Love, Peace & Spades
By Mercedes Kraus
It’s the first Wednesday of the month, and even with lights low, the energy overflows from the lobby of the LINE LA.
On one side of the room, a DJ nods along to the beat while someone on a mic yells out instructions to the crowd, some of whom sidle through the lively mix with drinks in hand. A group of people jostle for the spotlight in front of the photo booth, and duos and trios of fashionably dressed friends linger next to dramatically lit dracaena plants.
Atop each crowded table, lines of dominoes, stacks of playing cards, drinks and food, hands and elbows all compete for precious surface space. Welcome to Love, Peace & Spades: Sit down, you’re welcome here.
As the name implies, this monthly happening is more than just a game night. When it first popped up in December 2022, Love, Peace & Spades sought a greater goal: to create a safe and inclusionary space for people to build community through music, tech, education, and game play.
It was magic from the start.
“It’s the shit,” declares Kevin L. Clark, better known as Kevito, the event’s creator. Clark’s search for a welcoming community of Spades players has been a goal of his since college, where he formed his core ideas of fraternity around card games.
“We had leagues and tournaments almost every other day, either playing at somebody else’s house, or in the cafeteria,” he recalls. “It was a coming-of-age moment for me.” It also, solidified, he says, why he wanted to be in connection with people that looked like him.
When he moved to LA, Clark found his sodality while working for the city’s Juneteenth festival in Leimert Park. Crucially, it’s where he met artist, community organizer, and Director of Business for EN HOMAGE Camille “iLL Camille” Davis, another game-playing devotee. “There’s a game night that used to take place at Johnny’s Pastrami, the old Johnny’s, that me and Kevito would frequent,” she explains. Their love of the game spawned the idea for another game night, one with intention, and Clark knew he needed Davis to enrich the experience.
“She has a great knack for taking an idea and beating it to death so that it comes out as a polished diamond,” he brags of her. With Davis on board, Clark started Subject To Change, the organization that runs Love, Peace & Spades, and he partnered with Eliyannah Yisrael, Jamilah Lemieux, and Fred McNeill Jr. to spotlight a rotating cast of hosts and DJs that bring each convivial night to life.
On the surface, the idea is simple, Davis says. “Sometimes it doesn’t look like any more than, ‘Hey do you like Uno? Do you wanna play bones or not? Do you wanna get whooped in Go Fish?’” But this team has always had more up their sleeves.
Kevin L. Clark aka Kevito
“Sitting stationery and playing games with each other is our sneaky way of rebuilding and connecting with people,” Davis says. “It’s a healing tool.” Those therapeutic effects come, she says, “when you exchange discourse or strategy with people” or when you do something new and maybe uncomfortable. “This is our way of getting our overworked homies and relatives and selves to do something different,” she says. But the interchange of strategy and laughter is just one part of the LP&S formula.
”You can have fun, and it also be connected to your cultural practices,” Davis explains. When they were developing the concept, Davis and Clark called upon their own history with group games and dug into research about the cultural heritage of those games, particularly Dominoes, Tunk (or Tonk), Bid Whist, and Spades.
“I didn’t realize that they had such a mainstay place in our community overall,” Davis says of her discovery, having traced her game-playing lineage from the South — “Florida, Georgia, Deep South, the Gullahs” — to the Bahamas and possibly other islands. “Dominoes have a great presence in the Caribbean countries,” she explains, positing that anyone of Caribbean descent that migrated, or was brought to or enslaved in the United States, probably plays Dominoes. “And that’s something that we kinda gloss over, but it’s hella important because those things were keeping us sustained and engaged with each other through tough times.”
“Through freedom fighting we played cards,” Davis continues. “To be able to talk and map and strategize, holding cards, none would be the wiser to know we were mapping our way out of certain situations.”
In his own research, Clark discovered an article called How You Play Spades is How You Play Life. The interactive story, by Gabrielle Ione Hickmon, is an ethnographic study on the origin of Spades, its development over time, and its roots in the Black American experience.
“Some of those things that were highlighted in that article were the groundbed for Love, Peace and Spades,” he says, noting that they give away a card deck version of the story at the monthly activations.
The Black American experience is at the heart of Love, Peace & Spades. The event spotlights Black-owned companies, nonprofit organizations, and game developers. Props for the photo booth include signs reading, “Black Lives Matter,” “I love being Black,” and “Melanin poppin’!”
The energy at Love, Peace & Spades is exactly what it sounds like: a welcoming and fun environment driven by the culture. I always meet someone new and love being able to share my love of Spades with other creatives and professionals in LA.
— Joshua J. Pinkay, sometimes-host pictured above, in a white hat
The specific intent of LP&S was to create a safe and inclusionary space for Black folks.
“I know right now there’s a lot of conversations that make the country feel unsafe, and we — meaning Cam and I and our community — know how dangerous it’s been and continues to be,” Clark says.
“But if we’re able to have one open door for people to come in and take their cool off and at least break out from their stress and kind of center themselves, then this idea has a real purpose.”
Davis’ experience of being Black and playing cards comes from boisterous childhood gatherings. “On the weekends, everybody would populate to my Auntie Suda’s house,” she remembers.
“Auntie Suda and Uncle Junior were my go-to because, whatever happened with the adults, the kids were in close proximity, but we had our own party going.” Her Uncle Junior, she says, built out his garage near El Segundo, a neighborhood just south of LAX, to accommodate his card- and Domino-playing friends and family.
“The table, it was padded. An outdoor refrigerator, stocked,” Davis remembers. Once the door that separated the back yard from the garage was locked, Davis would see the adults playing and hear their whispers, all to the sounds of Nancy Wilson and Muddy Waters.
“As soon as I heard that going on, that meant, for the next probably eight hours straight, everybody’s gonna be locked into Tunk, Bid Whist, and Dominoes, and you’re going to hear nothing but slaps on the table,” she says. “It’s going to be wild and it’s going to be crazy, and y’all just mind your business because they playing and it’s serious.”
Whatever their background or experience, Love, Peace & Spades is a “for-us, by-us, for-all operation,” Davis says. “We have so many people from so many cultures, backgrounds, representations,” she notes. “We want people to come, sit, you know, and build with us and just have fun in general.” It’s all in the coming together, in the special magnetism of being with a group of people doing the same thing.
“More than a game night, it’s really a night for community and communities within community,” Davis says. “And a time for discovery for who your community could possibly be.”
Love, Peace & Spades takes place on the first Wednesday of every month in the lobby of the LINE LA.
“For some, it’s just a good date night: I’ve seen people bring their boos or people they should make their boos. Some people have found a boo at LP&S.” — Camille Davis
LP&S feels like home, not just the spades, but being in community with old and new friends from all over the country that love our culture. From the highly competitive teams to the Beginner’s Table, the vibe is always full of love and laughter. — Rachel Brashier, below in a tan sweater