Celebrating Black History Month: Community Control & Self Determination - Little Tokyo Service Center

Celebrating Black History Month: Community Control & Self Determination

Panthers serving children free breakfast, Sacred Heart Church, San Francisco. Photo by Ducho Dennis, It’s About Time Archive.


Celebrating Black History Month: Community Control & Self Determination 

By Tenaya Senzaki

During Black History Month, Little Tokyo Service Center (LTSC) is reflecting on Black activism and movements that paved the way for communities of color to fight for racial justice. In Little Tokyo, our battle for racial justice is enmeshed in issues of land ownership and the erasure of community assets. Many tools that LTSC and the Little Tokyo community use to resist this gentrification and displacement stem from the strategies of Black freedom movements – most notably the concept of community control and self-determination.¹

Models of community control and self-determination date back to the Civil War, when Black communities created cooperative organizations to address needs that were denied by racist institutions. Membership dues funded their own schools, communal farms, health benefits and social services. Similar efforts developed in other communities of color, including Chinese and Mexican immigrants in the 19th and 20th centuries.²

In the 1960s and 70s, the Black Power Movement fought for community control and self-determination by both providing direct services to their community (creating their own health clinics and businesses, and promoting fair housing and employment) while also advocating for larger systemic and inclusive policy change. They likewise uplifted Black culture and embraced concepts such as Black pride and cultural preservation. 

The Black Power model inspired the Asian American Movement of the 1970s to similarly address their community’s needs through community control and self-determination, along with larger policy change and cultural celebration and preservation. Asian American communities began creating service centers, community programs, translation services, affordable housing, job training, health clinics, etc., as well as fighting against displacement, promoting land ownership, protecting small businesses, and more.³

Since its founding in 1979, LTSC has continued this “serve the people” approach by bringing much-needed resources and services to communities of color. “We don’t do it in isolation or as an alternative to public services. We do it to supplement deficiencies of government services while at the same time demanding that mainstream political and economic structures live up to democratic ideals,” said Mike Murase, former Director of Service Programs at LTSC, echoing the sentiments of the Black Power Movement. “I think LTSC’s strategy of providing social services, resident services and afterschool programs, to name a few, are good examples of building community control. Also rehabilitating old buildings into affordable housing in Little Tokyo, like the San Pedro Firm Building, Far East Building and Daimaru Apartments, and creating community spaces like Far East Lounge and Budokan – this array of initiatives matter because they have a positive impact on real people.”

In the last decade, LTSC and the Little Tokyo community have also used community control and self determination as strategies to combat threats of redevelopment in order to preserve our historic neighborhood and build a sustainable future for our community. Recently, these strategies have been used to lay claim to First Street North (a publicly owned parcel of land that was historically part of Little Tokyo and was slated for redevelopment) and to protect Little Tokyo’s assets as the Metro Regional Connector project threatens gentrification and displacement of legacy small businesses and low-income residents.

The concepts of community control and self-determination buttress much of LTSC’s work in Little Tokyo (and with other communities of color) as we strive to build inclusive, sustainable and equitable communities that meet the needs of stakeholders and residents while preserving unique cultural heritage. So, this month, and every month, LTSC celebrates the impact of Black movements and changemakers that continue to break down barriers for all communities of color.

Join us in celebrating Black History Month by checking out the resources below and supporting Black organizations and small businesses:


Lang, C. (2020, June 26) The Asian American Response to Black Lives Matter Is Part of a Long, Complicated History. Time.

Lim, A. (2020, July 20) Building Community Control in a White Supremacist Country. The Nation. 

Joji Maeda, D. (2016, June 09) The Asian American Movement. Oxford Research Encyclopedias.


Written February 2021

Updated February 2023

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