Venice High School junior Agustin Contreras was shot to death in June two years ago while trying to protect his younger brother on the school campus.

Following that tragedy, longtime Oakwood resident Carolyn Rios recalls a “rancorous” meeting with the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Pacific Division officers at the Oakwood Recreation Center.

“I have been listening to community members yell and blame the ‘other’ for 30 years now,” she says.

At the meeting, Rabbi Allen Freehling, a member of the Los Angeles City Human Relations Commission, spoke about the need to work together to find a common ground and Carolyn resolved to work with him.

The Human Rights Commission started facilitating meetings in the Oakwood area, but no community members attended, so Carolyn took it upon herself to find a way to get all the segments together.

At yet another meeting, which featured “break-out groups,” she asked for a discussion on the vision for the future of Oakwood.

“The common theme was that we needed more social events to let the different elements of the community have a way to interact and meet each other without an agenda,” she says.

At the end, Arnold Springer said, “We should have a barbecue,” and Barklie Griggs said, “We could have a barbecue cook-off.”

Added Mindy Meyer, “I have experience organizing events.”

At the time, Carolyn represented the Oakwood area on the Venice Neighborhood Council (VNC). “We asked the VNC for Neighborhood Improvement funds and the rest is history,” she says.

The Venice Neighborhood Council is again providing funding. The name has been changed from “Oakwood Community BBQ & Picnic” to “Venice Community BBQ & Picnic” so that all of Venice will feel welcome.

Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl is also showing support — again — by providing tables, chairs, some canopies and the stage.

Those of you who attended last year (I was there) will remember the delicious chicken, ribs and hot dogs barbecued by Capt. Jeremiah “Jerry” Johnson and members of his crew at Los Angeles Fire Department Station No. 63. He will be back this year with more grilling and a special surprise.

Johnson, a serious barbecue chef, has created three new types of barbecue sauce. The sauces, developed under the auspices of “Generation J Barbeque,” his family business, were named for firefighting terms and, according to him, rightly so:

Backdraft — Did you ever see the 1991 movie of the same name and remember the outstanding visual effects of the deadly explosion hurling the firefighters across the street? Well, this Backdraft Sauce is “going to blow your taste buds right across the way and it’s going to mess you up.”

Flashover — A flashover happens before a backdraft even occurs. This is the stage where a room or other confined area becomes so heated that the flames flash over and through the vapors being produced by heated combustible contents in the space. For people who don’t want something quite as hot as the Backdraft, the Flashover Sauce is perfect. It has “a little heat and a lot of taste to it.”

Smoke Showing — This is when there is more smoke than fire, such as in a kitchen incident. This sauce has the taste of smoke in the flavor with a little hint of Flashover, but not much Backdraft.

Not only is Johnson an excellent cook, he brings his culinary training as an important component of his job as a firefighter. Firefighters reside at the station while on duty where they have to cook for themselves. They are required to be very careful about hygiene and cooking the food properly. What happens if a rookie does something wrong, they all get sick and there is a fire to put out?

“The food might taste bad but it can’t make you sick,” he says.

Johnson feels it’s important to get involved and he thinks that the theme, “Unity in the Community,” expresses why. “People can network and interact with each other,” he says. “You never know the common interests you might have.

“The fire department is like a gelling point. We know practically everybody. We see all types of people from every spectrum. Venice is a unique community in that sense. So, the barbecue is a good thing to have.

I really think last year it was great. This year you better get there because the barbecue is going to be jammin’.”

For people who like to cook, Johnson will be offering his mother’s soul food cookbook for sale and he will autograph copies. Southern recipes in the book include baked goods, vegetables, meats and casserole dishes, along with his mother’s words of wisdom.

While the meat is paid for by the Venice Neighborhood Council, it is requested that everyone bring a side dish or dessert for a potluck meal.

It will be a true Venice picnic, supported by Venice businesses and with entertainment by Venice performers.

In addition to the Venice Neighborhood Council and Rosendahl, Carolyn acknowledges committee members Fred Grant, Jataun Valentine and Kalley Aman; businesses Smart & Final and Control Printing. And, “Okay, we bought some paper goods at Costco,” she adds.

Prize donors have not been determined at this writing but they will be from Venice too.

Johnson and his men are donating their time. He will be off duty on barbecue day, so a fire will not call him away.

The performers are also donating their talents and time. This year’s lineup is really exciting. Scheduled are Kathy Leonardo, Kwanza Jones, Freddy Ginn, Eric Ahlberg, Tadg Galleran, Bif Crawford and Johnny “Cash” Seymour. Fireman Kenny Gibbs from Station 63 will be the deejay.

In addition, we will be treated to flamenco and salsa dancing by the Blankenship Ballet Co., a skit by the youth group from the Pacific Resident Theatre and pantomime JRoss.

The “moon bounce” will be back for children, plus more activities. There will be games for adults.

Join the Venice community from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday, August 2nd, at the Oakwood Recreation Center, 767 California Ave., Venice.

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