The tabby’s name was Morris, and he continued to sleep on Kandynce Jones’s bed after she was hastened to her grave by Donald Sterling’s effort to evict her from her home because she was black.
In a 2003 housing discrimination lawsuit that should have prompted the NBA to ban both Sterling and his wife a decade ago, one of his own employees testified that the billionaire had one question upon learning that the apartment where the blind, partially paralyzed tenant resided was in desperate need of repairs.
“Is she one of those black people that stink?” Sterling is quoted as asking. “Just evict the bitch.”
Kandynce had kept paying the rent despite the apartment being flooded with ankle-deep water and lacking a working toilet, shower, or stove.
“Kandynce Jones was under threat of eviction by [Sterling] even though she had never missed a rent payment,” court papers say.
Kandynce was feisty, she had the comfort of the orange-and-white cat she had raised from a kitten, and her grown daughter lived around the corner. Kandynce would no doubt have kept fighting had her health not given way.
“Ms. Jones, who is a senior citizen and a person with a disability, suffered a stroke caused by the stress by Defendants’ housing practices,” court papers allege. “On July 21, 2003, Ms. Jones passed away as a result of that stroke.”
Kandynce’s daughter, Ebony Jones, had to clean out the apartment where her mother could no longer live because she was no longer alive. The daughter noted that Morris was still sleeping on the now-empty bed.
“He didn’t want to leave,” Ebony says.
The lawsuit that Kandynce Jones had initiated with some of her fellow tenants proceeded. And as the details reached public attention, her death should have prompted the NBA to evict both Donald Sterling and his wife from the league. Rochelle Sterling was active in his real estate endeavors, sometimes posing as a government health inspector to gain entry to tenants’ apartments and record, among other things, their ethnicity. She almost certainly knew of his manifestly racist housing policies.
But in this earlier manifestation of racism, there was no mistress with an exotic name making surreptitious tapes and hiding behind a bizarre visor. There was just a disabled senior citizen who had been hastened to her grave, and the press paid the matter scant attention. Donald Sterling apparently sought to ensure it stayed that way by including a confidentiality clause when he settled the suit.
That did not preclude Ebony Jones from speaking about her mother. The problem was there was little interest, even though Kandynce was an undeniably noble and heroic figure, all the more so when compared to the mean and bigoted Sterling.
Had people asked about her mother, Ebony would have told them that until complications from sickle cell anemia caused her to lose her sight nearly three decades ago, Kandynce had been an award-winning hairstylist, a student of Vidal Sassoon.
“You could have come in and fixed her oven and her ice box, and got the water out of the place so it wouldn't be moldy, [and] she would have been fine.”
“She specialized in cutting,” Ebony says. “She loved what she did.”
Ebony had been 12 when her mother was suddenly deprived of her livelihood. Kandynce retained all her liveliness and continued to be resolutely self-reliant, even as further complications left her paralyzed on her right side.
“When you’re someone who is a professional, taking care of yourself all your life, it’s hard to start depending on people,” the daughter says,
The periodic agony that accompanies sickle cell was joined by the torment of persistent eye infections and repeated surgeries.
“She dealt with a lot of pain,” the daughter reports.
Kandynce continued on without complaint, fighting to stay as healthy as she was able.
“She drank a lot of water, took vitamins every day, [did] as much exercise as she could,” the daughter says. “She always watched what she ate.”
Kandynce went to Braille school so she could keep up her passion for reading, history in particular. She was still an inspired cook of cuisines ranging from Jamaican to Mexican. She remained an impeccable and fashionable dresser.
“She was following the trends,” the daughter says. “My mother was a very well put together woman. I don’t know how she did it. People wouldn’t even realize she was blind.”
There was no mistaking what shone undimmed in her unseeing eyes and all the rest of her.
“My mother loved life,” Ebony says.
In 1995, when her daughter was grown and ready to set out on her own, Kandynce moved into an apartment in Koreatown. Ebony took a place around the corner, close enough to check in on her mother every day without infringing on her independence.
Then, in 2002, Sterling bought the building. An employee would later testify that Sterling said he wanted to drive out the black tenants “because they smell.” Kandynce was denied repairs even after construction work in another part of the structure caused her apartment to flood.
When a Sterling employee came into the apartment, Kandynce was standing with her belongings floating around her. The blind woman held up a photo of her family for the employee to see.
“She felt like she was blessed,” Ebony says.
When Ebony herself surveyed the damage, she was shocked.
“I remember saying, ‘Oh my God, Mom, you have to move,’” Ebony remembers. “She’s just like, ‘No, I’m not going…Sometimes you just have to deal with it, to make a stand.’”
Words Ebony would later pass on to her own daughter were, “You have to stand for something or you stand for nothing.”
Along with the flood, the appliances were in need of repair and the toilet was broken. But it was still the place where Kandynce did not need eyesight to find a door or a drawer or a knob.
“That was her home,” Ebony says. “That was where she wanted to be.”
And to allow herself to be driven out of it because of her race would have been to lose her sense of herself.
“She said, ‘I’m not a bad tenant,’” Ebony remembers. “‘I have a right to be here.’”
Kandynce joined other aggrieved tenants in bringing the lawsuit, and she ventured forth with a walker to give a deposition. She wasn’t seeking revenge, only justice.
“That’s all she wanted, just to be treated fair,” Ebony says. “To be able to live in her home where she knew familiar things.”
She was just asking Sterling to do what simple decency required.
“You could have come in and fixed her oven and her ice box, and got the water out of the place so it wouldn't be moldy, [and] she would have been fine,” Ebony says. “But they wouldn't do that.”
Ebony repeatedly urged Kandynce to move in with her. Kandynce repeatedly refused.
“She always felt like, ‘If I have my place, I’m not a burden to someone,’” Ebony recalls. “She didn’t want to be dependent on people. She never asked for anything. If anything, she was giving.”
Kandynce remained where she was and evidenced not a twinge of self-pity.
“She said, ‘What am I going to complain about? I wake up. I have my life,’” Ebony says.
The daughter understood how difficult a time it was for her mother even if she never showed it.
“I knew what she went through,” Ebony says, “I knew what she felt. A lot of tears behind closed doors.”
The mother still made sure to pay the rent. Sterling refused her check and instituted eviction proceedings.
“Of course she was scared,” Ebony says. “She also knew she was right. She wasn’t going to give up the good fight.”
The stress was taking a visible toll, but she remained resolute at her core. And she didn’t let Sterling's racism make her become even slightly like him.
“She didn’t look at color,” Ebony says. “It was about the person.”
Her spirit never faltered, but her body finally succumbed to the strain. Kandynce suffered a stroke and was rushed to the hospital, where Ebony joined her. The mother was 67 when she died.
Afterward, Ebony went to the apartment where her mother had made such a valiant stand. There on the bed was Morris.
“She loved him, I think because he kept her company,” Ebony says. “That was something that kept her going.”
Ebony let Morris stay there for a fortnight, until the last of her mother’s things were moved out. She then took Morris to her place around the corner, where she is now raising her own daughter. But the cat was listless and did not eat. He died soon after.
A decade later, Donald Sterling must think all is forgiven as he now tries to say that a few racist words on a tape the other day comprise his one mistake.
Rochelle Sterling is trying to say that anybody who thinks she should not be banned along with her husband is a sexist.
And nobody is asking them about Kandynce Jones, who only wanted to stay in her home with Morris.