “You see great thriving Black neighborhoods in the South like you can’t take Buckhead away from Black people in Atlanta. I didn’t want people to think five to 10 years from now that Inglewood always looked like this.”
According to Data USA, Inglewood has an average household income of just over $46,000, roughly $15,000 below L. A. County’s median income.
African-Americans and Latinos currently make up the majority of the city’s population. But, people of color are gradually getting pushed out of the so-called City of Champions.
Thomas began the Woodification documentary process in spring 2019. Unfortunately, the production team she was working with at the time lost all of her footage.
Thomas then enlisted the help of one of her colleagues from her alma mater to help out. With his assistance, Thomas has created a Woodification Reboot.
She has since been able to re-capture several on-camera interviews with residents and Black business owners.
The interviews depict the testimonials and experiences of people impacted by gentrification in Inglewood.
She also addresses the solutions to combating gentrification through filmed discussions with local financial advisors.
“We need to buy land and property,” Thomas said. “We also need to work together to support these businesses that are here right now, so we can make sure they stay here.
“My grandfather was a part of the Black Panther party, so the importance of Black pride has been instilled in me since a young age,” Thomas added. “So I know my history and what gentrification can do to a community.”
“I just want to … educate people as much as I can,” Thomas said. “I want to tell the history of Inglewood and bring awareness to how it has affected the city over time. At the same time, I want to bring awareness to our generation because I feel like we are the generation that can make things happen.”
When the coronavirus outbreak occurred in March, Thomas was forced to stop production.
At the time, she had just received the news that “Woodification” was successfully trademarked and was working on the first series production.
COVID-19 prompted Thomas to switch gears and utilize her quarantine time for other projects.
As a result, Thomas helped organize Inglewood’s first-ever Juneteenth car parade with two other friends.
The celebration was responsible for leading more than 100 cars throughout the streets of South L.A.
Thomas then launched her personal docuseries in October called #TwentySomethings on YouTube.
The short film features a relatable outlook of the obstacles she has faced during her 20s, including lessons she has learned along the way.
“I got the letter that ‘Woodification’ was officially trademarked in March of this year, the day after I got laid off from my job,” Thomas said. “I lost my job in March, and my cousin passed away in July. This year has been hard on top of turning 26. So, it’s not about just not having a job. I don’t have health care now.”
“With Twenty-Somethings, I was able to talk about my journey through my 20s,” Thomas added. “I am also able to talk about my anxiety and therapy, which have been such a taboo for Black people.”
Thomas also launched an Inglewood-inspired clothing line in August to prompt alongside the Woodifican Reboot.
For her debut collection, Thomas dropped her staple “The Wood” T-shirt based on the 1999 film.
The shirts come in black and white with lettering capturing Inglewood High School’s color scheme, green and white.
“I feel like a lot of people have seen ‘The Wood,’ so they have a small perception of Inglewood,” Thomas said. “But they don’t get it. A clothing line is just my way to keep the conversation going and putting the information about gentrification out there.”
Thomas plans to have a series of different collections for her clothing line.
She also hopes to continue production for “Woodification” in January, if COVID-19 permits.
Her goal is to feature the first series of “Woodification” sometime in 2021.
For Woodification updates or to purchase merchandise, visit www.youngharpo.com, and follow @woodification_thedocumentary on Instagram.
Alysha Conner is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers Inglewood. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.