Harvest Party Mixes Pumpkins and Development Projects

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas greets a younger community member at the October 27, 2018 Harvest Party. Photo by Hugh Williams / Board of Supervisors

Youth show up for face painting, games, and other activities at the Harvest Party. Photo by Hugh Williams / Board of Supervisors

More than 200 people turned out for a fun-filled Harvest Party on the site of the mixed-use development slated for the intersection of Vermont and Manchester avenues in South LA. The site, formerly a blighted lot, had been converted for the afternoon into colorful, family-friendly area, with bright yellow benches and overhead canopies for shade. There were free pumpkins and face painting for children, mini-soccer balls for toddlers, free tacos and beans for all and healthy cooking demonstrations.

But this was a party with a purpose. Fulfilling a promise to keep the community informed and engaged as the affordable housing, retail and educational project slated for the site moves forward, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas — who sponsored the event — invited area residents to meet the developers who will be transforming the site.

A young community member selects a pumpkin at the Harvest Party. Photo by Hugh Williams / Board of Supervisors

Bridge Housing heads the team which will be responsible for constructing and operating the retail, affordable housing, transit plaza and parking planned the site. Their partners include the Coalition for Responsible Community Development and Primestor Development, Inc. all of whom have deep roots in community and economic development across South Los Angeles. Throughout the afternoon, community members moved from the child-oriented events to booths where they casually chatted with the team and shared their ideas.

“This site has been a hot topic for 30 years,” said Juan Molino, editor of a local blog and newspaper. “There’s been a lot of heat over the lack of development in the past because we were sold lots of dreams by the past owner. But I’m a fan of what they’re doing here,” he said, gesturing to the developer’s booths and sweeping his arm to encompass the entire event. “This project is going to be good for us in so many ways.”

Planned for the 4.2-acre site are: California’s first urban public boarding school,180 units of affordable housing, a transportation careers training center, open space and 62,000 square foot of retail space. The school, which will be operated by the SEED Foundation, already is poised to become a one-of-a-kind pipeline for graduates seeking lucrative careers in the STEM and transportation fields.

“This project is designed to be an economic engine for this community,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. “In particular, the school will give some of our best and brightest children the tools they need to graduate and either go to college or to begin a job for which they have been fully prepared.

The Empowerment Congress Economic Development Committee showed up to the Vermont/Manchester activation. Photo by Hugh Williams / Board of Supervisors

“We are laying the foundation for wealth-building on the Vermont Corridor, starting right here at Vermont and Manchester,” the Supervisor continued.

Lesley Poole, chief executive officer of the Seed Foundation also was on hand for the party. Poole, who is based in Washington D.C., has family ties to the Vermont/Manchester community and chatted easily with community members, introducing herself and listening to their ideas.

SEED runs the nation’s only network of public, college-preparatory boarding schools. SEED Los Angeles will be the foundation’s fourth school; the others are in Washington D.C., Maryland and Miami. The LA school will offer a STEM-focused curriculum for grades 9-12, and the school will recruit students from the local community and across the County, in partnership with the County of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

“Success starts with the community,” Poole said. “Our goal is to ensure young people have agency, opportunity and resources. When people have the necessary resources, they can bring about the changes they want for their own communities.”

Community members play a large version of tic-tac-toe. Photo by Hugh Williams / Board of Supervisors

Celebrate LA!

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas speaks during the launch of Celebrate LA! All photos by Martin Zamora / Board of Supervisors

Massive crowds celebrated as the  Los Angeles Philharmonic marked its 100th anniversary with an eight-mile long street festival connecting both of its venues, the Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Hollywood Bowl.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas marches with the Centennial High School Marching Band from Compton.

Dubbed Celebrate LA!, the unprecedented community event featured 1,800 musicians, dancers and visual artists — mostly from L.A. – as well as live shows, food, and family activities. Presented in partnership with CicLAvia and Community Arts Resources, the festival kicked off with a performance by a marching band from Centennial High School in Compton.

“I couldn’t be more pleased to see how the LA Phil has chosen this gift for Los Angeles that celebrates community and creativity as reflected in the myriad performances all day and into the evening,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. “Arts are a vital part of the engagement, education, and empowerment that builds community every day here in Los Angeles County.”

“This Centennial is a chance to rededicate ourselves to the transformative power of music and to the magnificent City of Angels, where we will continue to make magic happen,” said LA Phil Music and Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel.

“Our Centennial is as diverse as the communities the LA Phil serves,” LA Phil Chief Executive Officer Simon Woods added. “It’s a big embrace of Los Angeles, its people and its amazing creative identity, and it’s as international as the artists who perform on our stages.”

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas with Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles.

The eight-mile route was transformed into an auto-free zone, with people walking, running, skating, scooting and biking on the streets instead. Major hubs along the route included Walt Disney Concert Hall, Koreatown, Melrose, and the Hollywood Bowl. Each featured performance stages, art installations, food trucks, screen-printing, kid-friendly activities, dancing, and live music from LA’s best musicians.

The festivities culminated in LA Phil 100 at the Bowl, a free community concert featuring Gustavo Dudamel and the LA Phil, and special guests Kali Uchis, Herbie Hancock, and Youth Orchestra Los Angeles.

Aretha Franklin: A Los Angeles Tribute to the “Queen of Soul”

In January 1972, Aretha Franklin, the Rev. James Cleveland and the Southern California Community Choir convened in Los Angeles and recorded “Amazing Grace,” a groundbreaking album that is still one of the nation’s best-selling gospel recordings.

On the evening of August 30, 2018, the person who managed the production of “Amazing Grace” – along with 20 of the choir members who performed on the recording – took part in a musical tribute to the late Aretha Franklin at the California African American Museum in Los Angeles (CAAM).

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas flanked by members of the L.A. chapter of the Gospel Music Workshop of America and the Southern California Community Choir Alumni. Photos by Aurelia Ventura / Board of Supervisors

The event – hosted by L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, CAAM and the L.A. County Arts Commission – featured a mass choir that included the L.A. chapter of the Gospel Music Workshop of America and the Southern California Community Choir Alumni. The mass choir performed selections from “Amazing Grace.”

Aretha Franklin was saluted for her social justice activism as well as her music. Her father, the Rev. C.L. Franklin, was an important supporter of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the national organization headed by Dr. King. As a young woman, Aretha travelled with Dr. King in the South during some voting rights campaigns.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, former executive director of the Los Angeles SCLC chapter, led the effort to create the tribute.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas speaks to a standing room only audience at the tribute. Photo by Aurelia Ventura / Board of Supervisors

“We honored her for her service to human rights and we paid tribute to her talent by listening to some selections of Amazing Grace,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas.

The recording was co-directed and arranged by the Rev. Alexander Hamilton, retired pastor of the Los Angeles-based Community Baptist Church and former music director for the Voices of Inspiration choir. He was among those who prepared the mass choir for the tribute.

“As Aretha Franklin’s co-music director and arranger with Reverend James Cleveland on the ‘Amazing Grace’ album, this was the apex of my 60 plus years in the music business,” said Rev. Hamilton. “She was a singer’s singer and a musician’s musician. The hard work, effort and musical precedence of this landmark production transcends anything imaginable or envisioned. It will always garner Aretha Franklin R-E-S-P-E-C-T!”

(left to right) LA County Arts Commission Executive Director Kristin Sakoda, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, Avis Ridley-Thomas, Marian Wright Edelman, and Sebastian Ridley-Thomas. Photo by Aurelia Ventura / Board of Supervisors

Bishop Kenneth C. Ulmer, senior pastor of the Inglewood-based Faithful Central Bible Church, was among those who attended the recording of the 1972 performance.

“To watch in spiritual amazement the anointed collaboration of the Lady Aretha Franklin, the ‘Queen of Soul’ and Reverend James Cleveland, the ‘King of Gospel Music,’ coupled with the musical creativity of the choral arrangement of Maestro Alexander Hamilton was to be in the presence of artistic royalty,” Bishop Ulmer said.

That recording was highlighted in “How Sweet the Sound: Gospel Music in Los Angeles,” a CAAM exhibition that closed August 26.

LA County Renews Focus on the Arts

LA County Arts Commission’s Annual Arts Summit for students participating in the LA County Arts Internships Program. Photo by Diandra Jay / Board of Supervisors.

Los Angeles County is reaping the rewards of a renewed focus on the arts.

Community Chandelier at Stoneview Nature Center. Photo by Fallen Fruit.

Two of the County’s civic art projects in the Second District have been recognized by the Americans for the Arts as outstanding public art projects created in 2017. Meanwhile, the County’s Arts Internship Program is providing 179 university and community college students with meaningful experience in nonprofit arts organizations this summer – its largest class ever.

“It’s important that we create an environment that fosters creativity because this offers a range of benefits for individuals and communities, besides being an economic powerhouse,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, lead author of a recent motion to create the County’s first ever Department of the Arts, as well as another motion nearly a decade ago that saved the Arts Internship Program from elimination during an economic downturn.

The latest Otis Report on the Creative Economy estimated the County’s creative economy generated $178 billion in economic output in 2016, directly employed more than a tenth of all private sector workers countywide, and supported close to a fifth of all jobs countywide.

Taiko Drummers perform at the Japanese American National Museum during the LA County Arts Commission’s Annual Arts Summit. Photo by Diandra Jay / Board of Supervisors.

“Arts and culture in Los Angeles County are vibrant and growing at a phenomenal pace,” said Kristin Sakoda, executive director of the County’s Arts Commission, whose profile will be raised by the creation of the Department of the Arts. She committed to further “increasing access to opportunity in the arts and expanding career pathways into the creative sector” through programs such as the Arts Internship Program.

This summer’s 179 interns – a quarter of them from community colleges – will participate in paid internships at 127 nonprofit performing, presenting and literary arts organizations. Since its inception, more than 2,000 young people have completed the internships.

Sakoda noted the County’s deep pool of talent has not gone unnoticed. Americans for the Arts, the nation’s leading nonprofit organization for advancing the arts and arts education, has recognized civic art projects in the County four years in a row through the Public Art Network Year in Review program.

Original Watercolor painting by Sandy Rodriguez for the Martin Luther King Junior, Recuperative Care Center Project. Photo by Audrey Chan.

This year’s honorees include the Artist-in-Residence project at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Recuperative Care Center (MLK RCC) in Willowbrook. Visual artist Sandy Rodriguez enabled patients and staff to create artwork to adorn the walls of the MLK RCC, and developed a program to help support homeless patients’ transition into housing. “This project demonstrates ways in which creativity can be part of the healing process,” she said.

Civic artwork at the Stoneview Nature Center. Photo courtesy of Fallen Fruit.

Also among the honorees was the civic artwork at the Stoneview Nature Center in Culver City. David Burns and Austin Young, who constitute the artist group, Fallen Fruit, held community meetings and then created artwork in the lobby that includes quotations from local residents, personal photos, family portraits and historic images. They also created a garden of “living sculptures” that feature different species of fruit trees and California native plants.

Fiscal Health Matters:
Can LAUSD Govern Accordingly?

Op-Ed

By Mark Ridley-Thomas

I recently had the opportunity to see Austin Beutner in action as the new superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District when we both visited the Boys Academic Leadership Academy at George Washington Preparatory High School in South L.A.

LAUSD is at a pivotal moment and must take advantage of this change in leadership to avert impending financial disaster. I urge Superintendent Beutner and the Board of Education to join forces to ensure the nation’s second largest school district and its students are thriving.

I recognize that our schools face profound educational challenges, with more than 60 percent of students struggling to read, write and speak fluently, and more than 70 percent struggling with math. Though the district had an 81 percent graduation rate in the previous school year, more than half of its graduates were found ineligible for admission to the UC and CSU systems.

Nevertheless, I remain steadfast in urging LAUSD to make fiscal solvency its top priority.

One might argue that the district doesn’t have a choice. With a deficit projected to surpass $400 million in the upcoming fiscal year, the District may become obligated to spend more outside the classroom than inside it. Unless reforms are implemented, and quickly, that gap will grow even wider. California school districts receive state funding based largely on attendance, and enrollment in the LAUSD has already dropped precipitously, down to 500,000 from a peak of 700,000.

It wasn’t always this way. When I was growing up, engineers in Los Angeles helped put an American on the moon. Whether students want to be engineers, machinists, artists, doctors, teachers or even public servants, they need the basic building blocks of education. When even those are threatened by their school district’s financial instability, even the best academic innovations will fail.

Already, California ranks near states like Mississippi and Alabama – at the bottom of the list – in terms of how much it invests in students. New York City, the nation’s largest school district, provides more than $20,000 per pupil; compare that to just $15,000 in Los Angeles. But matching or even exceeding those numbers would not be enough of a solution, given LAUSD’s structural challenges.

Superintendent Beutner should work closely with the Board to appoint an independent fiscal monitor who will deliver monthly reports and recommend immediate steps to bolster economic stability that can be implemented within the 2018-2019 school year.

As teachers hold the key to our students’ success, I hope Superintendent Beutner will invest in them as well. He should consider teacher residency programs, as well as individualized professional development plans.

Superintendent Beutner should also prioritize improving the curriculum to adapt to the changing economy, and increase access to apprenticeships, paid internships, and specialized instruction that can better prepare students to join the workforce.

I always marvel at how Los Angeles County’s economy – the 17th largest in the world – continues to grow and diversify. The next generation of Angelenos must to be prepared to succeed in emerging job opportunities across all sectors, such as bioscience.

Previous superintendents have wrestled with the district’s grim fiscal reality with varying degrees of success and failure. Some established misguided priorities, while others aimed too low to be deemed truly successful.

Superintendent Beutner must have the courage to make bold decisions in the face of resistance, the business acumen to correct the district’s perilous finances, and an understanding of local culture and politics to carry out the necessary changes.

We cannot continue to do business as usual. We must ensure that future generations of Angelenos are empowered to lead our industries and our communities.

Mr. Superintendent, you now have the job you sought. Now show us how to save the District.

Mark Ridley-Thomas is a former high school teacher and currently serves as a member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.