LA County Hosts First-Ever Hack Day

Los Angeles County hosted its first hack day aimed at engaging, educating, and empowering boys and girls of color to break into the field of Information Technology. South LA Hack Day, was held Saturday, October 24 at the Lennox Library and Constituent Services Center, and coincided with Open Data Week.

“South LA Hack Day encourages innovation by introducing young coders to develop software applications,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. “This kind of outreach will help keep Los Angeles County on the cutting edge of technology.”

HackDayTechnology giants Microsoft, IDEO, CGI and NeoGov led a series of workshops for about 100 youth ages 16-25 about such topics as turning an idea into a product, developing software applications, and launching a career in Information Technology.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, who played a crucial role in making vast troves of County data and records public through the creation of the user-friendly website, hosted the event. He will be joined by representatives from the County’s Department of Human Resources, Public Library, and Office of the Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk, as well as community partners Girl Code LA, Urban Teens Exploring Technology, and Digital LA.

Microsoft led a workshop about mining open data to create software applications, and ZeneHome founder Chris Shafer was among the speakers. A recent graduate of the University of Southern California, Shafer used property data provided by the County to create a real estate web application that helps to educate home owners, brings transparency to the home ownership experience, and optimizes financing options.

“We are heavily utilizing the information provided via the open data initiative to fulfill our mission,” Shafer said. “We are very thankful for this public data.”

Also leading a workshop was IDEO, a design firm whose innovations include Apple’s first mouse and whose next project is updating the County’s voting system. At South LA Hack Day, IDEO asked the junior computer scientists for feedback on how to make voting more accessible to the younger generation. Their input will be integrated into the new voting system.

In a separate workshop, the County Department of Human Resources, NeoGov and CGI  discussed opportunities for launching a young coder’s career in the field of Information Technology. NeoGov is an on-demand human resources company designing software for the public sector. CGI is among the leading independent Information Technology and business services firms in the world.

South LA Hack Day also coincided with Girls Empowerment Month throughout the County, and Supervisor Ridley-Thomas conducted significant outreach to bridge the digital divide. Women represent only 6% of corporate Chief Information Officers but at the event, girls and young women almost half of those registered to participate.

Los Angeles native Dez White is one of the youngest female African-American tech entrepreneurs to invent and launch a suite of apps with her company, Invisible Text. She also founded Girl Code LA, a community partner for Saturday’s event, as way to mentor girl coders.

“I think young women don’t even realize computer sciences are an option,” White said. “I was intimidated at first, and now I’m in love with technology.” White shared her success story with young coders on Saturday.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas has long been a leader in advancing the county’s Information Technology systems and his accomplishments include:

“The future of our county depends on the digital literacy of its residents,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “Bridging the digital divide with diversity will allow Los Angeles County to play a pivotal role as a tech leader in the years ahead.”

Mummies: New Secrets from the Tombs

_DFB2409 (1)Using modern technology to unravel ancient mysteries, the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County mounted Thursday the world premiere of Mummies: New Secrets from the Tombs.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas joined NHM president Dr. Jane Pisano in opening the museum’s newly renovated gallery to exhibit one of the largest collections of mummies in North America, many on display for the first time.

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Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, NHM President Dr. Jane Pisano

“Giving visitors a chance to explore rare and ancient Egyptian and Peruvian mummies reflects the educational mission of the museum, which the county is so proud to support,” he said.

“Exhibits such as these can and do have a huge impact on visitors, especially young Angelenos who may be inspired to pursue science and a lifelong love of learning,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas added.

On loan from The Field Museum in Chicago, the exhibition will open to the general public Sept. 18 through Jan. 8. It consists of 19 mummies, including one of the oldest in the world, excavated from pre-dynastic through Roman-era Egypt and pre-Incan Peru.

Dr. Pisano said NHM “couldn’t be prouder to be the first institution in the country to share these mummies, many of them tucked safely away in vaults for over a century.”

Screen Shot 2015-09-10 at 12.47.53 PM“What is really extraordinary about this exhibit is that it will allow visitors to investigate the mummies with new technology, revealing how ancient peoples ingeniously prepared their loved ones for the journey into the afterlife – but also, and more exciting, their daily lives, beliefs, and rituals,” she added.

Using CAT scans and other noninvasive techniques, scientists and curators were able to virtually unwrap the fragile mummies and make 3D printed casts of the skulls, bones and artifacts inside, leading to new discoveries.

“Hidden away for centuries, these alluring and mysterious mummies can now be experienced in depth in a scientific, cultural and highly personal context,” said Richard Laviere, president and CEO of The Field Museum.

Replica skulls of specimens dubbed “The Gilded Lady” and “Minirdis” were subjected to forensic facial reconstruction, giving visitors a chance to gaze at the face of a middle-aged woman and a teenage boy born thousands of years ago.

Also on display were archaeological treasures such as sarcophagus fragments, canopic jars with preserved organs, animal mummies — including one of a small crocodile — and pottery for bringing food and beer into the afterlife.

Mummies: New Secrets from the Tombs will travel to other museums and science centers throughout the country before returning to The Field Museum in Chicago in 2018.

Preschool Teacher of the Year

Screen Shot 2015-06-03 at 1.40.04 PMAfter more than a quarter-century as a preschool teacher, Darla Pulliam has taught many children how to master their A-B-C’s, 1-2-3’s, play nice and share.

That’s all very important, of course, but it’s not the reason she was chosen as the Second District’s 2015 Los Angeles Universal Preschool (LAUP) Teacher of the Year.

With motherly devotion, the Culver City Unified School District Office of Child Development teacher and curriculum liaison has been able to drill into her very young students a powerful lesson that should carry them far in life – she taught them to believe in themselves.

Screen Shot 2015-06-03 at 1.52.58 PM“I want to instill in children an I-can-do-anything attitude as they discover the world around them,” Pulliam said in an interview with CCUSD.

That was evident on a recent day at the campus playground, when her entire class, squealing with excitement, gave her a group hug and then, together, chanted: “Can we do it? Yes, we can!”

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas paid tribute to Pulliam in a ceremony at the Hall of Administration. “By recognizing that preschool is the foundation for all education, you are giving the children of the Second District a better chance at a successful future,” he told her.

Pulliam was not much older than her students when she first decided to become an early education teacher, inspired by her mother, who operated a day care from home.

“I feel blessed that I’ve always known what my calling is in life,” Pulliam said in a video prepared by LAUP.  “The best part of the day for me is seeing the light in the children’s eyes – and their smile, because it warms my soul.”

“Darla is a great teacher, she is exceptional, she is gentle,” said Susan Stolting, a parent. “My son comes out (of preschool every day) happy that he has achieved a lot for himself, for his self-esteem – he’s much more independent now. It’s such a relief to know he’s in good hands.”

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.

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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.”