Education, Arts & Culture

Black History Month: Rev. Dr. Alexander Hamilton

In celebration of Black History Month, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas presented a scroll to the Reverend Dr. Alexander Hamilton, who arranged the late Aretha Franklin’s Grammy-Award winning gospel album Amazing Grace, among many other stellar musical achievements.

Rev. Dr. Alexander Hamilton with, L-R, Lady Alicia Hamilton, Supervisors Kathryn Barger, Janice Hahn, Mark Ridley-Thomas, Hilda Solis and Alan Elliott. All photos by David Franco/Board of Supervisors.

“I commend you for a long-lasting and outstanding career in the music industry, and for all that you have done and continue to do in the lives of musical artists all over the world,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said.

In accepting the honor, Dr. Hamilton said, “As long as God gives me a finger to play with and a mind to think with, he’s got me and I’ll be making His music as much as I can.” He was joined by his wife, Lady Alicia Hamilton, as well as several friends and choir members. He said he has made a lifetime of conducting God’s music through them.

Dr. Hamilton has played, conducted and arranged scores for numerous music icons, including Lola Falana, Gladys Knight & The Pips, Lou Rawls, The Staple Singers, Sammy Davis Jr., Liza Minelli, Natalie Cole, Etta James, James Cleveland, Bessie Griffin, Shirley Caesar and Mahalia Jackson. He also co-wrote the gospel hit He’s A Miracle Worker with Edie Kendrix.

On the big screen, Dr.  Hamilton can be seen directing the choir in Amazing Grace, which documented the recording of the Queen of Soul’s 1972 platinum selling album. The film’s producer, Alan Elliott, said of Dr. Hamilton: “His work is a monument to himself, to God, to the community of Los Angeles, and to the world.”

On February 7-18, Amazing Grace will kick off the 27th Annual Pan African Film Festival at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza. Supervisor Ridley-Thomas encouraged everyone to see it, saying, “It is a musical experience that takes you to a different level.”

Dr. Hamilton began his career at the tender age of 9 years old.  As a child, he was a student of the late Hall Johnson, a well-known musical writer and arranger.

For 45 years, Dr. Hamilton served as the director of The Voices of Inspiration community choir, The New Generation Singers, and the Immanuel Gospel Community Choir. Dr. Hamilton and The Voices of Inspiration Choir have recorded several albums, including Glory, Hallelujah!, God Can, and Praise Him Till. Under his direction, The New Generation Singers recorded and released an album entitled Safe in God’s Love.

Currently, Dr. Hamilton is the Pastor of Philadelphia Church Fellowship of Los Angeles.

Statement by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas On the Resolution of the Teacher Strike

“I am very pleased that both parties persisted through hours of negotiation to reach an agreement and settle this strike. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of students returning to school to resume their education. Many of them – particularly those preparing for Advanced Placement exams, scholar-athletes who could not practice or compete during the strike, and those with learning disabilities – will face challenges in trying to compensate for learning losses incurred during this disruption. It is my hope that, in the future, the district and union will involve their partners – most notably the State, the County, the City, and the private/philanthropic sector – in identifying and exploring resources that may be available to prevent another strike. For example, the County was able to help last week in locating funding for healthcare professionals on elementary school campuses, satisfying one of the longstanding issues on which all stakeholders agreed.”

Click here to view information on how many schools are in each Supervisorial district.

Board Approves Millions in Aid for LAUSD

Photo by Martin Zamora / Board of Supervisors

Amid a continuing teacher strike, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a motion by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Hilda Solis that would identify millions in Los Angeles County funds that could be directed to the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) to enhance healthcare for students.

“Among the concerns raised by teachers is the need for more support services for students and, with this motion, we are doing what we can to be helpful,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, a former high school teacher himself. “LA County has sufficient resources and this is part of fulfilling our mandate to provide medical services to the most vulnerable.”

A Wellness Center at Manual Arts High School

The motion seeks to build on the infrastructure and resources that LA County already provides LAUSD, which includes dozens of school-based health centers, as well as mental health clinicians, crisis intervention training for teachers, and counseling for families. LA County is also currently working to build dozens of wellbeing centers in high schools to support teenage students’ social and emotional wellness and sexual health.

Specifically, the motion instructed the LA County Department of Mental Health (DMH) to identify up to $10 million in potential funding to enhance mental health and wellbeing at LAUSD schools. The amount would make it possible to fund a healthcare professional on every elementary school campus five days a week. Research has shown that the sooner children experiencing trauma or distress can access professional treatment and support, the higher their likelihood to succeed academically and develop resilience and effective coping mechanisms.

“The mental health and wellbeing of our kids, schools, and neighborhoods must always be front and center,” DMH Director Dr. Jonathan Sherin said. “We empower our future by identifying and addressing needs early and broadly through services at our school platforms. We are currently invested in a strong partnership with LAUSD, and this motion takes our commitment to a whole new level.”

The motion also instructed the County’s Departments of Health Services (DHS) and Public Health (DPH) to, within 30 days, identify strategies for supporting LAUSD in its efforts to hire school nurses and other health professionals.

LA County Mental Health Director Dr. Jonathan Sherin and Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer testify in support of the motion. Photo by Martin Zamora / Board of Supervisors

“As a former high school principal, I know the importance of ensuring a healthy environment in our schools and DPH stands strongly in support of LAUSD,” DPH Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer said. “Teachers, nurses, counselors, and parents all play a vital role in supporting our children and helping them become all they can be.”

LA County Office of Education (LACOE) Superintendent Debra Duardo, who recently assigned a team of fiscal experts to look into LAUSD’s worsening financial situation, said, “LACOE has long recognized that we cannot allow the unmet mental health needs of children and youth to stand in the way of their access to a great education.”

“As we continue to work with LAUSD on fiscal and operational health, we are encouraged by the leadership of Supervisors Ridley-Thomas and Solis in recognizing the compelling need for funding for mental health services,” she added. “We look forward to continuing our collaborative efforts to ensure that every District in the County is equipped to support the social-emotional and mental health needs of our youth.”

Courtney Powers with the Community Clinic Association of LA County, which represents several operators of school-based health centers, also supported the motion. She said, “Our health centers are places of trust in the community and schools are too, so this is a terrific opportunity to expand reach to students and families in need.”

“When the physical, emotional and psychological needs of children are met, we all benefit from their ability to focus on learning,” said Michael Green, LA County Regional Director for SEIU Local 721. “If, through this investment, we increase the wellness and learning ability of a child, then we are making a positive change for their future, and the future of our community.”


A Strike Teaches the Wrong Lesson to Our Kids


By Mark Ridley-Thomas, Diane Watson, Steven Bradford Curren Price

As public servants – some of us are former educators as well – we have learned valuable lessons about the classroom:

First and foremost, teachers are truly unsung heroes who make a real difference every day by enabling and empowering students to achieve their dreams.

Second, teachers are underpaid, undervalued and underappreciated while facing daunting challenges. Nowhere is this more evident than the Los Angeles Unified School District, where nearly two-thirds of students struggle to read, write and speak English fluently.

Third, teachers and students alike cannot perform at their peak efficiency when classroom sizes are too big.

The union leaders representing Los Angeles Unified teachers would have us believe that the solution to these problems is waging a strike that would disrupt the lives of so many students and their families.

Today, more than 400,000 students who live in poverty, 60,000 special needs children and 20,000 homeless kids rely on LAUSD for essential services, including serving 1 million meals a day.

Since taking office in 2014, United Teachers of Los Angeles President Alex Caputo-Pearl has repeatedly threatened to instigate a strike against LAUSD. Caputo-Pearl has now put a strike ahead of the well-being of our children.

We see no reason for a strike and implore Superintendent Austin Beutner and UTLA leaders to rethink their approach at the bargaining table by putting the needs of students first

A strike won’t resolve the many pressing issues confronting the nation’s second largest school district.

A strike won’t provide the infusion of funds needed to avert the looming insolvency of Los Angeles Unified.

A strike won’t get UTLA all of their demands.

The facts are clear: Los Angeles Unified is on the brink of financial disaster. Independent experts who have inspected the district’s books have confirmed that the $1.8 billion reserve is a mirage. Indeed, all of the reserve money is earmarked to be spent within two years.

With a deficit projected to surpass $400 million in the upcoming fiscal year, the district may become obligated to spend more outside the classroom than inside.

That means the current “surplus” won’t save LAUSD from having to declare bankruptcy and be taken over by the state or broken up into separate districts if the LAUSD is forced to make further economic concessions to resolve a strike.

We’re already seeing this scenario play out in the Sacramento City school system, where public school leaders say they will run out of cash by the end of this year.

California school districts receive state funding based largely on attendance. In Los Angeles Unified, enrollment has declined precipitously, to 500,000 students today from a peak of 700,000 in the 1990s.

Already, California ranks near the bottom with states such as Mississippi and Alabama in funding levels for K-12 education. By comparison, New York City, the nation’s largest school district, provides more than $20,000 per pupil while LAUSD provides $15,000 per student.

Amid this bleak financial picture, most people agree on the priorities moving forward for Los Angeles Unified students and families.

• Teachers make incredible personal sacrifices to help their students succeed and they should be paid more. Both sides have agreed to a 6 percent salary increase recommended by a neutral Fact Finder.

• Smaller class sizes and more teachers, counselors, nurses and librarians are needed to make our schools better.

• A renewed focus on the classroom begins with recruiting and retaining talented educators.

We urge leaders for LAUSD and UTLA to put aside their differences and put the needs of children first. That starts with negotiating a fair settlement in good faith to avoid a strike and working together to demand more federal, state and local funding for our schools.

Los Angeles County’s economy is the 17th largest in the world. An insolvent school district sends a very bad message and weakens our economic strength. It is incumbent upon all of us to find a way so that future generations of Angelenos are empowered to lead our industries and to live in thriving communities.

Mark Ridley-Thomas is a Los Angeles County Supervisor representing the Second District, and former schoolteacher; Diane Watson is a former Congressmember and LAUSD Boardmember; Steven Bradford is a State Senator representing the 35th District; Curren Price is a Los Angeles City Councilmember representing the Ninth District, and community college instructor.

 This article is republished with permission from the Southern California News Group.

DigiCamp: Ideas and Imagination at Work

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas kicks-off the daylong DigiCamp at Lennox Library.  Photo by Diandra Jay / Board of Supervisors

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas welcomed more than 50 students from Lennox Middle School to the Los Angeles County Public Library and Microsoft DigiCamp, and encouraged them to consider careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

“STEM is an approach to the world – a critical way to understand, explore, and engage with the world – so that you have the tools and capacity to change that world,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said as he kicked-off the daylong event at the Lennox Library. “STEM prepares our youth for the jobs of the future, many of which will require tech skills as automation, digital platforms, machine learning and other innovations change the fundamental nature of work.“

Students from Lennox Middle School explore robotics at the Los Angeles County Public Library and Microsoft DigiCamp. Photo by Diandra Jay / Board of Supervisors

As part of the $3.3-million Microsoft Digital Alliance grant, Microsoft provided free software to all of the County’s 87 libraries, in addition to hosting DigiCamps at Lennox Library and Compton Library . At DigiCamps, students can build a robotic finger and program it to move. They also learned about coding, and designed a game to track a dolphin.

“We strive to be a local resource for our communities and particularly for our kids,” said LA County Public Library Director Skye Patrick, who also provided welcoming remarks at the DigiCamp. “We are committed to building strong relationships with schools to encourage them to utilize library services.”

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas has previously reached out to young boys and girls of color to bridge the digital divide, encouraging them to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math. In October 2015, he hosted the County’s first hack day at Lennox Library, with technology giants Microsoft, IDEO, CGI and NeoGov leading workshops for about 100 youth ages 16-25 on such topics as turning an idea into a product, developing software applications, and launching a career in Information Technology. Students were able to create their own apps and share their innovations with one another.

In March 2016, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas spoke at a DigiGirlz Day event, co-sponsored with Girls Build LA, that urged middle and high school girls to identify a problem in their communities and engineer a plan to solve it. Students from Grace Hopper STEM Academy in Inglewood and Orville Wright Middle School STEAM Magnet in Westchester were among those who participated.

In October 2016, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas welcomed more than 100 middle and high schoolers from across Los Angeles County to the Microsoft YouthSpark DigiCamp Extravaganza, to encourage them to consider careers in technology during a two-day bootcamp, held in Microsoft Square at L.A. Live, as part of a series of programs to benefit the community.

“Keep exploring. Keep dreaming. Keep asking why,” concluded the Supervisor. “The power of your ideas, your imagination, your hard work will all change the world.”

Lennox Middle School students enjoy science, technology, engineering, and mathematics while engaging in skill-building. Photo by Diandra Jay / Board of Supervisors