The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2022

All Issues
JUL-AUG 2022 Issue

Bruce’s Beach

Illustration by Brian Vincent Rhodes.
Illustration by Brian Vincent Rhodes.

Kiki, 16–18, a Black girl, speaks her truth to us.


It took me
2 hours,
3 freeways,
And 4 traffic jams to get here,
Bruce’s Beach
In the South Bay,
From Altadena—
Where my Nana lives.

But, here I am!
Bruce’s Beach, y’all.
You know ‘bout this place, right?

It was this, this, this—
Thriving beach resort for us,
Black Folks,
Back in the Day,
Like in the 20s or something like that.
Our people would come here from all over the country
To tan,
To eat,
To drink,
To be.

There they were
In the height of Jim Crow,
And our ancestors had the boldness
To put on their swimsuits
Sip mai tais,
And listen to Cab Calloway sing,
Not on the radio,
On the beach —
With them
Live and in person.

Can you imagine?
Now THAT is resistance!

And you already know—
The white folks wasn’t gonna let them have that for long.
Uh uh!
Not on today, Miss Ma’am.
And so the City of Manhattan Beach condemned the resort,
The centerpiece of Bruce’s Beach
And had it demolished.

They lied and said they needed the space
For parks and rec,
For parking,
For whatever reason would keep my people from having fun in the sun,
And then left it barren for almost 40 years.

But now the Black Lives Matter,
For the moment,
The State of California has given the beach back,
To the Bruces,
The Family,
The Black Family that bears its name.
Can you believe that?
Us getting something back from the man.
This is history.

My gurl Chelsea from school was planning to meet me here.
She’s from the OC.
She half white:
Long torso to my thicc hips;
Brown finger waves to my tight curled crown;
Easy-burning skin to my uncracked ebonescence.
You know the type.
But she cool.
I like her.
We fine.

After driving through a sea of Benzes,
I finally found a parking spot.
Some pale-faced, nasty, old witch woman shook her head in silence
As I struggled to double park.
Other cars stopped to stare.
The dust from my Nana’s old red Cadillac
Formed a cloud which danced ‘round the once clean-edged steel
Of this rust ridden relic,
And I started to ask myself:
Should I have washed the car?
If I’d walked here from the bus would they have stared less?
Where do they think I’m from?
To them, I must look like a—

A voice screeched from across the gas-guzzling desert.

“What are you doing in this part of town?”

My blood boiled.

“Just kidding.”

It was Chelsea in a hand-sewn two piece bathing suit
And see through silk kaftan.

It’s vintage Pucci. You like?
“I am SO excited.”
What a moment, right?
“Like, we are part of history.”
We are like freedom fighters.
“It’s so crazy, like, 100 years ago black people were here
Like actual black people…

“And now we are—”

She kept going,
But I stopped listening to her.
This girl need to shut up.

SO…where do you wanna set up?
I asked, to stop her from speaking.

“Well, I brought chickpea chips and hummus and some carrots.”

(So we was gonna starve to death).

“My mom wanted us both to be healthy.”

(Oh, we was gonna starve fo sho).

As she yammered on,
About coconut water,
And sunscreen that doesn’t turn you purple,
And beach stretches to consider,
I started looking up pizza spots in the area.

Then I looked out,
And there was a green park and a sign:
Bruce’s Beach.
The cool blue-green water lapped shoreward just beyond the park.
I closed my eyes—
And saw our people,
Beautiful on the shore,
Living free.
I stood empowered.

“Are we going to this beach or not?”
Chelsea asked.

We walked
Past the green sign,
Across the bike way,
Through the skin-warming sand,
And found a spot to set up shop.

“Kiki, I have to say…
I was so happy when you came to our school.
Like, before you got there, I was the only one…
And, sure, my mom is white and I get all their references
But I just never felt…”


“Yeah, exactly. Connected.”

(Now I’m this girl’s griot shaman sister friend. Lawd!!)

“No, really.
Please, don’t think this is weird.
But whenever I am with you I feel like my real self.”

Let’s listen to some music, Chelsea.

“Who's on your Spotify?”


I scrolled and we found Lana Del Rey’s new album.

“Wait, you listen to Lana?”

What, a sista can’t relate to a white gurl’s
“Summer time / summer time / summer time sadness.”

“Oh my god!
You are so cool!”

We listened to the new album—
Waves waltzing behind us,
JBL speaker blasting.

A couple of waffles
(yes, that’s what I call them)
Sighed and made sure we saw them move 30 feet away from us.

But we didn’t care.
We kept dancing and singing.

You know what, Chelsea,
You kinda cool.
I fucks witchu.

“Let’s christen our beach.
Bruce’s Beach.”

Chelsea swam into the water and posed,
“Hurry, hurry, take a photo before the tide rises.”

I grabbed my phone and snap snap snapped.

“Now, your turn.”

I’m good.

“That’s ridiculous.”

I’ll just stay right here.

“You have to take a water photo, Kiki.”
It’s like a right of passage.
Here, I’ll get in with you”

I can’t swim

“Oh. Sorry.”

No, you didn’t know.

“I— ”

I stood on the shore,
Foam tickling my ankles.
And heard laughing,
Kids and their mothers
In white wet suits donning 1920s marcels they struggled to keep dry.
I saw them running on the beach,
Free as seagulls.
And I was home,
The girl who drove her Nana’s dusty car to 2 hours to touch history;
The kid who gets bussed to a “good school” on the other side of town;
I— Kiki,
Whose family lived well by the sea,
In Venice,
For 3 generations,
After we helped lay the railroad down that connected east to west,
Till price wars beat my clan back to the boonies like the Bruces—
All in the name of progress.

I was home.

Then, all of a sudden,
A strawberry blond on a surfboard washed up behind me,
Almost crashed into me.

“Sorry bro.”


I looked him up and down.
Betcha he thought my strong,
Black fists would beat him into the water,
But all I wanted to do was wail inside.


His eyes zoomed past me straight to Chelsea’s glistening bronze chest.

“What’s your name?”
He crooned.

I stared Chelsea out of answering.
She better not,
Not after all this solidarity crap she just talked.

Quickly, Chelsea snapped her eyes back to the camera.
And I tried to pose again.

The surfer interrupted:
“You two should ditch the phones.
I don’t know why you guys never can just be in the moment?”

I started towards him and Chelsea stopped me.

You guys?

“Just, just— Ignore him,”
She advised.

Why didn’t he just say, “You niggas!”

“Kiki, come on.”

No, Chelsea, I can’t just come on.
He was clearly…

“He’s probably nice.”

That’s cuz he looked at you.
He looked at you because you’re…


Her hair bleached two shades lighter in the midday sun.

“You’re just jealous, Kiki.”

My heart sank.
The sun became blazing fire
The water was a careless flow that could never extinguish the flame.
My feet were lead anvils sinking into the sand.

I think I should go, Chelsea.

“Please don’t.
Gurl, please don’t.
I’m sorry. I really am.”

This place isn’t for me.

“That’s what they want, don’t you see?
That’s what they always wanted.
For us to run away after they make us feel small.
Kiki, please don’t go.
You can’t, sis.
We have come too far for that now.
He is nothing, nobody, forgettable mediocrity in the flesh.
But if you leave now,
He lives forever in your heart,
He wins,
And everything we came here to do today was a waste
Of gas
And time
And sisterly love.”

She was right.
If I left,
I’d flush 100 years of progress down a storm drain into the sea.
This is Bruce Beach.
Our beach.
My black ass wasn’t going nowhere.

Okay, Chelsea, I’ll stay.
But we gotta order some pizza, fam,
Cuz your mama’s chickpea shit ain’t doing nothing for me.


Roger Q. Mason

Roger Q. Mason (they/them) is an award-winning writer, performer and educator known for using history's lens to critique the divisions and unities that define the human condition. Their work has been seen on Broadway (Circle in the Square Reading Series); Off and Off-Off-Broadway, regionally, and digitally. Mason is a proud member of Page 73's Interstate 73 Writers Group, Primary Stages Writing Cohort, and the Dramatists Guild.

Brian Vincent Rhodes

Brian Vincent Rhodes is an illustrator, animator and storyboard artist. He hails from Detroit, Michigan and currently lives in Los Angeles, California. His work focuses on issues of identity in black and other communities of color through comedy and science fiction.


The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2022

All Issues