Education, Arts & Culture

Inspiring Girls to Reach for the Stars

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Photo courtesy of the LA Promise Fund for Public SchoolsStriving to inspire girls to reach for the stars – literally and figuratively – Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas joined Oscar winner Octavia Spencer (“The Help”), Grammy winner Pharrell Williams and Grammy nominee Janelle Monae in screening the acclaimed film Hidden Figures to nearly 10,000 middle and high school girls from across Los Angeles County.

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Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Octavia Spencer. Photo by Martin Zamora/Board of Supervisors

The LA Promise Fund for Public Schools sponsored the screening for Girls Build LA, an initiative that challenges middle and high school girls to better their communities. Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, through a motion approved in September 2016, committed funding from the Board of Supervisors to transport the students from their respective campuses to USC’s Galen Center. He said, “It is important that we empower girls and women to break the glass ceilings that remain, particularly in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).”

Hidden Figures tells the story of African-American women mathematicians at NASA who were instrumental in launching astronaut John Glenn into orbit in the early 1960’s, despite the racial and gender discrimination that existed. Before the screening, Williams told the girls he decided to co-produce the film to “kill that very old school mentality that STEM is made for a male mind.”

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Dr. Knatokie Ford, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Aldis Hodge and Pharrell Williams. Photo courtesy of LA Promise Fund for Public Schools

Spencer, who plays mathematician Dorothy Vaughn in the film, urged the girls to “be what you want to be and don’t allow anyone else to tell you that you can’t.” Her co-star Janelle Monae, who plays engineer Mary Jackson, spoke of how her mother had been a custodian and how she herself used to clean houses to earn money to go school. Monae also appears in Moonlight, which recently won Best Picture – Drama at the Golden Globes. “Take advantage of every opportunity,” she told the girls. “Embrace what makes you unique.”

The girls also listened to the success stories of White House senior science and technology policy advisor Dr. Knatokie Ford and NASA/JPL engineer Dr. Diana Trujillo, an immigrant from Colombia who didn’t know any English and had only $300 in her pocket when she arrived in the U.S. as a teenager, but now is among the leaders of the Curiosity Rover mission to Mars. They also heard inspiring messages from Hidden Figures actor Aldis Hodge, as well as astronaut Dr. Peggy Whitson, who delivered a video message from aboard the International Space Station.

Video courtesy of NBC Los Angeles.

 

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Feeding Families for the Holidays

For the eighth consecutive year, Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas partnered with Golden State Water Company to deliver 200 turkeys to families in need.

“We all deserve a hearty meal and a joyful celebration for the holidays,” said the Supervisor.

Since 1990, Golden State has been donating turkeys to disadvantaged families for the Thanksgiving holiday through a program called “Operation Gobble.” Operation Gobble is a non-denominational and non-partisan undertaking in which the company partners with local elected officials who help direct the donations to community food banks, churches and other non-profit organizations. Throughout November, Golden State delivered more than 10,000 turkeys to families through various organizations and charities in California

The turkeys were delivered to over twenty community organizations who will in turn feed families in need for the holiday. This year Florence Firestone Senior Center, Lennox Senior Center, Asian Senior Center, East Rancho Senior Center, Roosevelt Senior Center, Lynwood Senior Center, Willowbrook Senior Center, Yvonne Burke Senior Center, and L.A. Academy Middle School were among the participating organizations.

“Thanksgiving is a special time for families,” said David Craven a resident of South Los Angeles.

Tennis Courts Named after Venus and Serena Williams

venus-and-serena-7Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas renamed the tennis courts at East Rancho Dominguez Park after two of the sports’ greatest athletes, Venus and Serena Williams, who played there as children.

“East Rancho Dominguez builds champions and we have this community to thank for that,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said at a dedication ceremony attended by both sisters. “Now, we honor two of this park’s most esteemed, successful and inspiring alums, Venus and Serena Williams, who are role models for the youth of this community.”

venus-and-serena-2“We are really excited to be here,” said Serena, who with 22 Grand Slam titles is considered one of the best tennis players of all time. “We definitely want to see some more champions come from these courts.”

“To have the tennis court refurbished, to make sure that there’s coaching available, to make sure that these programs go on, and to make sure that this sport stays here in our community, it’s a big part of bringing us all up and creating positivity for young people,” said Venus, who has seven Grand Slam titles.

venus-and-serena-5Venus and Serena were toddlers when their family moved to Compton in the early 1980s. Both started playing tennis soon thereafter, coached by their parents, Richard and Oracene. They considered the tennis courts at East Rancho Dominguez Park, formerly East Compton Park, as their “home court” until they moved to Florida in the early 1990s to further their athletic careers.

In September 2015, the East Rancho Dominguez Neighborhood Association, then led by Sinetta Farley, launched the campaign to rename the tennis courts after the Williams sisters. “East Rancho Dominguez Park has a youth tennis team that plays on the court. Now they have role models that they can identify with,” Farley said after the dedication ceremony.

LA County Department of Parks and Recreation Director John Wicker added, “The Williams’ sisters are such an inspiration.  With hard work, dedication and perseverance, they have shown that you can reach your dreams. We are so honored they started their successful careers with practices at one of our LA County parks.”

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Improving Child Safety

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The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved reevaluating Los Angeles County’s child risk assessment tool following the death of 11-year-old Yonatan Aguilar in Echo Park.

Supervisors Michael Antonovich and Mark Ridley-Thomas coauthored the motion directing the Office of Child Protection and the Department of Children and Family Services to report in 30 days on the strengths and weaknesses of Structured Decision Making (SDM), a tool to help social workers gauge the likelihood of child abuse.

The motion also called for exploring the effectiveness of other tools, such as predictive analytics and the Approach to Understanding Risk Assessment (AURA) project.

The Board approved a similar review of SDM back in 2009, after the death of 6-year-old Dae’von Bailey. The 2009 motion, authored by Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, stressed a “critical and immediate need to address and ameliorate the situation” to prevent further tragedies. It recommended identifying any breakdown or deficiency in existing policies; reviewing and evaluating the efficacy and utilization of SDM; and comparing social workers’ caseload ratios with optimum staffing practices.

“We understand that no algorithm or software can take the place of a well-trained, observant, and conscientious professional,” Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said. “However, technology and data can refine our accuracy, enhance our decision-making, and expedite our services.”

Supervisor Antonovich said, “This motion will provide an overview of the use of the SDM tool while exploring possible enhancements and alternatives to further support risk assessment for at-risk children. Through these efforts, we anticipate continued improvements to child protection.”

Butterfly Pavilion Opens at NHM

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Completing its own metamorphosis, a new and improved Butterfly Pavilion has opened at the Natural History Museum, delighting visitors of all ages.

“The Butterfly Pavilion is an important way to deliver on an idea that’s important to me and to the Museum – the idea of introducing nature and its stewardship in a fun way,” Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said during opening day ceremonies.

fullsizerender5Located on the south side of the museum, the permanent structure is larger and airier than the outdoor exhibits in previous years . The enclosed habitat has hundreds of butterflies, their colorful wings fluttering above flowers laden with nectar. Some butterflies even alight on visitors, usually those wearing colorful outfits and hats.

Museum staff are on hand to point out monarchs, queens, malachites, mourning cloaks, grey crackers and buckeyes, as well as caterpillars and chrysalises. They can also provide information about metamorphosis and butterfly anatomy.

“The Pavilion is an important part of the museum’s approach to city nature,”said Dr. Lori Bettison-Varga, NHM President and Director.  “It was the first living habitat we had, and as we began to shift to an indoor / outdoor museum, we used a lot of the lessons we learned.”

She added, “We wanted a place that was relaxing and fun, but that also had science at its core – science we could deliver in accessible, friendly ways, to people of all ages and backgrounds, no matter what they thought about nature.”

screen-shot-2016-09-19-at-4-43-17-pmSupervisor Ridley-Thomas said the Butterfly Pavilion is the latest landmark in a place already teeming with them.

“Exposition Park is the heart of the Second District and I am proud that it is the center of culture, science, education, sports, and economic development in our County,” he said.  “It’s an honor to be here on the opening day of the Butterfly Pavilion, which joins USC, the Coliseum, the Space Shuttle, the Rose Garden, the Rams and the new home of the LA Football Club, among Exposition Park’s iconic destinations.”
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