Education, Arts & Culture

From Los Angeles to Memphis
A Fifty Year Journey

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas marked the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s tragic death by journeying to the place where he was assassinated in Memphis, now the site of the National Civil Rights Museum.

On April 4, 1968, 13-year-old Mark Ridley-Thomas was an eighth grader on the campus of George Washington Carver Middle School in southeast Los Angeles when news broke of Dr. King’s assassination. He had heard Dr. King’s unmistakable voice on the radio station KGFJ and, even as a young teenager, felt the power of his words and the tragedy of his loss.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. Photo by Leroy Hamilton.

Inspired by the immortal I Have a Dream speech, Ridley-Thomas took an undergraduate course titled “Social Ethics of Martin Luther King” at Immaculate Heart College in 1974, on his way to earning his undergraduate and graduate degrees, along with secondary and adult education teaching credentials. By 1976, he himself was teaching a full-length semester course on the philosophy of Dr. King to college preparatory students at Immaculate Heart High School.

In 1977, Ridley-Thomas was recruited to the local board of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference Los Angeles, an affiliate of the organization founded by Dr. King in 1957. By age 26, Ridley-Thomas had risen to become executive director of its Los Angeles Chapter. During the 80’s, Ridley-Thomas furthered his studies and deepened his writings on Dr. King while earning a Ph.D. in Social Ethics from the University of Southern California, with a focus on Social Criticism and Social Change.

Rev. Jesse Jackson and Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. Photo by Leroy Hamilton.

Ridley-Thomas headed the SCLC of Greater Los Angeles for a decade, from 1981 to 1991, working on such issues as school desegregation, police misconduct, domestic violence, sexual assault, dispute resolution, parental empowerment and voter registration. From 1991 to the present, Ridley-Thomas has held several elected public offices, guided by the philosophy of Dr. King on a range of critical issues, including police accountability, homelessness, voting rights, affordable quality education, living wage, and healthcare for all.

“Dr. King’s death was a turning point in my life as it relates to the philosophy of nonviolence,” the Supervisor said. “To be in Memphis now, 50 years later, is really quite moving.”

During his time in Memphis, the Supervisor visited the Lorraine Motel, where an assassin’s bullet felled Dr. King. The Supervisor also participated in discussions of Dr. King’s legacy; a celebration of Dr. King’s final sermon, I’ve Been to the Mountaintop; and a march and rally to the “mountaintop” at Mason Temple.

Among those who participated in the tributes were Rep. John Lewis, who marched with Dr. King in Selma; the Rev. James Lawson, who had invited Dr. King to Memphis in 1968; the Rev. Jesse Jackson; Children’s Defense Fund founder and president Marian Wright Edelman; and, finally, AFSCME president Lee Saunders, who served as event co-chair.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, Rep. Karen Bass, Rev. James Lawson, and Maria Elena Durazo. Photo by Leroy Hamilton.

A contingent from Los Angeles traveled to Memphis to pay tribute to Dr. King, including Bishop Charles E. Blake of the West Angeles Church of God in Christ, also an event co-chair. U.S. Rep. Karen Bass, labor leader Maria Elena Durazo, actors Chris Tucker and Glynn Turman, and drummer Sheila E also made the journey, and noted photographer Leroy Hamilton documented the various events. They joined thousands of people from around the world in celebrating and commemorating the life and legacy of Dr. King.

“We have a lot of unfinished business related to justice, peace and human dignity,” the Supervisor said. “But the nation owes a great debt of gratitude to Dr. King and his family and all of those continuing to fight for justice and democracy.”

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Rev. James Lawson, AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders and Bishop Charles E. Blake. Photo by Leroy Hamilton.

A Raisin in the Sun

A Raisin in the Sun, on stage at A Noise Within theater in Pasadena. Photos by Craig Schwartz.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas hosted a special performance of the Tony Award-winning A Raisin in the Sun for more than 300 people from across the Second District, many of whom had never been to a theater before.

“Theater has the power to engage, educate, empower, transform individuals and communities, achieve social justice initiatives, and bring communities closer together,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said.

A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry’s seminal work, tells the story of an African-American family living in a cramped apartment on Chicago’s South Side during the 1950s, as they struggle with competing dreams and racial intolerance. Even decades after it was first performed, the play remains a resonant story of hope and the need to retain dignity in a hostile world. Its title was inspired by a line from Langston Hughes’ poem, Harlem.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas at the theater production of A Raisin in the Sun. Photo by Martin Zamora/Board of Supervisors

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas invited attendees from schools, youth groups, seniors, veterans, and community-based service organizations to watch the play at A Noise Within theater in Pasadena, with a cast that includes Ben Cain and Toya Turner under the direction of Gregg Daniel. Many in the audience expressed appreciation for the performance.

“Arts are very important to the community and we should have more,” said Thurman Jackson. “This is my first time watching a play like this, and it touched my heart. I want to find more plays to attend.”

Even the younger members of the audience were able to grasp the cultural and historic significance of the play. “I learned how people struggled back in the day,” said Marvin Williams, a student at Falcon Youth and Family Service.

“Arts as activism is incredibly relevant to today’s society and A Raisin in the Sun is incredibly relevant to reflect on what is happening in our community today and hopefully make an effective change,” said Alicia Green, director of education and community outreach at A Noise Within, which produces world-class performances of classical theatre and runs education programs committed to inspiring diverse audiences of all ages.

“I hope that in some way people can see themselves reflected on stage,” she said. “Whether it is a dream deferred or a dream recognized, I hope that everyone can recognize something in themselves that they are able to change for the future.”

After their curtain calls, the cast took questions from the audience.

Diversity in local arts institutions and programs is important to Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, who has sponsored eight other theater productions in the past, including Rodney King at the Bootleg Theater, Through the Looking Glass at the Kirk Douglas Theater, and Aladdin, in two languages, at Casa 0101.

Cast of A Raisin in the Sun on stage at A Noise Within. Photo by Martin Zamora/Board of Supervisors

A Community Conversation on Children, Youth and Families

Child welfare leaders recently came together with the community to discuss how to best serve vulnerable children and families in Los Angeles County.

Among the panelists was Shari Walker,who shared her inspirational story about being a former foster youth who is now studying to be a social worker. Department of Children and Family Services director Bobby Cagle, Acting Department of Social Services director Antonia Jiménez, and Office of Child Protection executive director Michael Nash were also on the panel.

Community-based organizations hosted resource tables to recruit foster families, court-appointed special advocates, and mentors for youth and families.

Held at the Mark Ridley-Thomas Constituent Service & Training Center, the event was the first in the Empowerment Congress Committee Cafe Series. It will be followed by a discussion on cannabis on May 9.

A Legacy of Life Lessons on the Gridiron

Coach Robert Garrett holds his scroll, flanked by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, LA Chargers defensive tackle Brandon Mebane, and the Crenshaw High School football team. Photo by David Franco/Board of Supervisors

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas awarded a scroll to a local high school football coach who has mentored student athletes in South Los Angeles for over 30 years, helping some achieve their dream of playing in the NFL. As head coach of the Crenshaw Cougars at Crenshaw High School, Robert Garrett teaches youth in at-risk communities how to become champions – lessons that they carry with them throughout their lives.

Coach Garrett was recently named 2017 Don Shula National Football League High School Coach of the Year during the recent Pro Bowl in Orlando, Florida, which aired nationwide on ESPN. The Los Angeles Chargers nominated Coach Garrett for the award named after the winningest coach in NFL history, which honors exemplary high school football coaches for demonstrating a commitment to player health and safety, and the integrity, achievement and leadership exemplified by Don Shula. The award included a $25,000 cash prize from the NFL Foundation, $15,000 of which will benefit Crenshaw High School’s football program, a much needed contribution.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Coach Robert Garrett and LA Chargers defensive tackle Brandon Mebane. Photo by David Franco/Board of Supervisors.

“Coach Garrett often says that although he loves football, his favorite part of his job is helping his young players become better men,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “We can see from all that they have accomplished – from winning state titles to being drafted into the NFL – he has been very effective in doing just that.”

“Coach Garrett is a symbol of how discipline, focus, hard work, humility, and determination can make a difference in young lives,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas added.

As the entire Crenshaw High School football team enthusiastically watched their mentor receive the scroll, Coach Garrett  said, “It is my passion and my ministry to be involved with young people. I am commissioned by a higher authority to continue to fight that fight to give my self-worth to the betterment of the young people in our communities.”

This year, Coach Garrett led the Crenshaw Cougars to the 2017 CIF Division 4-AA State Championship. He has inspired many student athletes to victory, including Hayes Pullard and Brandon Mebane, who now play for the Los Angeles Chargers as a linebacker and a defensive tackle, respectively.

Mebane attended the scroll presentation, saying, “I’m now in my 12th year in the NFL, and I give Coach Garrett credit for a lot of it. He did a lot of things for me to help me get to this stage in my career.

“I feel very good about Coach Garrett receiving these honors,” he added. “It’s good to recognize all the great work he’s been doing for over 30 years at Crenshaw High School.”

The NFL Foundation recently presented a $15,000 check to Crenshaw High School because its football coach, Robert Garrett, was named the 2017 Don Shula National Football League High School Coach of the Year. Photo by Diandra Jay/Board of Supervisors


Falcons Take Flight

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas awarded scrolls to the Southern California Falcons Youth Football and Cheer Organization, winners of the 2017 Pacific Coast Conference Youth Football Championship.

“This morning we acknowledge a shining example of success by those who take the time to work with our young people,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said.

“The Falcons are about more than just a winning football organization – they develop character,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas added. “I am honored to present them with this County scroll in recognition of their continued commitment to develop the leaders of tomorrow.”

Keith Johnson had founded the Falcons with the simple goal of providing children in the community a safe place to play football. Its mission soon evolved, however, to empowering underprivileged and underserved youth to excel in life by providing them with services to better their education, health, physical fitness, and cultural appreciation.

The Falcons also mentor the children on personal and social responsibility by using the motto:  It’s time to teach new school kids old school values.

“In 2007 and 2008, we were just a young football program that had a dream to do something special,” Johnson said after receiving the scroll. “But what was really needed was a place where kids could learn, where they could understand who they are and what they could become.”

“We are not doing this alone. When Mark Ridley-Thomas was still running for Supervisor, he came to our park. Before he left, he simply said this, ‘I don’t know whether I’ll win or not, but I do know this: I will always support you because you’re doing real work with real people,’” Johnson said. “The Supervisor’s support has allowed us to catapult to the place where we’re mentoring not only our own children but we’re also mentoring other organizations to do the work that we do.”

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas with Falcons coaches, players and parents. All photos by Diandra Jay/Board of Supervisors