Education, Arts & Culture

Breaking Ground on Vermont Manchester to Build the SEED School of Los Angeles

Joined by cheering community members and other stakeholders, Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and LA Metro CEO Phillip A. Washington broke ground on the Vermont Manchester Transit Priority Project, which will dramatically transform a dirt lot the size of two city blocks that has been blighted for almost 30 years.

After acquiring the property through eminent domain in 2018, LA County, Metro, and their partners are kicking off the first phase of the development: SEED School of Los Angeles County (SEED LA), the state’s first public boarding high school. The second phase will include building 180 affordable apartments, a Metro Job and Innovation Center, and community-serving retail stores.

SEED LA will focus on serving some of the most at-risk students from South LA and elsewhere in LA County, to prepare them for college and beyond. The 147,000-sq. ft. campus will include 170 dorm rooms, 20 staff apartments, 20 classrooms, an art studio, science labs, a maker space lab, administration space, conference rooms, a gymnasium, a dining hall, outdoor recreation space, courtyards and a rooftop garden.

The inaugural class of SEED LA students will arrive in August 2022.

“This community has waited far too long for meaningful change,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. “But real change is finally here, with SEED LA to be followed by new homes, shops, a transit hub and job training opportunities. An empty lot that once represented chronic disinvestment is about to be transformed into a landmark of educational opportunity, economic development, and hope.”

“Our region’s transit system is undergoing a once-in-a-generation transformation — presenting an immense opportunity for Angelenos to take part in building a more connected, more sustainable, more prosperous future,” said LA Mayor and Metro Board Chair Eric Garcetti. “With Measure M, the Los Angeles area will see hundreds of thousands of new jobs in the decades ahead, and the SEED school will connect students to these possibilities and place them on a path to successful, long-lasting careers in the transportation industry.”

“A first-class education is invaluable and puts young people on a path to successful futures,” said Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson. “This SEED school will ensure students that will benefit from a 24-hour learning environment have access to it without needing to leave the South LA community.”

SEED LA’s five-day-a-week, 120-hour public boarding school model is built on giving students the “Gift of Time” to focus on their education in a stable, safe environment with a host of wrap-around support services. The SEED Foundation’s three boarding school campuses on the east coast graduate students who enroll in college at a rate of 94 percent and go on to complete college at nearly 4 times the national rate for comparable low-income, first-generation students.

Through a unique partnership with LA Metro and LA County, and with the generous support of cornerstone donors, Dr. Natasha and Brandon Beck, SEED LA is not only committed to preparing students for college, but also exposing students to a range of professional careers within the broader transportation and infrastructure sectors. This will include interdisciplinary courses in STEM fields, a mentorship program connecting students to industry professionals, internships at Metro and with industry partners, and field trips both locally and globally to give students a deeper understanding and appreciation for the infrastructure we all rely on each day.

“All over this country, infrastructure projects are being designed, built and managed in underserved communities by people who are neither indigenous to these communities nor reflective of these communities’ demographics,” said Metro CEO Phillip A. Washington. “Investing in the education of underserved children of color will bring transformational change to both SEED LA students and the communities they will contribute to in the future.”

“SEED schools change the lives of the students they serve and uplift the communities they call home,” shared Dr. Natasha and Brandon Beck, the project’s cornerstone donors. “We are honored to support the visionary team that is bringing this game-changing model to Los Angeles. The seeds we are planting today will bear tremendous fruit not just for our graduates, but for the entire region.”

SEED LA will serve 400 students in grades 9-12 selected through an admissions lottery weighted to prioritize resilient youth such as students experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity, have an incarcerated family member, or have had contact with the foster care, child protection, or juvenile justice system.

“So why a public boarding school rather than college readiness, college access, and college completion?” asked Lesley Poole, CEO of the SEED Foundation. “Because SEED goes further. SEED’s five-day-a-week, 120-hour public boarding school exists to plant, water, and nurture what all humans deeply long to know, that we matter and that we belong. SEED exists to double down on what all parents say to their children, “You are beautiful, you can achieve all things, and you have a place and purpose in this world.”

“SEED LA provides a powerful double bottom line: improved outcomes for at-risk students and the transformation of an abandoned part of the city into a vibrant center of urban redevelopment,” said ExED President and CEO Anita Landecker, who helped bring the SEED Foundation to L.A. “This project will unlock the door of privilege to students who have been locked out – and reinvigorate communities long left behind.”

This monumental development is taking place because the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors took the extraordinary step of acquiring the 4.2-acre property at the corner of Vermont and Manchester Avenues through eminent domain in 2018. The dirt lot has been vacant since the 1992 civil unrest.

Improvements will be completed in two phases. The first phase will commence immediately, with utility upgrade work followed by the construction of the SEED LA campus on the northern side of the property. The second phase, located on the northeast corner of the property, is anticipated to begin in 2021. It will include 180 affordable apartments, 55,000 square feet of community-serving retail, a transit plaza and a Metro-operated Job and Innovation Center. The mixed-used project is being developed by Primestor, Bridge Housing and the Coalition for Responsible Community Development.

Latino Heritage Month Spotlight: Twin Artists Take Twinning to a New Level

Nothing can come “betwin” these two sisters.

This Latino Heritage Month, we are recognizing two talented sisters, Arielle and Zoe Hernandez. Born and raised in Compton California, the two recently graduated from Compton College with a passion for designing diverse characters and creating content that people of all backgrounds can relate to.

“Latino Heritage Month to me, is a really good way to show everyone that they matter to this world and that the Latin culture is very beautiful. We as people, are loved, and our culture is celebrated,” said Zoe Hernandez

Cut from the same cloth, with a passion for the arts and culture is just one of the many things these sisters have in common.

“Having a twin sister, who shares my interests is a very empowering thing because they always say two is better than one, and in this case, it really helps me. We share our ideas and develop our ideas together and I think that’s amazing,” said Zoe Hernandez.

As they continue to take the proper steps to advance their artistic careers, Zoe and Arielle have no intentions of slowing down any time soon. While they both earned associate degrees from Compton Community College with an emphasis in arts and humanities, the artists plan to transfer to a university together to major in arts or animation in Spring 2021. Recently, the twins received acceptance letters from the University of Southern California and Otis College of Art and Design. They plan to take the fall semester off to research and apply to more universities, especially those with character design programs.

The saying, “It takes a village” couldn’t be truer, as these ladies owe all their success to their strong support system.

“I just encourage them to follow their dreams, so to hear that they got accepted at USC—it brought me to tears. We have hopes, our fingers are crossed, and I know that their artistic creativity will take them to the top,” said their mother, Marina Hernandez.

As they branch out into the world of the unknown amidst a pandemic, the Hernandez twins are unsure what the future will bring. However, the sisters are extremely hopeful for whatever lies ahead, especially as they know they always have each other. And we know that Zoe and Arielle Hernandez are truly destined for greatness.

“People give Compton a negative connotation which I do not appreciate, because this college has offered me and my sister so many opportunities. I feel like if I didn’t go to this college, I would not be as enthusiastic as I am with my goals and my career. It was fate that I came here with my sister,” said Arielle Hernandez.

 

 

Creating A New Vision for Park Safety

As one of the largest public park systems in the nation that provides critical access to green space for millions of residents, the Board of Supervisor has taken steps to implement a community-informed public safety strategy for County Parks in the face of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) budget curtailments. This unanimously approved motion aims to prioritize a more equitable, safety-focused, anti-racist framework to reducing the harm caused by an over-reliance on law enforcement in our parks, and makes further investments in alternative crisis response and violence prevention strategies.

“Investing in parks, and the programming that occurs within these spaces, must be a critical part of our approach to promoting an anti-racist and more equitable Los Angeles County. However, we must also acknowledge that these spaces and services will only improve the quality of life for our residents if they are delivered in a safe and trauma-informed manner,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas “Given the Sheriff’s recent decision to curtail the Parks Services Bureau entirely, there is an immediate need to put a holistic and community-informed strategy in place so our parks can remain safe spaces for the community.”

Authored by Supervisors Ridley-Thomas and Janice Hahn, the motion authorizes the Acting Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and the Director of the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) to address the resulting gap in public safety services caused by Sheriff Villanueva’s threat to close the Parks Services Bureau, and report back with alternative solutions, including the implementation of alternative crisis response staffing.

“Public safety is our priority, and it is our job to make sure that our parks stay safe for everyone,” said Supervisor Janice Hahn. “But public safety looks different for different people. I look forward to seeing the options provided in this report back.

“The Chief Executive Office is working closely with our departmental partners to make sure our residents can safely enjoy their parks,” said Acting Chief Executive Officer Fesia Davenport. “These are treasured green spaces where residents can enjoy recreation and nature, and we are committed to developing innovative short- and long-term approaches to ensure that residents’ quality of life is maintained and enhanced.”

“Parks make life better – but they can only do so if they are safe spaces – and we are committed to working with the families and stakeholders we serve to make sure that we continue to evolve and strengthen our strategies for community-focused policing strategies to ensure that is the case,” said Norma Edith García-González, Director of County of Los Angeles Department of Parks and Recreation.

“Parks are supposed to be spaces of safety and recreation and yet our communities are often on edge because of Sheriff presence and violence that occurs in our neighborhoods, including our local parks,” said Mark-Anthony Johnson, Founder of Frontline Wellness Network. “Moving resources out of the Sheriff’s budget and into the community will ensure that we protect our parks as safe havens for services while building our ability to respond to crisis and harm with strategies that build community and affirm life.”

Since 2009, LASD has provided community policing through its Parks Services Bureau. However, recently, the Sheriff has threatened to eliminate the program entirely and reallocate funds elsewhere despite the Board’s action to fund the budgetary gap. As a result, the Board is also calling for appropriate fiscal safeguards to be instituted to ensure that any funds provided to LASD to fund park services be used for the intended purpose.

Strengthening Democracy Through Girls Empowerment

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and former LA County CEO Sachi Hamai at the 2018 Girls Build Summit.

In this moment of deep consequence, every effort to remove barriers to voting and to provide opportunities for success is instrumental in ensuring a better future for LA County residents. Recognizing the role that girls and young women have in advancing efforts to preserve democracy and support others to become civically engaged, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas introduced a motion co-authored with Supervisor Sheila Kuehl support the “Girls Build” initiative (Girls Build)  and declares October 2020 as Girls Empowerment Month throughout the County of Los Angeles. 

It is our obligation to lead our communities through this moment that includes COVID-19, the resulting economic downturn, and a national reckoning with structural racism. By highlighting civic engagement and leadership, Girls Build encourages young women to become empowered to protect their communities and democracy as well,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “Engaging at a young age will have a measurable impact on their motivation as adults to address disparities and evoke social change, especially in communities of color.”  

The motion notably calls upon LA County residents to learn more about the LA Promise Fund’s “Girls Build” initiative as it has a special focus on voter mobilization this year—at a time when it is needed most. In partnership with Michelle Obama’s When We All Vote, a non-profit nonpartisan organization, the LA Promise Fund will build a diverse coalition of 10,000 young women to register and pre-register to vote. Girls Build participants will double their coalition participation by setting a goal of registering 10,000 additional members of their families, schools, and communities across Southern California and throughout the nation to vote. 

The motion also establishes October 2020 as Girls Empowerment Month throughout LA County. Showing continued support for Girls Build acknowledges the significant impact the initiative has on young women and girls who participate, and the significant impact the girls have, in turn, on their communities. In addition to encouraging LA County residents to familiarize themselves with the work of Girls Build, the motion also urges every LA County resident to register to vote and to consider volunteering to register others.  

“Anything we can do to encourage young people to get involved in elections and to make sure every eligible person in the County casts a ballot has my vote!” said Supervisor Kuehl. “This motion will build an army of 10,000 young women of color to register their friends and family members and ensure that communities that are often under-represented are fully represented in 2020.”

Over the course of five years, Girls Build has provided stipends to participants and $50,000 in college scholarships awards each year to six winning Girls Build teams. Girls Build also celebrates gender equity and women’s success by introducing young women to hands-on opportunities in Science, Technology, Engineering & Math (STEM) education, panel discussions with women leaders, films that champion girls’ and women’s empowerment, and other unique events. Through these experiences provided by the LA Promise Fund, thousands of students can become change agents in their communities when faced with social issues ranging from women’s representation in STEM fields to voter engagement. 

Learn more about Girls Build by visiting https://www.lapromisefund.org/girls-build/. Register to vote and consider volunteering to register others to vote by visiting http://lavote.net. And launched in 2018 by co-chairs Michelle Obama, Tom Hanks, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Janelle Monae, Chris Paul, Faith Hill and Tim McGraw, When We All Vote is changing the culture around voting using a data-driven and multifaceted approach to increase participation in elections. Learn more at http://whenweallvote.org. 

Lula Washington Dance Theatre Receives Grant to Reopen During COVID-19

We’re at the Lula Washington Dance Theatre to celebrate its reopening for safe outdoor classes for the community! The arts matter!

Posted by Mark Ridley-Thomas on Saturday, September 26, 2020

Due to COVID-19, participating in the arts the way we know it—especially performance arts—has completely changed. But as a powerful antidote for coping with the heightened stress of these turbulent times, it is when we need the arts most. Recently, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas provided a $150,000 grant to the Lula Washington Dance Theatre (LWDT) in the heart of Crenshaw so that classes, particularly those oriented towards youth, can resume safely under the circumstances of COVID-19.

Photo by Aurelia Ventura/Board of Supervisors.

“This re-dedication and unveiling are built on the foundation off our decades of hard work, love, and investing in children and families. This is a place that dancers can freely express themselves all year-round as we continue to adjust to a new normal,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “I am proud to be a supporter of this organization and its new outdoor expansion. This dance company continues to be a beacon of light in this community. In addition to learning about dance, community members can become change agents for their families, for their communities, and for the County.”

Not only is the community dance theater now able to host outdoor classes year-round, it is also able to now provide free dance training for neighborhood children and “Community Moves” classes every Saturday for all those who want to partake in the expression and healing of dance.

“We were just understanding COVID and then the world erupted into protests over the killing of George Floyd. I wanted LWDT to be able to do something to help our community heal and express themselves safely. We knew that because of COVID we would have to do everything outside. This would mean permits, and big-ticket rentals that we just could not afford. This grant award enabled LWDT to purchase and own an outdoor stage and canopies, allowing us to program our parking lot for classes and performances year-round and into the future–using COVID metrics for physical distance, wearing masks and requiring folks to sign up and RSVP because space will still be limited,” Tamica Washington-Miller, Associate Director of the Lula Washington Dance Theatre.

“No one knows when we will be out of the COVID era. Being able to present and program in our parking lot is a life-line opportunity for us. This allows us to continue to provide access to the art of dance and a space for life affirming, creative expression, and cultural arts to our community”, said the dance theater’s Founder and Artistic Director Lula Washington.

“Supervisor Ridley Thomas has always been a supporter of the arts, and, of our organization,” added Lula Washington Dance Theatre Founding Executive Director, Erwin Washington. ‘This donation to us will benefit our community for years to come.”

Photo by Aurelia Ventura/Board of Supervisors.

The ribbon cutting for the grand COVID-19 reopening of the community dance theater was a joyous occasion with music, dance, and singing—all in a socially-distanced, safe outdoor environment. The Washington family shared heartfelt remarks on what reopening the Lula Washington Dance Theatre means to their family and organization, and especially what this means for the youth in South Los Angeles. As a gesture of thanks, youth participating in the dance theater’s classes gifted Supervisor Ridley-Thomas with a plant to signify the growth that will be able to occur in the community by allowing community members to continue fostering empowerment and having an outlet for expression through dance.

Photo by Aurelia Ventura/Board of Supervisors.

“Arts communicate justice, arts communicate peace, arts communicate the possibility for a better world. Everyone can speak and understand the language of the arts, and everyone can dance and appreciate its virtues,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas.

The arts matter. The arts heal. Thus, we are elated to welcome back Lula Washington Dance Theatre and its dancers so we can harness the power of art to overcome the multilayered crises we are presently faced with.

Photo by Aurelia Ventura/Board of Supervisors.

The Lula Washington Contemporary Dance Foundation (LWCDF) is a non-profit organization founded in 1980 by Lula and Erwin Washington to provide a creative outlet for minority dance artists in South Los Angeles. The Foundation seeks to build bridges between people of different cultures and ethnic backgrounds through its interrelated parts: the professional Dance Company (Lula Washington Dance Theatre), the Dance School, the Youth Dance Ensemble, and the Dance Studio. To reserve a space for their free classes on Saturday, please email school@lulawashington.org.

What an exciting day to join safely for this ribbon cutting for Lula Washington Dance Theatre!

Posted by Mark Ridley-Thomas on Saturday, September 26, 2020