Black Americans Give Entertainment Options Failing Grades : Code Switch People often talk about African-Americans and other minorities being subject to "food deserts" — areas where fresh, healthy, affordable food is hard to come by. The findings of an NPR poll suggest that we should be thinking about "popcorn deserts," too.

Black Americans Give Entertainment Options Failing Grades

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All this week, we've been digging into the findings of a survey about African-Americans' views of their communities, finances, social lives. We conducted the poll with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health. What scored the lowest grades - the most D's and F's - were local entertainment venues. From NPR's Code Switch team - which covers race, ethnicity and culture - Shereen Marisol Meraji has our story.

SHEREEN MARISOL MERAJI, BYLINE: How can I put this? Local government got better marks than entertainment venues. So I called up some of the people surveyed, to find out why.

ANGELA BARRY PAYNE: I'm on the phone. Can you hold it?

MERAJI: I caught Angela Barry Payne(ph) while she was babysitting. She lives in Athens, Ga., and says she can't stand the nightclubs there - too many guns.

PAYNE: Downtown is always something, always something. Where we go now, some kind of violence, some kind of interruption.

GEORGE CLARK: As a black man, there is just nothing that is really - that you'd want to go to, that you'd want to hang out.

MERAJI: George Clark(ph) lives in Waltham, a majority white suburb of Boston.

CLARK: And when you look around and you don't see another face as dark as you, then you know that you might be in the wrong place.

MERAJI: Clark says he travels 45 minutes on public transportation to have a beer in the right place. And Jennifer Heasley(ph), a single mom who lives just outside of York, Pa., agrees with both. She's uncomfortable with her suburban entertainment options.

JENNIFER HEASLEY: Often, my children and I go out, and we're in a restaurant, and we're the only black family.

MERAJI: But she adds that she's uneasy going out in downtown York, where there's more diversity but the few options available are either dangerous or dirty. Heasley doesn't get why what she's looking for is so hard to find.

HEASLEY: Live entertainment, a nice jazz band, maybe some spoken word; an environment where, you know, it's brick and it's low lighting, and people are stimulated by the conversation that's going on. That's what I would like to see.

PRESTON LAUTERBACH: Entertainment is good for the soul, and entertainment hits you the best and hits you the hardest when it's directed towards you.

MERAJI: Preston Lauterbach is the author of "The Chitlin' Circuit." He writes that the heyday for black entertainment venues took place during segregation.

LAUTERBACH: Saturday night on Broadway; Macon, Ga., in 1954 - you would have a decision to make because down on the corner, at the Five Spot, might be Ray Charles. Across the street, at the Cotton Club, might be Little Richard. Down the highway, at another place, might be James Brown.

MERAJI: Lauterbach says with the triumph of integration came the dismantling of these thriving entertainment corridors.

LAUTERBACH: That social fabric has been torn, and it has yet to be stitched back together in a way that fully meets the needs of those communities the way that those needs were once met.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: You're going to see "Now You've Seen Me" in Auditorium 9; that'll be to your right.

MERAJI: I met up with one entrepreneur trying to meet the entertainment needs of the African-American community at a movie theater in South Los Angeles. The 15-screen Cineplex at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza got a facelift, thanks in part to Ken Lombard's(ph) efforts. I broke the news to Lombard that entertainment venues drew the lowest ratings in our survey.

KEN LOMBARD: Well, it's really not surprising to me. You know, like I've been in this business over 25 years.

MERAJI: Lombard worked with Magic Johnson to open this theater, in a historically black part of LA, almost 20 years ago now. He says people were desperate for a nice, clean venue close to home and when it opened, it was a huge success. Today, the investment firm he works for has spent $35 million revamping the entire mall to offer better shopping and dining, and he says profits are up. But, Lombard adds, it hasn't been easy. The default response he gets from retail and restaurant brokers is often, no.

LOMBARD: We don't expect the answer to always be yes, but what we expect is come and take the tour, look at the neighborhoods, roll your sleeves up and understand it in very much the same way that you do in non-minority communities. And then I think we'll start seeing some significant progress.

MERAJI: Lombard says to be successful, entertainment venues have to feel authentic and relevant to African-Americans. But you have to put in the work to understand your patrons. The results of this poll suggest there are a good number of people out there feeling ignored. Shereen Marisol Meraji, NPR News.

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