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Tommy's Vision Nothing to Clown About

​Posted Oct 9, 2017
By Dennis Haywood

This past Saturday night, the Pasadena Black Pages staff and Black Lives Matter Pasadena Youth staff took around a dozen kids and teens to the 25th Anniversary of the Battle Zone presented by Tommy the Clown. All I can say is while there and leaving I felt so proud to be Black. Those who know me know I wear my pride on my sleeve for all to see, but this evening was different and special.

25 years ago I heard about this clown going around town doing parties and I thought it was just another gimmick someone came up with to make money. I questioned what good a grown man dressed like a clown dancing could do to our people. I actually thought it was simply ghetto and a waste of time.

Then in 2005 I saw the movie Rize ​and my entire perspective of Thomas Johnson AKA Tommy the Clown changed. That was when I realized how many kids he took off the streets through dance. That was when I realized the man had created a culture he could call his own. That was when I realized he started what he was doing because of the Rodney King Riots in 1992.  That was when I realized we were connected in the struggle.

This Detroit born, South Central Los Angeles raised man, decided to be a positive force in the community instead of a deterrent. 

25 years ago at Southwest College he held his first Battle Zone with the T-Squad vs. the Boom Squad, two groups of kids who know each other, but had beef to settle on the dance floor. Instead of fight and shooting he made them dance. And the Krump dancing they do is aggressive. If you are old school like me, it will remind you of a break dance battle from the 80's and 90's, but this isn't break dancing.  This is like African dance on steroids with a South Central Los Angeles twist.

25 years later, Tommy held what was said to be the final Battle Zone, but I don't believe that. The reason being is because all of the kids had an amazing time and no one else can bring the people together like Tommy the Clown. 

25 years after the first battle and I am 50 years old, Tommy exposed me to something I had never experienced. It was an all Black event. Not purposely, but that's the way it turned out. Even every LA County Sheriff who worked the event was Black.  In my 50 years I have never been somewhere with over 3,000 people and they all were Black. 

It was beautiful.

There wasn't even the hint of a negative incident at the event. It was a safe night where you could actually let your child roam without worries. There were adults there who grew up with Tommy and were able to introduce their children to the culture. 

Another thing happened that night that was really organic. Tommy introduced the singer of the national anthem and when he started to sing only about 20 of the 3,000 people stood. There were no boos or really even a thought of what was being done, I just felt like Black people really believe the anthem pertains to them and since we were among each other, everyone felt fine about not standing while the singer really did his thing.

The kids from Pasadena were all over the place. Some went down to the pit to dance, some stayed in the stands to cheer, but they all had a great time and although they had all seen Tommy and his crew before, this was their first Battle Zone. 

adults and parents have to understand that what Tommy created is ours.  It's good clean fun for the kids and if you look deep into our African culture, this is what we have done to entertain ourselves for thousands of years.