Compton, CA–Celestina Bishop has been riding a wave of emotions for the last 19 months. On Mother’s Day 2020, she visited Woodlawn Cemetery in Compton, California, only to find the grounds where her mother and family were buried had been abandoned.
Overgrown weeds and tree branches were covering her mother’s grave and tombstone, which was enough to drive Bishop to tears. After posting a heart-wrenching video to Facebook, showing a whole cemetery in disarray, Bishop got to work.
“When I came to clean up I was not cleaning up just for my family, I was cleaning up for everybody,” Bishop shared in an interview with theGrio. “We started at the entrance and the plan was to work our way around — one section at a time — which is how I got the name of one of my non-profits.”
When she was 2 years old, Bishop was the only one spared after her mother and three sisters were killed in their South Central home. Bishop undertook such a huge responsibility because she feels deeply connected to the cemetery where her family is buried.
Initially, Bishop tried contacting Woodlawn’s owner, but the number listed had been disconnected. When she did finally make contact, he saw the progress she was making and allowed her full access to the property.
“I did not clean up the cemetery myself, it was a variety of people. I spearheaded the movement and when you are a great leader people follow,” said Bishop. “Not follow because they are looking for something to look up to, they are looking for something to be a part of.”
As Bishop started to become familiar with the world of cemetery management and bookkeeping, she says she does not put all the blame on the previous owner.
The idea of her owning the cemetery came up really early in the restoring process. The previous owner told Bishop that he was looking to donate the property to a local non-profit. She asked him to give her three months to get her paperwork together to form her non-profit.
One important detail was left out, however, which was that the property had an enormous back tax bill. Bishop was able to get a portion of these fees reduced but was still forced to come up with $20,000.