Danny Bakewell's first job in Los Angeles after arriving 40 years ago from his native New Orleans was as a waiter at the Friars Club of Beverly Hills. He's gone from serving the city's business and political elite to joining their ranks. As head of the Brotherhood Crusade, Bakewell became a powerbroker on issues of inner-city economic development and civil rights. He has also built a collection of real estate holdings, with more than 700,000 square feet of commercial space that includes shopping centers in Compton, Los Angeles and Pasadena. The blend of activism and entrepreneurism has opened Bakewell up to criticism that he has used his position in the community to build a small fortune. In 2004, he took control of the Los Angeles Sentinel, the largest African-American-oriented newspaper in the Western U.S. The following year, Bakewell announced that he would step down as president of the Brotherhood Crusade; he remains chairman. In 2007, Bakewell added to his media holdings when he purchased a New Orleans radio station. And he isn't finished. Bakewell said he would like to own an L.A. radio station to complement the Sentinel.

Question: Not long after buying the Sentinel newspaper, you said the verdict was still out on whether it was a good investment. Is the verdict in now?

Answer: The verdict is in. It is probably one of the most key investments that I have ever made. It gives me the ability to consistently stay in touch and to give voice to those in the community who have been neglected and left out. It is a gemstone in our portfolio.

Q: How has owning a newspaper been different than some of your other business ventures, such as real estate development?

A: There is no down time. In real estate you come up with a plan and you work it. You are not always on stage. With a newspaper you are on stage every day. It is a constant editorial grind. It is constantly finding and vetting stories. And in today's world, you must have a Web site, which requires as much effort and energy as the actual paper.


Q: You recently purchased a radio station in New Orleans. Are you eyeing any other media properties?

A: First and foremost we are in the real estate business, but we like the media business. We have a couple of other stations on option. I bought the station in New Orleans venturing out to try to find a station locally because I thought it would be great synergy with the newspaper. We see ourselves venturing further into media. My son, Danny Jr., has taken the lead on that.


Q: Your son and other members of your family have been actively involved in many of your business and community efforts. Has getting them involved been a priority?

A: Yes. My family is intricately involved in my business. I think family gives you the base of being able to trust people. I have a small inner circle, which consists of my family, my assistant and a guy I went to kindergarten with. I don't think anything is more important than family.

Q: In 1992, one of your daughters died after battling leukemia, which led you and your wife to form a charitable foundation in her honor.

A: Sabriya was 17 when she passed away. In an attempt to find a positive way to celebrate her we started Sabriya's Castle of Fun Foundation. We began making these castles that we donate to hospitals for young patients. So far, they are in over 200 hospitals all over the country. It helps children to be distracted from what they are going through.


Q: Some years ago, your father also died under tragic circumstances.

A: My dad was killed in Compton when I was in the process of doing my first deal there. He got shot while visiting a check-cashing store in a shopping center that I bought. He was one of the most important people in my life. He encouraged me to come to Los Angeles. My father and mother were divorced. My father had moved out here from New Orleans.


Q: So you moved to Los Angeles to be with your father?

A: And I couldn't get a job in New Orleans. I got married and had a child. I applied for a job at the Royal Orleans hotel at the front desk in 1967 and they told me they weren't hiring coloreds. My first job out here was in Beverly Hills as a waiter at the Friars Club. I was a waiter there for a number of years, and then I got involved in civil rights.


Q: You have also been involved in charitable efforts to help those affected by Hurricane Katrina. Was anyone in your own family impacted by the hurricane?

A: My mother was living in New Orleans during Katrina. I actually went back and got her and brought her here. She now lives with me.


Q: You have been called by some the "Godfather of South Central," what do you think of that nickname?

A: It is flattering in one sense, but I have never embraced the title. I just do things. I just try to make things happen for people because there are so many people in our community that are voiceless. The title also has a seedier suggestion that is not what I am about. I live my life in a way that will make my family proud and make my community proud.


Q: You stepped down as president of the Brotherhood Crusade at the end of 2005. Why?

A: I am still actively involved but I gave space and place for a new generation. When you get older you can get so familiar with how to do this work you can kind of phone it in and that is not what it needs. It needs a hands-on approach.


Q: What is a typical day like for you?

A: I usually get up at 4:30 a.m. I meet my friend and attorney Bob McNeill, and we actually go to the gym. After the workout, I go home and feed my birds. Then I call New Orleans to check up on the radio station. I make calls with different organizations I am involved in. Then, I get dressed and head to the office but most days, my first meeting will be at the shopping plaza on Fair Oaks. Once I get into the office, it is one thing after another. My day can include everything from press interviews to gang intervention meetings.


Q: What has been the key to your success in business?

A: I think my tenacity, my drive, my desire to succeed have been key. My desire to make sure my family is well taken care of. I am the quintessential entrepreneur because whatever amount of hours it takes to get it done I do it. Taking advantage of opportunities that have been presented to me has also been important. The city of Compton gave me the greatest opportunity I had. They gave me the opportunity to build a shopping center there, which has been immeasurably successful.


Q: What is your greatest disappointment?

A: Not going to college. I was driven to succeed but I wasn't a good student. Also, I had a family at an early age. All my friends went to college and got a degree. I got a son.

Q: What do you see as your greatest accomplishment?

A: My greatest accomplishment is being married for 43 years to my wife, Aline, and having a wonderful and loving family.

Q: Some years ago you became a vegetarian. Why?

A: My daughter, Brandi, went away to college and came back talking about tofu. She was one the first people to enlighten me. I try to understand other people's point of view and so I looked into vegetarianism. I began to wonder whether the prevailing wisdom that you needed meat was just some other establishment propaganda. It is clear to me that you can live without killing something else and that's a pretty remarkable thing.


Q: You are known for not using e-mail and for being a bit of a technophobe.

A: I still don't use e-mail. But I will tell you what I am doing thanks to my grandchildren: texting. They are always texting me. I text them back on my iPhone, which is my newest toy. I'm really enamored with it.


Q: You also seem to be enamored with clothes. You are a rather snappy dresser. Where do you get your sense of style?

A: My grandfather and father were also sharp dressers. I like to dress. It is very important that you have a certain presence. I represent the people. I represent my family and myself.


Danny Bakewell
Title: Chief Executive
Company: The Bakewell Co.
Born: 1946; New Orleans
Education: Saint Augustine High School,
New Orleans
Career Turning Point: Buying two
shopping centers in Compton with business
partner Lonnie Bunkley
Most Influential People: Parents Frank
and Mary Bell Bakewell
Hobbies: Raising chickens and homing
pigeons; golf
Personal: Married, 43 years, with a grown son and daughter. Lives in Bradbury.

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