Mohandas Gandhi, who employed nonviolent civil disobedience to win India’s independence from Britain, and who inspired civil rights movements around the world, was assassinated on January 30, 1948. Twenty years later, on April 4, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Nobel Prize winner and the greatest advocate of nonviolent action in the United States, also was killed by an assassin. The influence and example of both leaders live on, however, and for the past 16 years, the 64 day-period between the tragic anniversaries marking their deaths has been designated as the Season for Nonviolence. The world-wide campaign was co-founded in 1998 by the Association for Global New Thought, and Arun and Sunanda Gandhi; Arun Gandhi is Mohandas Gandhi’s grandson.
At its meeting Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors acted unanimously on a motion brought by Board Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas, declaring Jan. 30 through April 4 as the Season for Nonviolence in Los Angeles County. The purpose of the Season for Nonviolence is to put into practice the belief that every person can move the world toward a more peaceful existence through daily nonviolent choices and actions. “The principles of nonviolence are as relevant today as they were in 1948,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “As a disciple of Dr. King’s, I truly believe that changing the world for the better begins by committing to the struggle to improve our lives through direct, powerful and peaceful means.”
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Fifty years to the month when the first Asian American was sworn into the California State Assembly, the late Alfred Hoyun Song received another distinction: the renaming of the Wilshire/Western metro station in his honor. The motion to rename the station, located in the heart of Koreatown, was sponsored by Metro Board Director and Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who said it will serve an as inspiration to not just Korean Americans and Korean immigrants, but to all who overcome enormous challenges and obstacles to serve their communities and the nation with dedication.
“He was a trailblazer in many ways,” said Director Ridley-Thomas. “He made a mark and it is fitting that he be recognized in this way.”
Song’s family was on hand Thursday morning as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board voted on the name change.
“I only wish he were with us today, so he could know that his endeavors are recognized and appreciated,” said Leslie Song Winner, Alfred Song’s daughter, who, along with her two sisters and one brother, witnessed the vote. “It is our hope that young people, high school and college students, will learn of Alfred Song’s achievements and see public service as a worthy calling.”
Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Edmund G. “Pat” Brown Institute of Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles, was also on hand to laud Song’s achievements.
“This will be the first time that a Korean name will be placed on a subway station in Los Angeles and perhaps in the entire country,” said Sonenshein. “This is a decision rich with symbolism and recognition for one of the most dynamic communities of this region.”
Born in Hawaii in 1919 on a sugar plantation, Song was the son of plantation workers who had emigrated from Korea. In 1940 he moved to Los Angeles, studied at the University of Southern California and then as the war broke out, attempted to enlist in the Navy. He was initially turned away, however, because he was not white—or as recruiters put it “not part of Naval tradition.” Eventually he was admitted into officer candidate school with the U.S. Army Air Corps with a letter from the U.S. Department of War directing that he be treated like “any other friendly enemy alien.” Despite these setbacks, he went on to become a second lieutenant.
After the war, Song became a lawyer and went on to have a successful practice. Denied the chance to buy a house in the valley due to discriminatory laws, he moved his family to Monterey Park, and it was there that he became active in civic affairs. After being named to the planning commission, he went on to the city council and then in 1962, raising only $6,000 for his campaign, he was elected to the state assembly. Four years later, he was elected to the state senate, where he served three terms.
While his election preceded the movements of ethnic politics, he was active in fighting for minority rights—in particular outlawing harassment of voters at the polls. He authored a bill creating the office of the state public defender and another bill that overhauled the California Evidence Code, a guide to rules of evidence admissible in court. His crowning achievement, however, was the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act which protected consumers from products that were “lemons,” by attempting to beef up warranties and end misleading advertising. A sign replacement ceremony at the station will take place later this year.
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Isis Attoia, a 15-year-old high school student from Hawthorne, does not walk around his neighborhood at night because he fears he might be shot. This is not mere speculation; relatives of his have been shot. He would like to see an end to gun violence. And so Attoia took time on a recent Saturday to attend the 21st Annual Empowerment Congress Summit Days of Dialogue discussion on gun violence prevention, an event co-sponsored by Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas.
Attoia was one of hundreds who sat around a table s at the University of Southern California and attempted to find solutions to the epidemic of gun violence both here in Los Angeles and across America.
What he heard made him optimistic that he could help lead his friends and fellow students away from violence.
“I will tell my friends not to use guns and I will not use guns,” he said.
The Days of Dialogue initiative is a non-partisan forum founded nearly two decades ago after the civil unrest that erupted in Los Angeles with the Rodney King beating verdict. Spurred by the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut last December, the Days of Dialogue at the Empowerment Congress Summit focused on how communities can band together to end gun violence.
Others like Jerilyn Stapleton of the advocacy group The Peace Alliance, said it was productive to hear the points of view from people of all backgrounds and ages. For example, her baby boomer generation did not grow up playing video games, she said, and she is leery of their influence. Yet she shared her perspective with a young person at her table for whom video games are as familiar and common as records or cassettes were for her. People of all backgrounds, however, seemed to find a common sense of purpose and a lot of agreement, Stapleton said.
“People here understand that gun violence is a public health issue,” she said.
The statistics on gun violence are haunting. In 2010, more than 31,000 Americans died as a result of gun violence. The United States accounts for 5 percent of the world’s population and 35 percent of all civilian gun ownership. A gun in the home makes the likelihood of homicide three times higher, suicide three to five times higher and accidental death four times higher, according to the Children’s Defense Fund.
Participants at the Days of Dialogue forum ranged from high school students to ministers to teachers, all with the objective of asking why gun violence prevention seems controversial, how the Second Amendment relates to gun violence and how individuals could contribute to reducing gun violence. Avis Ridley-Thomas, co-director of UCLA’s Institute for Non-Violence in Los Angeles, moderated the event.
At one table, Michael Harris, an elder at the Metropolitan Church of Christ in Carson, speculated why so many people in the country are resistant to discussing ways to prevent gun violence.
“They don’t see the everyday violence that goes on in our communities,” he said. If they could see it, they would not shrug off the devastating consequences of gun violence for families, neighborhoods and whole communities, he noted. “So, how do we get dialogue?”
But Angeles Echols Brown, a teacher at an Upward Bound Program, said she was not interested in trying to convince the National Rifle Association to discuss reasonable ways to reduce gun violence. She said it was more important to educate people in her community so that solutions could be found on a grassroots level.
“I don’t need to dialogue with the NRA to address what is going on in my community and with my kids,” she said. “We must empower ourselves and bring that to our children.”
Donna Cassyd, a former principal at local continuation school, agreed with Brown.
“We can talk to the NRA but I don’t think they are going to do the right thing,” she said.
Others, however, were ready to take on the gun lobby. Occidental College student Emily Pelz, said the lingering sadness and anger of what happened in Newtown should motivate people to brave the NRA and engage in civic action so that the gun lobby would lose its power.
But the Rev. N.W. Martin of the New Life Institutional Baptist Church took a note of caution. It would not be easy to move the needle.
“The gun lobby is very strong in our state houses and in our Congress,” he said, adding, “This Newtown issue is a watershed moment. If we are ever going to do it, this is the time.”
Pelz said she had recently re-watched Michael Moore’s documentary “Bowling for Columbine,” made in the aftermath of the 1999 Columbine, Colorado school shooting and had felt re-energized.
“This may be naïve,” she said. “Because, yes, the gun lobby has tons of money, but we have voices and the vote. If we make a loud enough racket, maybe we can change things.”
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Standing on a vista in the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook as the sun set over the Pacific Ocean and the Hollywood sign glimmered in the distance, Jesse Clark of Atlanta, Georgia inhaled the cool air. After a week meeting with civic leaders, community activists and policy makers at the Empowerment Congress Leadership Institute in Los Angeles, Clark said he had a realization: illustrated the importance of grassroots organizing, political alliances and community involvement are to creating social change.
Clark is one of 47 community leaders selected to participate in the week-long Empowerment Congress Leadership Institute of 2013, co-sponsored by Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Participants were selected from across the country, from Atlanta to Doña Ana County, New Mexico, to learn how to empower their communities and improve residents’ quality of life. They will take what they learned in Los Angeles and adapt it to their own community’s needs.
Clark and his colleagues from Atlanta are on a quest to revamp the historic district in the city’s Old Fourth Ward. The Old Fourth Ward is home to the Ebenezer Baptist Church and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial—the very seat of the American civil rights movement. Nearby, however, many of the Old Fourth Ward’s factories are becoming lofts, businesses, restaurants and bars. And yet, Boulevard, which runs through the middle of the neighborhood, is a corridor infamous for its Section 8 housing and street drug sales. More than 600 kids, 19 or younger, live along the Boulevard corridor, and almost half of them live below the poverty line. Clark and his colleagues are determined to turn Boulevard into a place worthy of its history.
“Some key elements of this conference struck me in the gut,” said Clark, executive director of the Historic District Development Corporation. “We are not just building projects but we need to include people in the development of ideas.”
The Empowerment Congress Leadership Institute was established to help communities around the country create effective ways of engaging and including residents in civic activities. Throughout the week, the participants joined in panel discussions and presentations as well as a grand tour of Los Angeles, to gin up ideas for improving their own communities.
Clark was joined by Dagmar Epsten, Harold Barnette and several others from Atlanta.
“We have learned that having a powerful political advocate is very helpful indeed,” said Barnette. “We also learned that communities need to get out in front of changes and make their neighborhood look like how they want it.”
In the case of Boulevard, its historically significant landmarks could make it a destination.
“Boulevard has a unique and international draw because of its history,” said Epsten. “We could have a global connection.”
Others learned valuable lessons as well. Police Chief Michael Davis of Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, said he and his team are trying to integrate together the largely immigrant communities from countries in Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America into an Upper Midwestern way of civic life. While Brooklyn Park’s diversity makes it interesting, the differences in language, assumptions about community and variety of cultures also present challenges. Davis and other city leaders have seen divisions sprout up, making their city a community separated by national and ethnic identities. Davis and the team from Brooklyn Park want to change attitudes so that a majority of residents feel they have a stake in their community as a whole.
“When you meet with so many people who are dedicated to making their communities better, you are re-energized,” said Davis. “We have spent a lot of time back home trying to convince people of what we want to do and this ratifies everything we have been saying.”
Mario Leonel Meraz, a community activist in his home of Radium Springs, New Mexico, said he was deeply moved by what he learned. Meraz has been trying to organize his community to establish better working conditions for workers in local factories. He wants to go home and let people know while they must work well and responsibly for companies, they also have rights.
“I am so happy to be here,” he said as he stood on the vista looking out to the Hollywood Hills. “I have learned that together we can become one voice.”
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On the 84th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, plans for the new Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital campus received a thumbs up from the Board of Supervisors , as they unanimously approved the master plan for an expansive health and wellness campus in South Los Angeles. The MLK campus will be at the heart of a web of community wellness resources. It recommends not only expansion of the new hospital and existing Multi-Ambulatory Care Center, but it also urges a new mental health urgent care center, mixed-use retail space, medical office space, connected community gardens, safe pedestrian walkways and recreational facilities to promote wellness and physical activity, among other suggestions.
A priority project for Board Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas, the in-patient hospital is expected to be completed by 2013. The master plan was the result of a year-long community planning process, and was formed with the input of hundreds of residents, civic leaders, business owners and health care advocates.
The master plans is a roadmap, not a hard and fixed requirement, but it seek to anticipate the future direction of healthcare and prepare for that new day. It also lays out a vision for the entire 142-acre Willowbrook community that surrounds the campus.
Off campus, the plan envisions space for school-based health centers, mobile clinics, blood banks, and community health centers to support the work of the MLK campus and provide a more holistic approach to health care. The plan recommends a new health park and a series of connected community gardens, safe pedestrian walkways, and recreational facilities to promote wellness and physical activity. It promotes access to healthier food options and includes space for retail. It also increases access to public transportation.
“I am thrilled with the passage of this master plan,” said the Chairman. “It is our goal to bring a complete and comprehensive network of services—not just a hospital—to South Los Angeles. The planning process was intense and intensive, but it was well worth it. This document will serve as a guide for many years to come as we bring top-notch services to a community that has long waited for quality care.”
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