Education, Arts & Culture

Community Recreation Amid COVID-19

Over the last several weeks, in response to the growing need for safe, socially-distanced recreation for communities during COVID-19, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas hosted a “Drive-In at the Park” summer series.

Launched on Labor Day weekend with a screening of Cool Runnings in LAFC’s parking lot, located at Exposition Park, visitors were treated to an abundance of snacks and souvenirs, courtesy of partners Chevrolet and Ozo. This screening was followed the next weekend with a special screening of the of Black Panther in honor of the recently passed Chadwick Boseman at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza.

Photo by Aurelia Ventura/Board of Supervisors.

To close out the series, on back-to-back days, families were treated two Disney classics. First tucked away in a campground environment, gathered away from the shining lights of the city at Kenneth Hahn State recreation area families were shown Remember the Titans, featuring Denzel Washington. Offering not just a unique setting, but a powerful storyline that resonates parallels to the moment we are in today and the need for strength and unity to forge a path forward.

And on the following day, Disney family favorite, Moana, was played at the newly revitalized Earvin “Magic” Johnson Park. The screening served as the culmination of a day of celebratory activities at the park that included a special visit from the park’s namesake—Magic Johnson himself—in anticipation of its reopening after $70 million upgrades. Even at night, the community was able to safely come to life with families strolling the completed areas of the park after dark.

Photo by Aurelia Ventura/Board of Supervisors.

Working in conjunction with event partners: View Park Organization, Empowerment Congress West Area, New Mount Calvary, Animo Watts College Preparatory Academy, Los Angeles County Department of Parks & Recreation Chevrolet, and OZO, the two drive-in experiences provided safe, community relief and diversion for families and individuals of all ages in the South Los Angeles area. At each event, guests got their fill of free popcorn, candy, swag bags, and more from sponsors to enjoy with the movie.

Photo by Aurelia Ventura/Board of Supervisors.

Although this series of drive-in events has ended, there will be more future opportunities for the community to continue to come together while staying COVID-19 safe.

Stay Tuned!

Magic Unveiled at Magic Johnson Park

Do you believe in Magic? Recently, Supervisor Mark-Ridley-Thomas, in collaboration with the LA County Department of Parks and Recreation and a number community partners, hosted a socially-distanced, sneak peek of Earvin “Magic” Johnson Park’s new building facilities and myriad of amenities followed by a back-to-school drive tour of the park.

“What you see before you represents the dreams and vision of many members of this community,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “Now more than ever, our communities deserve investments in our public spaces to make them centers for gathering, learning and respite. Magic Johnson Park has experienced a true transformation. My sincere appreciation goes out to all of the partners who have played an indispensable role in the revitalization and rebirth of this par

The $70 million project, the largest park investment by LA County in recent history, features improvements that include a 20,000 square foot event center to host conferences and other large gatherings, a dedicated outdoor wedding pavilion, a splash pad, children’s play areas, and a completely redesigned southern lake which has a half-mile walking trail, enhanced lighting, fitness equipment and other amenities.

The park also has an innovative water system to address water conservation and quality. Under the new system, water will be diverted from nearby Compton Creek, cleaned, and then used to fill the lower lake and irrigate the park—creating a wetland experience for park-goers. Overall, 30 acres of the park have been improved.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Earvin “Magic” Johnson in front of the new Magic Johnson park facility.

“Today, you can stand here and feel good for the Willow brook community, because we have our superhero, our superman, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. A lot of the time, this community gets promised a lot of things, but nobody delivers. He promised this community that he was going to change this park and take it to another level. Well, just look behind me, it’s here,” said Chairman and CEO of Magic Johnson Enterprises, Earvin “Magic” Johnson, the park’s namesake.

“This building will be a blessing to the community. Our kids will now have a place that they can go and learn, not just in school but after school. Children in this community will have a safe place to play and have a good time, said Johnson.”

In addition to the sneak peek, the Supervisor Ridley-Thomas hosted a back-to-school drive, in an effort to provide the surrounding communities with resources during this difficult moment. During the back-to-school drive, 2,500 community members were gifted with fresh, organic produce; dry food items; backpacks; school supplies; sports paraphernalia and art kits as they toured the park’s improvements.

Partners in this event included the Special Needs Network, the Southside Coalition of Community Health Centers, Let’s Be Whole and LA’s wide professional sports network—which include the LA Lakers, LA Rams, LA Dodgers Foundation, LA Football Club, and Play Equity—LACMA, Health Net, Blue Shield of CA, Molina Healthcare, Kilroy Realty Corporation, the California Community Foundation, The Olson Company, Anthem Blue Cross, LA Care Health Plan, and UCLA Health.

“While this pandemic may have forced us to showcase this park in a different way, I am thrilled that the South Los Angeles Community had the opportunity to see the transformation first-hand from the safety and comfort of their cars.” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “Magic Johnson is a leader and visionary for our community like no other – and we are so pleased that all of the sport teams that he is involved with, came together to celebrate this day with the Willowbrook community. This collaboration truly embodies the best of Los Angeles’ civic spirit.”

“Every year, Special Needs Network has an opportunity to bring thousands of kids and families together for a fun-filled day with live entertainment, outdoor activities and lots of healthy food at our annual back to school event.  Each kid has an opportunity to get a fresh haircut and go home with a backpack filled with school supplies. With the coronavirus pandemic and the restrictions on large gatherings, we had to be creative this year about how we could serve our community and comply with the CDC coronavirus safety guidelines. At a time when the needs of our community are greater than ever, we knew that we couldn’t abandon the event,” said Founder and President of the Special Needs Network Areva Martin, Founder and President, Special Needs Network.

Guests also had the opportunity to take pictures of their favorite life-size characters, such as Disney’s Princess Tiana, Marvel’s Black Panther, Universal’s Minions, as well as LAFC’s Falcon, and the LA Rams’ Rampage, and tour the new facility all from the safety and comfort of their own vehicles.

Last month, the County initiated the second phase of $10 million-dollar improvements. The 16 acres, formerly known as the Ujima Village site, will be improved with a large outdoor open space, amphitheater, play mounds, a native butterfly garden, a fitness loop/walking path and off-leash dog park. The second phase of improvements are anticipated to be complete in 2021.

The new park amenities are expected to officially open in November with COVID-19 compliant community programming.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Earvin “Magic” Johnson and community partners cut the ribbon at Magic Park unveiling ceremony.

Further Investments in Violence Prevention

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas speaks at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Public Health. Photo by Dave Franco / Board of Supverisors

Amid an unprecedented increase in local tensions surrounding the recent deaths of Andres Guardado and Dijon Kizzee, the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to implement the Office of Violence Prevention’s (OVP) strategic plan and retool the Family Assistance Program—motions led by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and co-authored by Supervisor Kuehl.  The two initiatives will help to expand community investment and well-being and offer relief to families who have lost loved-ones to deputy-involved shootings.

“Confronting the epidemic of violence requires trauma-informed responses to impacted families and equipping our communities with the tools needed to disrupt the cycle,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. “The County, in partnership with local communities, has made significant investments in the infrastructure needed to support and advance this critical work.”

There has been a growing public demand for an equitable response to violence prevention and interventions that address the systematic biases and inequities that cause disproportionate health, economic and socio-cultural impacts. In the motion, to  implement a strategic plan for the Office of Violence Prevention, as well as create a community-based crisis response system, the Board is working towards establishing a coordinated community-based response to incidences of violence, such as homicides, shootings, and sexual and domestic assault to prevent and interrupt cycles of violence before they happen.

“This motion pushes the county one important step forward in building infrastructure to effectively reduce the incidence of violence in Black and Brown communities most impacted by structural, institutional, and community-level violence, oppression, and trauma.  We appreciate Supervisor Ridley-Thomas’ ongoing attention to this issue and underscore the importance of allocating resources to ensure that inclusive community engagement will result in safer, healthier and more equitable neighborhood conditions,” said Manal J. Aboelata, Deputy Executive Director of Prevention Institute.

“Hospital based violence intervention is often the only opportunity we have to help victims of violent crimes and this motion is a commitment to those efforts. The timing of this motion is impeccable as public safety throughout L.A. County is very much in question,” said Paul Carillo, Co-founder and Executive Director of Southern California Crossroads.

Over the span of 15 months, more than 14 victims have died at the hands of Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (LASD) deputies. To lessen the burden of tragedy that families face in the difficult moments after the death of a loved-one in a deputy involved shooting the Board is taking steps to secure and enhance the Family Assistance Program (FAP). Created by the Board of Supervisors based upon the recommendation of the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission, the FAP works to counteract the trauma of loss that is compounded by a lack of clear communication.

“When a family loses a loved one as a result of the fatal use of force by law enforcement, it always devastates friends and family members, and has a deeply destructive impact on community relationships with law enforcement,” said Supervisor Sheila Kuehl.” The Family Assistance Program, an innovative idea that emerged from discussions at the Civilian Oversight Commission, provides compassionate communication and trauma-informed support to those families. With this motion, we are asking for an assessment of its effectiveness, improvements that may be needed, and the identification of funding to sustain it.”

Among the key elements of the FAP is the employment of “advocates” to be present during next-of-kin notifications to provide crisis intervention and grief counseling, as well as to serve as liaisons between the Sheriff’s Department and other County departments as needed. The motion seeks to reinforce this valuable community resource so that it is available in the future for impacted families in their critical moment of need.

“The Family Assistance program supports families suffering from traumatic grief through losing a loved-one from interactions with law enforcement. The COC continues to endorse the trauma-informed, no-fault, compassionate approach which came out of deep listening to the suffering of family members including children,” said Commissioner of Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission and Executive Director of Peace Over Violence, Patti Giggans.

“When a person dies in government custody, or is actually killed by the government, we have a responsibility to treat their family with compassion. But common decency doesn’t always happen without a little help, and that is what the Family Assistance Program was designed for.”

“Every year families suffer the loss of loved-ones from law enforcement violence. They are then left to endure not only the relentless grief, trauma, and economic impact but the painful process of seeking answers and demanding justice. The county should work to remove as many obstacles as possible and provide families with immediate access to support during these devastating times. This motion makes that possible,” said Mark-Anthony Johnson, Founder of Frontline Wellness Network.

LA County Makes Progress on Antiracist Agenda

Responding to Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas’ motion, Establishing an Antiracist Los Angeles County Policy Agenda, the County’s Chief Executive Office announced the search for a Racial Equity Executive Director and launched an Antiracism, Diversity and Inclusion Initiative website so the public can share their ideas for addressing institutional racism in the nation’s most populous county.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas praised these initial steps and stressed the need for urgency. He noted that, in just the brief period since he introduced the motion, the COVID-19 pandemic has continued to take a higher toll on people of color and protestors have continued to fill the streets in response to the separate police shootings of Dijon Kizzee and Jacob Blake, and the lack of indictments in Breonna Taylor’s case.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas at the participating in the September 29, 2020 Virtual Board of Supervisors meeting. Photo by Bryan Chan/Board of Supervisors

“People continue to be harmed at alarming rates and so there is no time to waste in getting to the root of serving our constituents fairly and equitably by ensuring that our practices are rooted in antiracism,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said.

On July 21st, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved Supervisor Ridley-Thomas’ motion that called for declaring racism a matter of public health, prioritizing the elimination of racism within Los Angeles County, and highlighting the need to examine and eradicate policies and processes that prevent African Americans from advancement.

The motion also directed the CEO and other departments to promote and support policies that would achieve more equitable outcomes for African Americans in the areas of education, housing, mental health, employment, and the criminal justice system.

In giving the Board its first report back on the County’s antiracism efforts, Acting Chief Executive Officer Fesia Davenport gave laid out the essential components and initial framework for developing a strategic plan and policy platform in four phases, to be completed by June 2021

“The Board’s decision to establish an Anti-Racism Initiative marks a galvanizing opportunity for Los Angeles County to confront the institutional racism that can sometimes hide in plain sight, in the form of seemingly benign policies and practices,” she said. “I look forward to helping to lead our County workforce in understanding and addressing these entrenched impacts that, unfortunately, have become part of our County landscape, just as they are in the broader culture. It’s a big job, but I am confident that once we examine our ‘business as usual’ practices, we will be able to find new ways to advance the Board’s compelling vision.”

LA County recently initiated a national search for an Executive Director of Racial Equity who “will establish, support, lead, and manage efforts to identify and eliminate structural and systemic racism in those areas where the County has control or influence, such as County employment, provision of County services, and contracting.” The Executive Director will also be a “visionary leader” who will “champion the elimination of institutional racism while also promoting efforts to deepen the County’s work on diversity and inclusion.”

LA County also launched the Antiracism, Diversity and Inclusion Initiative website to be a platform for outreach and engagement. People can visit the website to provide feedback on the County’s efforts and sign up for upcoming opportunities for stakeholder and community conversations.

A Drive-In Night to Remember Chadwick Boseman

Recently, the South Los Angeles community gathered at Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza to view a tribute screening of Black Panther in memory of late actor, Chadwick Boseman. This special feature was brought to the community by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas in partnership with Ozo, Chevrolet, Empowerment Congress West Area, and the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza.

Photo by Aurelia Ventura/Board of Supervisors.

Dozens of vehicles and families gathered at the upper level of Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza for an old-fashioned drive-in presentation of the film. While this is the second installment of a series of free, socially distanced, and family-friendly drive-ins, this recent screening served foremost as a celebration of life for Chadwick Boseman, who touched the lives of individuals of all ages.

“All too often children of color have little to no positive representation like themselves, on-screen. For many, Black Panther is not just another film, it was a symbol for the black community and an inspiration to all,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “We are gathered in memory of Chadwick Boseman, whose heroism transcended the big screen by showing us remarkable strength and courage—not only in the characters he portrayed, but in all aspects of his life.”

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas and community partners took drive-in attendees on a journey to Wakanda that included paying homage to the late actor and a tribute montage of remembrance for the communities who looked to Boseman as a hero on- and off-screen.

When the blockbuster sensation hit theaters in February 2018, showtimes were sold out for weeks as audiences celebrated having a Black hero on the big screen and the film’s story of resilience in the face of danger—narratives we can look to for hope as we face crises in the present. Boseman brought King T’Challa, and the Black Panther, to life with his strong and captivating, yet gentle and tender presence. During the drive-in opening tribute and end credits of the film, attendees honked their horns in honor of Boseman in heartfelt remembrance and applause.

“We were thrilled to host this wonderful and much-needed event for the community, and grateful to Supervisor Ridley-Thomas for spearheading this effort,” said President and CEO of Capri Retail Services Rachel Freeman. “During these trying times, we are here to support our community in whatever way we can, and were overjoyed to gather our community at BHC once again.”

The next drive-in will take place on Friday, October 2nd at 7 pm showing Remember the Titans at Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area. And finally, to culminate a day of celebratory activities at the park in anticipation of its reopening after a $70 million upgrade, the last drive-in will feature Disney family favorite Moana at the newly revitalized Earvin “Magic” Johnson Park. At each event, guests can get their fill of free popcorn, candy, swag bags from sponsors, and more to enjoy with their movie.

For more information and to RSVP for tickets, please visit: ridley-thomas.lacounty.gov.