Education, Arts & Culture

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

Forward Progress on First LA County Arts Department

The Board of Supervisors took further steps toward creating the first Los Angeles County Department of Arts and Culture Department. Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Board Chair Sheila Kuehl had coauthored the motion earlier this year with broad support from arts funders, creators and institutions.

“When we think about nearly 800,000 creative industry jobs in 2016, $200-billion in economic output, and $9-billion in taxes, we understand the impact of the arts and the creative economy,” Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said. “With the new Arts and Culture Department, our region’s reliance on the financial output from the many sectors of the creative economy – digital media, sporting and other special events –will be included and enhanced.”

The transition of the LA County Arts Commission to the LA County Department of Arts and Culture is anticipated to be completed by July 1, 2019.

“There was a time when the arts were seen as a nice-to-have rather than a must-have,” LA County Arts Commission Executive Director Kristin Sakoda said when the Board voted to create the new department. “Today the ordinance creating the first ever Department of Arts and Culture for the County of Los Angeles marks a historic milestone for the arts in LA County and elevates the County’s vital role in public support for arts and culture.”

The LA County Arts Commission was initially established in 1947. It has grown in the last 71 years since from solely supporting local music performances to supporting hundreds of nonprofit organizations and functioning as a full-service local arts agency.

Throughout the decades, the Commission’s role has expanded to include innovative and meaningful programs including working with school districts throughout the County to develop and implement a strategic plan to integrate arts into K-12 public schools. It also administers the Civic Art program, where artists are aligned with capital projects to bring aesthetics and programming to the community in which the project is located, as well as the Arts Internship Program. To date, more than 2,000 college and university students participate in a paid internship for ten weeks during the summer in arts organizations and venues throughout the County.


New Learning Center at MLK Medical Campus

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas welcomes children and parents at the MLK Learning Center open house. All photos by Bryan Chan/Board of Supervisors.

The latest jewel on the Martin Luther King, Jr. Medical Campus is a Learning Center that will serve up to 100 children of medical staff and the surrounding community of Willowbrook.

Celebrated by children, parents and caregivers at a recent open house, the facility includes a 9,000-sq. ft. playground, pint-sized tables and chairs and, of course, lots of cubbies.

The interior remodel includes two infant rooms, two toddler classrooms, three preschool classrooms, an administrative office, reception counter, staff lounge and support spaces. The outdoor playground area includes walkways, shade structures, fencing, landscaping and rubberized matting.

KinderCare, a nationwide care provider, will operate the center. No stranger to providing care to Los Angeles County’s youngest constituents, KinderCare also operates the facility at the Harbor-UCLA Medical Campus and at the child care center located at 83rd and Vermont Ave.  

Protocol to Protect Sex Trafficking Victims

As Los Angeles County announced progress in combatting the commercial sexual exploitation of children and youth, the Board of Supervisors approved a motion aimed at building on the success of the First Responder Protocol which, during its first four years, led to the recovery of 361 young people from traffickers.

Authored by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Janice Hahn, the motion called for an external evaluation and longitudinal study of the Protocol to maintain consistency in practice and fidelity to the model as it is scaled up.

“The First Responder Protocol has made an undeniable difference in the lives of hundreds of exploited and abused young people,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “While it is disheartening to learn of the history of trauma and maltreatment that has plagued so many of these children and teens, it reminds us that there are multiple opportunities during a child’s life for any one of us to report abuse, provide support, and prevent or intervene in the pernicious crime of child sex trafficking.”

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, center, with LA County Department of Children and Family Services Division Chief Ed Fithyan; LA County Probation Department Child Sex Trafficking Unit Director Michelle Guymon; Dr. Carly Dierkhising of CalState LA; and Atty. Kate Walker Brown with the National Center for Youth Law after they provided the Board of Supervisors with a report on the First Responder Protocol.

“As this innovative Protocol enters its fifth year, it is rightfully held up as an exemplar for other jurisdictions,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas added. “I believe it is worthy of an outside evaluation – one that will validate its findings and strengthen its effectiveness as it is scaled up.”

The Protocol was the result of a motion approved by the Board. Launched in 2014, it defines key steps that law enforcement, County safety net agencies and community-based partners should take within 72 hours of coming into contact with a potential victim of commercial sexual exploitation. Instead of re-traumatizing them by arresting them for crimes committed by pimps and johns, the Protocol diverts these children and youth from incarceration, and connects them to safety, stability and hope.

Given the physical and mental trauma they have experienced, the Protocol focuses on meeting their immediate needs and supporting them to achieve long-term safety and stability through intensive wrap-around services, including making sure they have a community-based advocate and a team of other professionals who remain in their life for a minimum of 90 days, but sometimes for several years.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas has long been an advocate for these children and youth and, in 2015, authored a motion that led to the creation of the Integrated Leadership Team (ILT), a collaboration among several County departments now tasked with overseeing and implementing the County’s response and approach to their commercial sexual exploitation. The ILT’s findings in its report on the first four years of the protocol include:

  • 361 children and teenagers were recovered from August 14, 2014 to August 14, 2018, some more than once – one youth was recovered nine different times;
  • the average age at first recovery was just under 16 years old, and the youngest victim was 11 years old;
  • 359 are girls; 2 are boys;
  • 85 percent had one or more prior child welfare referrals;
  • 71 percent are African-American, 18 percent are Latino or Latina, and 10 percent are white;
  • 65 percent received a medical evaluation within the first 72 hours after recovery;
  • the immediate wrap-around services resulted in a significant drop in the number of youth who ran away once they were recovered. With continued support and engagement, only 12 percent disappeared after the first 72 hours.

The Protocol was piloted in areas served by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Compton and Century stations, and by the Long Beach Police Department. As of July 2018, the protocol was fully implemented at all Sheriff’s stations and at all divisions of the Los Angeles Police Department. Representatives from multiple jurisdictions, including the Counties of San Diego and Alameda, and the states of Alabama, Texas, and Washington have met with protocol personnel to learn how to implement the Protocol in their respective jurisdictions.

In the meantime, County departments and community organizations will continue working together to ensure that Los Angeles County remains a transformative leader in how the country serves youth and families who have been affected by commercial sexual exploitation.

Below is a series of videos about the issue of sex trafficking in Los Angeles County:


Harvest Party Mixes Pumpkins and Development Projects

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas greets a younger community member at the October 27, 2018 Harvest Party. Photo by Hugh Williams / Board of Supervisors

Youth show up for face painting, games, and other activities at the Harvest Party. Photo by Hugh Williams / Board of Supervisors

More than 200 people turned out for a fun-filled Harvest Party on the site of the mixed-use development slated for the intersection of Vermont and Manchester avenues in South LA. The site, formerly a blighted lot, had been converted for the afternoon into colorful, family-friendly area, with bright yellow benches and overhead canopies for shade. There were free pumpkins and face painting for children, mini-soccer balls for toddlers, free tacos and beans for all and healthy cooking demonstrations.

But this was a party with a purpose. Fulfilling a promise to keep the community informed and engaged as the affordable housing, retail and educational project slated for the site moves forward, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas — who sponsored the event — invited area residents to meet the developers who will be transforming the site.

A young community member selects a pumpkin at the Harvest Party. Photo by Hugh Williams / Board of Supervisors

Bridge Housing heads the team which will be responsible for constructing and operating the retail, affordable housing, transit plaza and parking planned the site. Their partners include the Coalition for Responsible Community Development and Primestor Development, Inc. all of whom have deep roots in community and economic development across South Los Angeles. Throughout the afternoon, community members moved from the child-oriented events to booths where they casually chatted with the team and shared their ideas.

“This site has been a hot topic for 30 years,” said Juan Molino, editor of a local blog and newspaper. “There’s been a lot of heat over the lack of development in the past because we were sold lots of dreams by the past owner. But I’m a fan of what they’re doing here,” he said, gesturing to the developer’s booths and sweeping his arm to encompass the entire event. “This project is going to be good for us in so many ways.”

Planned for the 4.2-acre site are: California’s first urban public boarding school,180 units of affordable housing, a transportation careers training center, open space and 62,000 square foot of retail space. The school, which will be operated by the SEED Foundation, already is poised to become a one-of-a-kind pipeline for graduates seeking lucrative careers in the STEM and transportation fields.

“This project is designed to be an economic engine for this community,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. “In particular, the school will give some of our best and brightest children the tools they need to graduate and either go to college or to begin a job for which they have been fully prepared.

The Empowerment Congress Economic Development Committee showed up to the Vermont/Manchester activation. Photo by Hugh Williams / Board of Supervisors

“We are laying the foundation for wealth-building on the Vermont Corridor, starting right here at Vermont and Manchester,” the Supervisor continued.

Lesley Poole, chief executive officer of the Seed Foundation also was on hand for the party. Poole, who is based in Washington D.C., has family ties to the Vermont/Manchester community and chatted easily with community members, introducing herself and listening to their ideas.

SEED runs the nation’s only network of public, college-preparatory boarding schools. SEED Los Angeles will be the foundation’s fourth school; the others are in Washington D.C., Maryland and Miami. The LA school will offer a STEM-focused curriculum for grades 9-12, and the school will recruit students from the local community and across the County, in partnership with the County of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

“Success starts with the community,” Poole said. “Our goal is to ensure young people have agency, opportunity and resources. When people have the necessary resources, they can bring about the changes they want for their own communities.”

Community members play a large version of tic-tac-toe. Photo by Hugh Williams / Board of Supervisors