Advancement Project Receives Award for Gang Intervention

The Advancement Project's Urban Peace Academy develops teams of trained professionals who will together respond to and reduce gang  violence in "hot zone" communities.

The Advancement Project’s Urban Peace Academy develops teams of trained professionals who will together respond to and reduce gang violence in “hot zone” communities.

The Advancement Project’s Urban Peace Academy, which has worked to reduce gang violence in many neighborhoods throughout Los Angeles County, received the 2015 John Anson Ford Human Relations award for their efforts from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

Since their founding in 2008, the academy has trained more than 2,400 individuals – many of them at-risk youths and current or former gang members – on how to negotiate gang truces, discourage retaliatory shootings, and quell rumors that lead to violence.

Its trained staff also works with law enforcement officers, emergency room staff, school safety personnel, and various government agencies and nonprofit organizations, resulting in improved collaboration, shared accountability for public safety, and effective community policing.

“The academy’s innovative approach gives neighborhoods a chance to thrive,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. “Through this work, the academy also creates employment opportunities for at-risk youth and current or former gang members.”

Many graduates of the academy’s rigorous 14-week training course have gone on to work for the cities of Los Angeles and Long Beach’s Summer Night Lights programs, which keep parks and recreation centers open until almost midnight during the summer months. By holding sports tournaments and other activities, Summer Night Lights provides an alternative to gang involvement, as well as links to wraparound services.

“We work with former gang members to help develop the skills to engage active gang members to reduce violence,” said Fernando Rejon, deputy director of Urban Peace for the Advancement Project. “We also train law enforcement officers on how to engage with gang intervention workers, and how to engage in community policing strategies that are more effective for community safety.”

The academy’s innovative techniques are now being emulated by other cities in California, as well as in Columbus, Ohio; Memphis, Tennessee; and Seattle, Washington.

Board Approves Historic Preservation Ordinance


The Denker Estate, a designated historic site by the City of Los Angeles at 3820 West Adams Boulevard.

Acting on a motion by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to adopt a Historic Preservation Ordinance that allows property owners to seek historic designation of their properties, to create historic districts in communities, and to designate landmarks within unincorporated communities.

Specifically, the new ordinance provides another means for property owners to be eligible for the Mills Act, a state law that authorizes cities and counties to forge contracts with owners, giving them a property tax discount on the condition that the savings be used towards the preservation, restoration and maintenance of their historically important property.

The properties must be listed on the National Register of Historic Places or the California Register, or be located within designated historic districts in order to be considered. This new ordinance provides property owners with the most efficient way to be eligible for the property tax break.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas pointed out that unincorporated communities have many historically significant places, including the remnants of ranchos, the routes of early explorers, and the homes and businesses of prominent people who shaped local history.

“With the Historic Preservation Ordinance, the owners of these properties can become better stewards of their legacy,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “The County has not had a system in place to encourage the preservation of these assets and this program will strengthen community ties and support economic and cultural revitalization. This will allow local communities to celebrate and showcase the County’s rich cultural, social, political and architectural history.”

The Los Angeles Conservancy also voiced support for the new ordinance.

“Communities have long waited for a tool like this to preserve and protect the historic places that matter to them,” said the conservancy’s advocacy director, Adrian Scott Fine.

Looking Beyond Disabilities

A working mom, Maisha Hughes worried about sending her 9-year-old daughter Asantewa to an after school program. Asantewa has autism and finding the right program was always a challenge—until she connected with AbilityFirst, a non-profit organization that provides programs for adults and children with disabilities.

Not only is the AbilityFirst center on Crenshaw Boulevard brand new, it is literally around the corner from Hughes’ home in Inglewood.

“It has been very helpful and convenient,” said Hughes. “If it wasn’t for AbilityFirst, I wouldn’t have another option. I am extremely blessed to have this.”

6,500 square foot Joan and Harry A. Mier Center

During the week, a school bus drops off children at the brand new 6,500 square foot Joan and Harry A. Mier Center after school where they can socialize, play outdoors, cook in a chef’s kitchen, draw, paint and even swim at the new indoor pool.

The center and its swimming pool is the only one of its kind serving children who live in South Los Angeles, Inglewood, Hawthorne and Gardena. During the summer, the center offers full day activities such as swimming lessons and even going to the movies.

“For more than 88 years, we have been looking beyond disabilities, focusing on capabilities, and expanding possibilities,” said Lori Gangemi, President and CEO of AbilityFirst. “We offer a broad range of programs and services to help children and adults with physical and developmental disabilities realize their full potential throughout their lives.”

AbilityFirst has 25 locations, including 10 group homes, three work centers, one camp for adults and children with disabilities, eight community centers and an Ability First Employment Services office.

“Simply put, AbilityFirst’s enrichment programs are first rate,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, whose office contributed $50,000 to complete the building and has a courtyard named in his honor. “They focus on what is possible and that philosophy has changed the lives of countless people with disabilities and their families. It has been a pleasure supporting them.”

Crenshaw/LAX worker is First Lady’s special guest

Photo: Courtesy of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority

Photo: Courtesy of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority

When LeDaya Epps imagines the completed 8.5-mile Crenshaw/LAX rail line, she will be able to brag to her three children that she helped build it. As one of the few women on the project, Epps is also especially proud that she was born and raised in Compton, a city that will benefit greatly from the new rail line. And now she can also tell her children that through her work, she met President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama as their special guest at the State of the Union address on Tuesday.

Epps, who sat in First Lady Michelle Obama’s viewing box at the U.S. Capitol, is a living example of Los Angeles County’s innovative hiring policy for construction projects.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Project Labor Agreement and Construction Careers Policy is the first of its kind for a transit agency. It requires that 40 percent of workers hired must come from low-income neighborhoods, and that 10 percent must be disadvantaged – meaning they meet at least two of nine criteria, such as being veterans or homeless or chronically unemployed.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who is on Metro’s Board of Directors, has been a leading advocate of innovative hiring policies for Los Angeles County-related construction projects, including the recently completed Martin Luther King Jr. Outpatient Center in Willowbrook where 23-year-old Blair Martin found employment.

 A recent analysis determined that $5.9-billion in publicly funded projects in the 2nd Supervisorial District alone have created about 41,000 jobs.

“Nothing uplifts a person more than work,” Ridley-Thomas said. “If we invest in people, they will feel empowered and a part of their community. And that is a win-win.”

Epps, the youngest of 11 children, graduated from high school but did not go on to college. She did not find steady employment until she went to a job fair, met a representative of the LA Black Worker Center, and signed up for a rigorous boot camp to become an apprentice laborer. She was one of only two women who completed the program.

The $2-billion Crenshaw/LAX rail line that Epps is helping to build will connect the Expo and Green Lines near the airport, with eight stations serving the Crenshaw District, Inglewood, and Westchester. Funded by Measure R, the half-cent sales tax approved by LA County voters, the project is scheduled for completion in 2019.

Epps said she was always interested in construction but never dreamed, as a child growing up in foster care, that she would have the opportunity to work on a project like the Crenshaw/LAX line.

“I always liked building things but, being a woman, I thought this was something I could never do,” Epps said. “Now I’m learning new skills and I’m looking forward to building a career as a laborer and being able to provide for myself and my family.”

Empowerment Congress Draws Crowds

More than 1,500 people – from ordinary citizens to elected officials, academic, religious and business leaders – gathered at USC’s Bovard Auditorium on Saturday to take part in the 23rd annual Empowerment Congress.

With the theme, 50 Years Later: Chaos or Community, the summit shone a spotlight on pivotal civil rights events in 1965 and their continuing relevance today.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas stressed it was ordinary citizens doing extraordinary deeds who won passage of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965.

“They made it happen for us,” Ridley-Thomas said of the men and women who risked their lives to march with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., from Selma to Montgomery to demand the right to vote. “When we use our rights to advance community interests and increase civic engagement, we can secure victories such as a new train station at Leimert Park, the rebirth of a new MLK Medical Center campus, civilian oversight of the Sheriff’s Department and much more. If we stay on course, we can do tremendous things.”

The prominent author and academic, Cornel West, served as keynote speaker at the plenary session.

“Oh how beautiful it is to have all of us together,” he told the crowd. “It’s so rare in America for us to have a coming together, across race, across culture, even across class, trying to keep track of our fundamental humanity.”

Supervisor Hilda Solis, who also attended the plenary session, said, “Dr. King’s legacy should serve as a reminder to our communities that empowerment is still the first step on the march to justice.”

Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell talked about ways the community can work together with law enforcement to prevent crime. He said there should be less focus on suppression, and more on addressing the underlying causes of crime.

The plenary session also included a spoken word performance by the award-winning young poets of Get Lit, a nationally recognized organization created to reach at-risk teens.

After the plenary session, participants attended forums on such issues as jail diversion programs, the fight against child sex trafficking, and the push for a living wage.

Get Lit’s Belissa Escobedo, 16, found the experience inspiring. “I think a lot of times, for a lot of youth, it’s difficult to be part of your community and be socially aware of what’s going on,” she said. “For me, being here was very empowering.”

The Empowerment Congress was born in the aftermath of the civil unrest in Los Angeles in 1992. Ridley-Thomas, then a Los Angeles City Councilman, wanted to create a model of civic engagement based on the principles of participatory democracy, reciprocal accountability and intentional civility. Now in its 23rd year, the Empowerment Congress is considered a forerunner to the neighborhood council movement nationwide.

 Below are videos of the 23rd Empowerment Congress Summit: