James Brooks at Juneteenth celebration at Jackie Robinson Park in Sun Village in the Antelope Valley, Los Angeles County, CA.

James Brooks, Jr.

Sounds Like Home

“I used to live down over here on R4, and every morning, you [could] hear the high schoolers playing, practicing [for] marching band in zero period,” remarks James Brooks, who spent part of his youth in a home down the street from Jackie Robinson Park. “There’s this flat desert land and you can just hear that sound going all over the place in the morning.” 

As a kid in the 90s, the park offered Brooks and his friends abundant space to imagine, explore, and reflect. “Over here, next to where we’re standing right now, there’s a wash. When it would rain in the winter, or when the snow melted from the mountains, it would fill up with water…We’d play in it and we’d be hanging around, like a temporary river.” His passion for music grew during his time spent there, too—thanks in part to the community-minded Sheriff’s deputy stationed at the park. “[Deputy Johnie Oates] would have us listen to classical music in the Carroll building. A couple times, he turned down the lights and had us all just sitting and just focusing on listening to music. For me, that was a really cool experience because that got me more into music.” Brooks would go on to play in marching and jazz bands at Little Rock High School and beyond.

“It was a good childhood. I spent a lot of time actually going to the park’s after-school program, especially in elementary school. That was a lot of fun. They helped with our homework; there was time to hang out with friends.” Brooks and his sister even had the opportunity to study aeronautics. Although peer relationships later took priority, intergenerational connections provided a sturdy anchor as he came of age. “There was definitely a presence of elders in the community there. There [were] a few…that would be around at the park to keep everybody straight.” Among these elders, he cites Deputy Johnie Oates, former park recreation services supervisor Peg Lee, and Caroline Hicks, who helped keep him and his friends nourished and active. ”She was responsible for…corralling us all to get together. There was a free snack program that was part of the after-school program, so [she made] sure that we were all fed and all good. She’s definitely one of the important people.”

In terms of imagining a new piece of public art in the park, Brooks is open to many possibilities.  “I’m not sure. It would be nice if it’s something that…you can kind of engage with somehow, or that’s reflecting or interacting with the environment in some way, or that you can go through or move around.” What he is certain of, however, is that the piece must connect to the park’s origins. “[This] place is a literal desert that was so under-resourced at the time. Remembering [the work of the Sun Village Women’s Club that helped make this park a reality], I think, [is] important for everybody who lives here. It’s an inspiring history. I think no matter who you are, if you’re here and you’re connected to that…you’re in that history, you’re in that fabric, so you can do it, too.”