Education, Arts & Culture

Under Night Sky, Saar Shines Bright

(left to right) Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Artist Betye Saar, and LACMA Director Michael Govan at LACMA. Photo by Earl Gibson III / Board of Supervisors

On a cool evening night, set against the late fall sky, Los Angeles County Supervisor, Mark Ridley-Thomas, hosted a viewing and reception for renowned artist, Betye Saar, to celebrate her exhibit entitled “Call and Response.” In a short program featuring the Director of LACMA, Michael Govan, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, Betye Saar and exhibit curator, Carol Eliel, more than 200 guests were treated to a delightful panoply of Southern California art history, where Ms. Saar has stood at the vanguard.

In brief remarks that highlighted the import of Ms. Saar’s first solo show at LACMA, and her turn in the national spotlight, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said, “As one of the country’s most inventive and influential makers of intimately scaled assemblage, it’s been a long journey in getting to today.” Noting further, “But like the three-dimensional qualities that embody so much of Ms. Saar’s work, her art practice can’t be easily defined. And we are all grateful this day has finally come.”

Ms. Saar, who is 93, has been one of the country’s most inventive and influential makers of intimately scaled assemblage. For more than a half a century her art practice has explored both the realities of African-American oppression and the mysticism of symbols through the combination of everyday objects. For her first solo exhibition at LACMA, works that represent this and so much more are on display.

In an affirmation of this sentiment, Michael Govan, Director of LACMA, said, “she is one of the most significant artists working today, and one who boldly addresses issues of race, gender and spirituality.”

Ms. Saar, known to shy away from the spotlight and let the depth of her work speak for itself, shared a few words of inspiration with those in attendance, ending with simply saying, “thank you all for letting me share how I see things with my art. It’s just my little my view of this great, big world.”

“Call and Response” is now on view until April 5, 2020 at the LACMA Resnick Pavilion.

Betye Saar and Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas (center) flanked by Department Directors for the County Of Los Angeles at LACMA. Photo by Earl Gibson III / Board of Supervisors


Moving Educational Equity Beyond the Schoolhouse

Professor Tyrone C. Howard, Director of the UCLA Pritzker Center for Strengthening Children and Families and the Black Male Institute at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, discussing report findings. Photo by Diandra Jay / Board of Supervisors

UCLA researchers and local education leaders convened at the Wellnest Avis and Mark Ridley-Thomas Life-Learning Center to discuss the release of Beyond The Schoolhouse, a policy report, examining both in-school and out-of-school risk factors that impact Black children’s educational success in Los Angeles County.

Pedro Noguera, Distinguished Professor of Education and the founder of the Center for the Transformation of Schools at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies. Photo by Diandra Jay / Board of Supervisors

In a presentation that included several specific recommendations for local, state and federal policymakers, the report’s authors urge the development of a targeted Countywide strategic plan to address the needs of Black children. These recommendations come in response to findings that despite California’s growing commitment to equity, on virtually every academic indicator – from achievement in mathematics and English to the completion of A-G requirements for entry into the CSU or UC systems of higher education – Black students in Los Angeles County have consistently trailed behind their non-Black peers. Of note is the finding that academic factors alone do not accurately provide a complete picture of the challenges facing Black students over the course of their education.

Students in attendance during the convening.  Photo by Diandra Jay / Board of Supervisors

Black students, more than any other racial or ethnic group, are more likely to experience homelessness, to be placed in foster care, or to have a parent who is incarcerated. Furthermore, many Black students reside in communities and attend schools that are highly segregated by race and income, have less parks and recreation facilities, and contain environmental hazards that negatively impact their health and well-being, including higher rates of asthma and exposure to lead. Ultimately, Black students must contend with a host of systematic external factors that significantly impact their ability and access to quality education.

“Homelessness, poverty, poor health outcomes and other adverse experiences interfere with our children’s ability to survive, let alone thrive,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “Our commitment to improving student achievement requires that we do as this important report suggest that we do: go beyond the schoolhouse to the communities where black children and families reside to implement solutions that address accumulated disadvantage and expand opportunity for Black children and youth.”

(clockwise) UCLA Professor Kelly Lytle Hernandez, LA County Superintendent Debra Duardo, LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner, and Dr. Shani Byard. Photos by Diandra Jay / Board of Supervisors

“Where a child lives, whether they have access to healthy food, clean air, quality health care and other services has a profound influence on their academic performance and the quality of schools they attend,” said Tyrone C. Howard, Director of the UCLA Pritzker Center for Strengthening Children and Families and the Black Male Institute at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies.

“Our hope is that this new study will not only make clear the urgency of the situation confronting Black students, but that it will inform and fuel a strategic and comprehensive effort to address the accumulation of disadvantage confronting Black youth in order to improve educational and developmental outcomes” says Pedro Noguera, Distinguished Professor of Education and the founder of the Center for the Transformation of Schools at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies. “It is not enough just to improve schools, we must address the out-of-school factors that influence a child’s development. We must do both.”

“The academic achievement of Black and low-income students in California has been a focus for many decades in schools,” says Joseph Bishop, Director of the UCLA Center for the Transformation of Schools. “Yet our failure to recognize that schools alone cannot address poverty and unhealthy community conditions has made it more difficult for social policies to have a positive impact on the needs of our most vulnerable children.

See Exhibit 5, Beyond the Schoolhouse Policy Report: Overcoming & Expanding Opportunity for Black Youth in LA County

Specific Beyond the Schoolhouse findings include:

• Academic performance and health are highly correlated with where a child lives. Whether or not a child has access to healthy food, parks, clean air, or good health services, has a profound influence on their academic performance and the quality of schools they attend.
• Most of the schools where Black children are concentrated have limited resources despite having high numbers of very disadvantaged students (e.g. students in foster care, students who are homeless, in special education, etc.).
• Childhood hardships (e.g. basic needs not met, parental substance abuse, hunger) are highest for Black students (12%) compared to other racial and ethnic groups.
• The suspension rate for Black students in foster care is 16%, higher than any other group of students.

The full study and recommendations are available online at The report was a joint project of the Black Male Institute and the Center for the Transformation of Schools at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies. The Hewlett Foundation, The California Endowment, the Broad Foundation and the Office of Supervisor Mark-Ridley Thomas provided funding for the study.

(left to right) UCLA Professor Tyrone C. Howard, UCLA Professor Kelly Lytle Hernandez, LA County Superintendent of Schools Debra Duardo, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Wellnest President Charlene Dimas Peinado, Dr. Shani Byard, Senator Steven Bradford, and UCLA Professor Joseph Bishop.  Photo by Diandra Jay / Board of Supervisors

South LA Celebrates Health and Wellness

About 3,000 people from across South Los Angeles celebrated this year’s Back2School Community Health + Resource Fair, Walk4Health and Backpack Giveaway, held for the first time at Magic Johnson Park in Willowbrook.

Families from across South Los Angeles enjoyed free food, beverages and live music, while also benefiting  from free health and dental screenings, as well as a range of educational and wellness resources.

After participating in a two-mile Walk4Health that looped through the park, they enjoyed freshly made tacos, hot dogs and corn on the cob, and also got food from a food bank and a  farmer’s market. Young and old alike enjoyed fitness dancing and other physical activities. Some even got free professional haircuts and a manicure. The children particularly enjoyed the Fun Zone, which had arts and crafts, face painting, pony rides, a petting zoo, a bounce house a gaming station, and other fun activities.

The festive day ended with a backpack giveaway. More than  2,200 children received free backpacks loaded with pencils, notebooks, and other necessities for the new school year.

“This event is very important to me because it gives members of our community a chance to enjoy a beautiful day with family, friends and neighbors  while learning about all the great resources available right in their neighborhoods,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who sponsored the event with the Southside Coalition of Community Health Centers, Special Needs Network (SNN), St. John’s Well Child and Family Center, New Mount Calvary Missionary Baptist Church, MLK Center for Trauma Prevention, and the Los Angeles County Departments of Mental Health and Parks and Recreation.

“We began Back 2 School to provide underserved children and youth with the tools essential for school success,”  said Areva Martin, president and co-founder SNN, which provided 1,500 of the free backpacks through donations from sponsors. “Today, we address not only academic needs, but health,  wellness, and wellbeing as well.”

“The Southside Coalition of Community Health Centers was pleased to partner with the Office of Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and the Special Needs Network,” Southside Coalition Executive Director Andrea Williams said. “Our Health Centers were happy to serve the community and be part of this event.”

Health Net and The Olsen Company sponsored a significant portion of the cost of the backpacks, food, and activities. Other contributors included Blue Shield of California and the  California Community Foundation. In all, more than 100 vendors provided families with medical, dental, developmental, and mental health screenings, a pro bono legal clinic, educational workshops to improve overall health and wellness, and other resources.

The Los Angeles County Departments of Public Health and Mental Health had a Wellness Pavilion highlighting the County’s Trauma Prevention Initiative. Their outreach teams were available to educate the community about mental health, wellbeing, and where to seek treatment.

“I am so proud of our ongoing collaboration to bring new and better resources to this vital community,” DMH Director Dr. Jonathan E. Sherin said. “Our partnership with the LA County Department of Public Health on the Wellbeing Pavilion will help foster meaningful connections for years to come. Take care of yourself, reach out when you need help, and find help for others.  Supporting mental health and wellbeing is a community effort.”

Expanding Local Agency Advances Arts, Culture, and Creativity for the People of LA County

The Los Angeles County Department of Arts and Culture, formerly the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, becomes an official, and new, County department. The agency’s longstanding work will continue uninterrupted, including grant funding for hundreds of nonprofit organizations throughout LA County; commissioning works of art for public facilities and managing the County’s civic art collection; implementing the initiatives of the LA County Arts Education Collective, which works to ensure all students in the County receive quality arts education; and researching and evaluating, then making accessible, findings in and about the local arts and culture sector.

Now, the newly established Department, abbreviated as Arts and Culture, will also elevate its work in building infrastructure and increasing access to career pathways in the creative economy; innovative cross-sector work and collaborations with County Departments (such as the Creative Strategist Artist in Residence program); and implementing the County’s Cultural Equity and Inclusion Initiative, known as CEII, a cultural plan with a progressive suite of recommendations to strengthen diverse, equitable, and inclusive access to arts and culture for everyone in the County.

“Arts are essential to our humanity, and a key part of healthy vibrant communities,” said Kristin Sakoda, Los Angeles County Department of Arts and Culture Executive Director. “Here in Los Angeles County, it is critical that the local arts and culture ecosystem be supported—from our formidable museums and presenters, to the small non-profits and the community initiatives—so we can ensure a thriving sector and creative local economy. As a County Department, we will be able to elevate and expand our work to reach more people, more deeply, increasing access to the arts and building cultural equity. We will advance arts, culture, and creativity advancing for everyone in the County.”

The LA County Arts Commission was established in in 1947 to support local music performances. Its role has grown to support diverse art forms and function as a full-service arts agency. Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl co-authored the historic motion that transitions the Arts Commission into a stand-alone County department in May 2018, a recognition of the vital role of arts and culture in one of the largest and most diverse counties in the country.

“In its previous iteration, the Arts Commission has been a small but mighty undertaking, excelling in its work to increase access to the arts, to innovate in areas of grant-making, and to create career pathways for people in underserved communities. As Los Angeles County’s creative economy grows ever more potent by the day, I am excited for what is to come as it begins a new chapter as the Department of Arts and Culture,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, lead author of the motion that enabled the transition.

The 15-member Arts Commission, an advisory body appointed by the Board of Supervisors, will continue to advocate the work of the new department. “I am proud to be an and advisor and ambassador for this department’s wide-ranging work throughout Los Angeles County,” said Helen Hernandez, Arts Commission President. “I was involved in the development of CEII, and I want to see that initiative continue to be implemented—everyone in Los Angeles County deserves access to arts and culture.”

Avis & Mark Ridley-Thomas Life Learning Center Opens

Avis Ridley-Thomas and Supervisor Ridley-Thomas at the Grand Opening. Photo by Diandra Jay / Board of Supervisors

Photo by Diandra Jay / Board of Supervisors

The Los Angeles Child Guidance Clinic unveiled the Avis & Mark Ridley-Thomas Life Learning Center not far from Exposition Park, where  transition age youth, ages 16-25, can  access high-quality mental health and social services to foster their emotional well-being and physical health, achieve lifelong economic stability, and build strong connections to positive support systems.

Los Angeles Child Guidance Clinic President and CEO Charlene Dimas-Peinado. Photo by Diandra Jay / Board of Supervisors

“The Avis and Mark Ridley-Thomas Life Learning Center is named after two pillars in our community. The LLC symbolizes hope and a brighter future for our youth and young adults. It’s also the right time for us to focus our attention on the social and environmental concerns impacting them and make a meaningful difference,” said Los Angeles Child Guidance Clinic President and CEO Charlene Dimas-Peinado.

Rendering for the Avis and Mark Ridley-Thomas Life Learning Center

“Avis and I are honored, beyond measure, to be the namesakes of the new Life Learning Center,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “These are our young people and they deserve to be lifted up and supported. We believe this reimagined center will be a life-changing and welcome addition to this community and it will complement the many new developments along the Vermont Corridor.”

Community Room at The Los Angeles Child Guidance Clinic. Photo by Diandra Jay / Board of Supervisors

In Los Angeles County, there are approximately 1.4 million transition age youth. Many of these young adults transition into adulthood successfully; however, an estimated five to ten percent are challenged due to a number of negative circumstances – poverty, housing insecurity, substance abuse, physical abuse, exposure to or a victim of violence and/or are members of marginalized groups based on race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation. Often, young adults in South Los Angeles are more vulnerable and socially isolated which can jeopardize their long-term success.

The Los Angeles Child Guidance Clinic is a nationally acclaimed community-based provider of holistic, innovative, and evidence-based behavioral and mental health services for children, young adults and families in Los Angeles. LACGC has assisted high-need families in historically underserved communities since l924. Each year, LACGC serves over 4,000 individuals at three community-based centers, 30 school-based sites, and directly to clients through field-based programming.