Free Movie Nights All Summer

Monteith Park MRT Movie Night 4

CREDIT: Los Angeles County Department of Parks And Recreation

Watch movies by moonlight all summer long – it’s family-friendly fun, and free too!

Starting the first weekend of June, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation will screen such blockbusters as Big Hero 6 and Maleficent at community parks throughout the Second District.

Monteith Park MRT Movie Night 3

CREDIT: Los Angeles County Department of Parks And Recreation

With MRT’s Free Movie Nights, kids and kids-at-heart can enjoy family-friendly flicks at their nearest park, screened on a large projector with multiple speakers. There’s even free popcorn!

Families simply need to bring portable chairs, warm blankets, and other snacks.

All the movies start at sunset. The list includes Big Hero 6 at Bethune Park; Maleficent at Hellen Keller Park ; Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory at Victoria Park on July 9; Annie at Del Aire Park on July 16; and The Boxtrolls at Mona Park on July 18.

For further information, call (310) 965-8630.

FINAL 2015 Summer Movie Flyer - FINAL

Movie crowd 1

CREDIT: Los Angeles County Department of Parks And Recreation

Shakespeare in the House


The cast of Twelfth Night. Credit: Inner City Shakespeare Ensemble and EMW Designs

“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them,” William Shakespeare wrote in his immortal comedy, Twelfth Night. To at-risk youth from the Second District who are performing the play at several county parks in May, it’s not just another line to memorize – it’s a reason to hope.

Many of the Inner City Shakespeare Ensemble’s cast members are in foster care, entangled in gangs, struggling with poverty, even homelessness. But the fledgling theater company enables them to look past their circumstances and discover, as the Bard put it, a brave new world.

“Having grown up in Compton myself, I know these kids need a guide,” said Ensemble artistic director Melanie Andrews, Ph.D.

“We teach them not to be afraid of going beyond what’s expected of them,” she added. “I want these kids to someday have jobs that require saying more than, ‘Do you want fries with that?’”

The Ensemble began in 2010 when the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Los Angeles partnered with the county Department of Parks and Recreation and the students at George Washington Preparatory high school in Watts to stage Romeo & Juliet.


BAFTA LA executive director Donald Haber, with Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas

Inner City Shakespeare complemented Inner City Cinema, BAFTA-LA’s free movie screening program at 10 parks throughout the Second District, initiated in 2005. Recently, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas honored the academy’s longtime executive director and chief operating 0fficer Donald Haber for his and the academy’s contributions to the community, a few days before his retirement.

“The residents of Los Angeles County are grateful for the spirit of service you have brought to all these endeavors, specially in the Second District.” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas told Mr. Haber and BAFTA -LA during a ceremony at the Hall of Administration. “I give you a heartfelt ‘thank you’ for all the fun, the pleasure, and the fulfillment of dreams that you have brought to our community. ”

“Throughout this journey, different stakeholders and organizations came together and worked together,” Mr. Haber said. “But it was community that really did all the heavy lifting – they were just spectacular in the way they united to make sure their kids had a safe place to come to.”

Performing 16th century prose and poetry would be difficult for anyone, but particularly for teenagers who had grown up texting OMGs and emojis, and were already burdened with abuse, neglect, and other problems.

“We had one kid who could barely read, but the other kids thought he had stage presence so they helped him until he got the words,” recalled Ensemble producer and BAFTA LA board member Paul Heller, whose previous credits include the Oscar Best Picture nominee, My Left Foot, and Enter the Dragon, which starred Bruce Lee.


The cast of The Taming of the Shrew. Credit: Inner City Shakespeare Ensemble

These days, Mr. Heller’s station wagon is loaded with set pieces from The Taming of the Shrew, which the Ensemble is staging at various count parks this month, along with Twelfth Night.

“I’m 87 now, so I doubt I’ll make any more movies,” Mr. Heller said. “It’s time for me to give back, and one of the reasons I love working with the kids is the hugs they give me – I think it’s what keeps me young.”

Dr. Andrews, along with fellow volunteers, also raised funds and mentored the cast over months of rehearsals to accomplish more than they ever thought they could.

“A lot of times these days, kids get trophies just for showing up, but I don’t allow my students to not be perfect with their lines,” she said. “They learn discipline and professionalism and working with people of different races and religions, so we get to see them grow – not only as actors but as people.”

The Ensemble’s members have a 100 percent high school graduation rate, and 85 percent go on to college. This year, it worked with students from Hollywood High and other local schools to stage nine performances, including at Victoria Park on May 16, and Ted Watkins Park on May 23 and 24. All are free to the public, but donations are welcome.

Two alumni from previous productions have moved on to Broadway, opening for the musical Amazing Grace this summer. Their fellow cast member, Thomas Carlton, now 20, is also pursuing a career as a professional actor.

“They’re a blessing,” he said of the Ensemble. “They save lives, they’re heroes, and I thank them.”


Finding Harmony on the Other Side of the World

VIDEO CREDIT: Brian Lauritzen, at, and Classical KUSC

Their bags packed with flutes, violas and other instruments, several teenagers from Los Angeles County’s Second District ventured far away from home in March to make music – and to make friends – in Japan.

All are students of Youth Orchestra Los Angeles (YOLA), a program led by Los Angeles Philharmonic Music Director Gustavo Dudamel to provide free musical training, instruments and academic support to those ages 6-17 who wouldn’t otherwise have access to it.


CREDIT: Brian Lauritzen at, and Classical KUSC

Bianca, a 16-year old violinist with YOLA at EXPO, based at Exposition Park in South Los Angeles, was eager to harmonize with fellow musicians her age from the other side of the world.

“Music has the ability to transcend barriers in order to bring together people of all different socio-economic backgrounds,” she said.

Kevin, a 13-year-old who plays the tuba, was eager to broaden his horizons while honing his musical skills at YOLA at HOLA, the nonprofit organization Heart of Los Angeles in the Rampart District. 

 “YOLA… not only  gave me important life skills that helped me, but also helped me befriend people that I might not have even realized existed on this planet,” he said.

Bianca and Kevin were among 15 YOLA students ages 13-17 who traveled to Tokyo and Soma in the Fukushima Prefecture from March 24-30 to meet young Japanese musicians training under El Sistema Japan, which is based on the famous musical education program in Venezuela where Mr. Dudamel trained as a child.


YOLA students proudly displaying their commendations from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, arranged by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. CREDIT: Leni Boorstin

Before their trip, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas gave each of the students a commendation.

“I congratulate these young musicians for their outstanding hard work and dedication to excellence,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said.

YOLA Manager Rebecca Sigel said the American and Japanese teenagers should be able to find common ground not only in the music they play but also in their coming-of-age struggles and triumphs.

She said many of the Japanese students began to play instruments in the aftermath of the 2011 tsunami that devastated their coastal city. As a tribute to them, YOLA performed Mozart’s Ave Veram Corpus, which Sigel described as “a piece about creating something beautiful in the aftermath of loss.” She added it was El Sistema Japan’s unofficial anthem. 

“Our students have struggles and successes here in Los Angeles – for some, there are more struggles than successes – but that’s going to be the case for students in Fukushima too, only in a completely different context,” Sigel said. “The music is going to be the thing that joins them.”


CREDIT: Brian Lauritzen at, and Classical KUSC

The trip was held in conjunction with the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Asia Tour, and Mr. Dudamel rehearsed with the students.

Aside from rehearsals and concerts, the itinerary for the YOLA students’ almost week-long visit to Japan included cultural exchanges and sightseeing tours. To prepare for their 8,000-mile journey, they visited Little Tokyo in downtown Los Angeles to learn about Japanese culture, customs and traditions, including the tea ceremony and origami.

The students made paper cranes, strung them together, and gave them as gifts to their hosts in Japan as a symbol of happiness, peace and long life. But for Daniel, a 17-year-old flutist with YOLA at EXPO, the tour itself was a gift.

“What YOLA has taught me is that young people everywhere are ready to explode with a creative potential that they might not even know is in them,” Daniel said. “By giving them something into which to channel that magma of creativity out of their cores, you can unleash an ambition-chasing initiative from within that will carry them far in life.”

YOLA currently trains about 600 students in three locations: YOLA, HOLA and the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts. Those bound for Japan underwent a rigorous selection process similar to a college application. YOLA previously sent delegations to Boston, where students met the famous cellist Yo-Yo Ma, and to London, where they performed Tchaikovsky’s Romeo & Juliet Fantasy-Overture.


YOLA students from Los Angeles County’s Second District take a “selfwe” with fellow young musicians in Japan. CREDIT: Brian Lauritzen at, and Classical KUSC

Turning Bookmarks into Works of Art

Bookmark Contest

Click for more pictures.


To some, a bookmark is merely utilitarian – a strip of cardboard to keep you on the right page. Not so for Maeva Dubuche, Karma Griggs, Sierra Irby and Cheyenne Daniels.

With a handful of crayons and markers, plus a dash of creativity, the young students each turned a bookmark into a work of art.

Their whimsical creations made them winners of the Los Angeles County Public Library’s 35th Annual Bookmark Contest in the Second District, with the theme Dream in Color!.

During the awards ceremony at the Los Angeles County Hall of Administration, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas thanks the students for their hard work and emphasized the importance of reading and education.

“Reading is a way to visit new places and learn new ideas,” he said. “I am very proud of these students for their effort to achieve excellence and their love of reading.”

Maeva Dubuche, a second grader whose favorite subject is math, created her bookmark at the Culver City Julian Dixon Library. She dreams of becoming a teacher and, when not in school, she can be found riding her bike or in karate class.

Fourth-grader Karma Griggs created her bookmark at the View Park Library, plays the piano, likes to dance, and she dreams of becoming a doctor. Seventh-grader Sierra Erbee made her bookmark at the Wiseburn Library in Hawthorne. With social studies as her favorite subject, and a participant in her school’s Honor Society and the Girl Scouts, she aspires to become a journalist.

Cheyenne Daniels created her bookmark at the Lynwood Library. The eighth-grader’s favorite subjects are math and science, but she also enjoys drawing and pole vaulting.

Teens Explore Technology

After graduating from college, Oscar Menjivar, a computer science professional who grew up in South LA, returned to Watts to teach. Out of the 60 kids in his class, only five were familiar with coding. He was determined to change that.

And so, Menjivar founded Teens Exploring Technology (TxT), an organization that encourages inner city teenagers to use technology as a tool for promoting positive development and leadership, as a path to higher education and eventually a career in sciene, technology, engineering or math related fields.

“I knew we needed to bridge the digital divide,” he said. “We needed to bring confidence to young people of color.”

Geek hours at the “Cube”

Today, he has more than 50 students from high schools around the South Los Angeles area who ride their bikes, take the bus or walk to the 750 square-foot location he calls the “cube” on West Adams Boulevard or to USC, where they hold their summer academies. They are there every day (even on Saturdays) from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. doing homework, learning to code, building websites and creating apps. Menjivar sees this as more than a techie endeavor.

“They learn life skills here,” he said, looking around proudly at the tiny office space with ceiling tiles brightly colored in orange, blue and green. TXT partners with USC, Google, IBM and the Annenberg Foundation for funding and resources.


Teens explore technology at the TxT “Cube”

The students embrace their inner geek by competing for “Geek Hours—“ whoever spends the most time at the cube, earns a gift card or movie tickets. The teens love the taste of success. When 200 people downloaded Xavier Clark’s SAT app, he couldn’t believe it.

“It felt great to see that happen,” said Clark, a 17-year-old at View Park Prep High School. “I believed more in my dreams when that happened. If I say I can do it and put in the time and work, then things can happen for me.”

Kenia Cruz, 22, was one of the first students to join TxT six years ago when it began—and one of the few females. She recently graduated from UC Santa Barbara but came back to help train the next generation of tech leaders. She said TxT was invaluable in her education.

TxT Founder Menjivar speaks with LA County CIO Sanchez and LA County CDO Fahani

“I pushed myself a lot. I learned to think logically, have patience, to trouble shoot and find solutions to a problem,” she said. “We are giving kids the tools they need with whatever they want to do in their lives.”

The program could lead to potential collaboration with Los Angeles County, said Ali Farahani, chief data officer for Los Angeles County, who visited TxT in December with Richard Sanchez, the county’s chief information officer.

“I was very impressed by the caliber and talent level of the program participants and the vision and passion that Oscar has for this program,” said Farahani, noting that as part of a partnership students could create apps or bring innovative ideas to improve services in LA County.  “It is a model for other students and a positive environment to grow in and get involved in technology.”