San Diego

Taking Back Southeast San Diego: How One Man Changed its Future on Juneteenth, 30 Years Ago

Reverend George L. Stevens, a city council member for San Diego's District 4, changed the way people used the term Southeast and fostered the next generation of creators and influencers to celebrate where they were from

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Juneteenth is officially a federal holiday in the United States, but 30 years ago in San Diego, a city council member used the day to rebrand his district from the negative connotation that became associated with it.

On June 19, 1992, San Diego City Council Member and Reverend George L. Stevens held a mock funeral to "bury" the name Southeast -- a name that was often used as a catch-all for a large area of San Diego outsiders considered to be high-crime.

"Why don't we respect those [neighborhood] signs like we respect La Jolla, Point Loma, Pacific Beach?" Stevens said in 1992. "We don't look out there and say that's West San Diego. It's disrespectful to us. We want respect back. We want our pride back. Give us respect."

Stevens filled the casket with the things that people associate with the name, like drugs and gang paraphernalia, which were all to be buried along with the name.

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Stevens would also ensure the media wasn't using the term Southeast to imply something occurred in a high-crime area. He would call newsrooms directly to demand the term be taken off the air.

"He would call and say, 'Hey Greg, it's George. You used the word Southeast again.' 'OK, I'll remind everybody' and we'd work through it," said NBC 7 Vice President of News Greg Dawson. "And, I think he was, for the most part, my sense is he was very successful in the long run."

Rev. Stevens paved the way for Black leaders like Tony Young, a former city council member for the same district and CEO of Rise San Diego, an organization to foster leadership in San Diego's urban communities.

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"Really, it was a marketing type of thing more than anything else. And he was effective in making sure that people didn't use it in that way anymore," Young said. "The only portrayal of Southeast San Diego in a larger context was from the media."

"They were covering a shooting or a poor performance of a school district or some bad connotation of what was going on in the community," he added.

The Celebration of Southeast San Diego

Three decades later, the attention-grabbing funeral has left a positive impact on the community, who has reclaimed the name from its negative connotation and started wearing the name with pride.

"There are times when we talk about Southeast that it is appropriate in regards to some common themes that some of these neighborhoods are dealing with or experiencing or should be celebrating, right," Young said.

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Take these two award-winning hip-hop artists, Odessa Kane and SCVTTERBRVIN, who champion the neighborhood they were raised in through their music.

"On the music level and on the fashion level, there's a lot of originality and a lot of innovative things coming from that," said SCVTTERBRVIN, who grew up in the Paradise Hills neighborhood of San Diego. "It's coming from that casket he buried. All that good stuff is what emerged, that's what really grew from that."

And, hip-hop artist Ryan Anthony's newest single with Mitchy Slick, and Grammy-winning artist and native Southeast San Diegan Andra Day, "Southeast Summers," is an entire homage to the area of San Diego.

"I'm all about breaking the negative stereotypes of Southeast San Diego," Anthony said. "So to be able to put postive-positive energy into the community, that's what I'm all about."

Corissa Pich, also raised in Paradise Hills, is the San Diego Police Department's first female Lieutenant of Guamanian and Filipino descent. She says that growing up in Southeast San Diego is a badge of honor.

"It fills me with pride to say, 'Yeah, I grew up in Southeast.' In fact, everyone that I ever met throughout my career, when I ask them, ' Hey, where you from or where you grew up? They answer me with Southeast. They don't say Valencia Park, Paradise Hills, they don't say Southeastern. They say Southeast."

Rev. George Stevens, who died in 2006, may have buried the name Southeast, but as time has revealed, he planted a seed for community pride and responsible journalism.

Editor's Note: Dita Quinones is the sister of hip-hop artists Odessa Kane and SCVTTERBRVIN.

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