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Empowering future leaders through dialogue: 2012 Empowerment Congress Youth Summit

While civil rights leader and activist Rev. Al Sharpton was speaking to a rapt audience at the University of Southern California’s Bovard Auditorium during the 20th Anniversary Summit of the Empowerment Congress, a gathering of a different kind was occurring across campus. A diverse group of 250 children, youth and chaperones convened the 2012 Youth Summit. Participants, ranging from first graders to high school seniors, engaged in a dialectic approach modeled after “Days of Dialogue,” a series of conversations between cultural groups born in the wake of the 1992 civil unrest. The day’s event was entitled, “Youth Empowered: Celebrating Our Heritage, Strengthening Our Community.”

Lead Facilitator Avis Ridley-Thomas and trained facilitators from the UCLA Institute of Nonviolence, along with the assistance of educators and volunteers from the Empowerment Congress Education Committee assisted the students, who were randomly assigned to small groups, as they navigated a series of questions about conflict and problem solving. Facilitators posed a series of questions taken from Youth Issues, Youth Voices: A Guide for Engaging Youth and Adults in Public Dialogue and Problem-Solving, including ones such as: What (if any) issues have arisen in your school/community between racial and/or ethnic groups? What is being done in your school/community to address problems between groups? What has worked? What’s not working well? What could we do to reduce conflicts between groups? And lastly: How can youth take the lead?

The goal of the event was to elicit open and frank discussion, and it did. Young participants shared their views and experiences on race, culture and issues of inclusion as it related to their families, school environment and peer groups. Some spoke of divisions and tension in their schools and neighborhoods. Most students referenced the similarities that exist among various groups, yet spoke of living within isolated communities and proposed increasing activities among youth and adults that serve to bring individuals together. The overall tone of the Youth Summit was uplifting. Students were addressed by Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheriff Lee Baca, as well as noted actor, author and activist Hill Harper. Harper caused a stir when he spoke, urging the youths to believe in themselves, assuring them that they can overcome whatever obstacles come their way.

“The perspectives gained from engaging our youth add significant value to the Second District,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. ” If we are to raise up a generation of future leaders who will positively contribute to our communities, we must unapologetically support and promote our youth.” As the 2012 Youth Summit drew to a close, students were buoyant and empowered to go forward as leaders in their schools and communities. The Education Committee plans to hold smaller dialogues with youth at local schools as part of the 20th Anniversary Year of Empowerment.

More than 18 schools schools and organizations from throughout the diverse tapestry of the Second District participated, including: Washington Preparatory High School, Morningside High School , Kayne Eras Center, Tongan American Youth Foundation, Century Center for Economic Opportunity Inc. (Youthbuild), J. Eldridge Taylor (JET) Foundation, Educating Young Minds, Verbum Dei High School, Brotherhood Crusade, Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) and Animo Pat Brown High School.

2012 Annual Kingdom Day Parade announces Supervisor Ridley-Thomas will serve as grand marshal


27th Annual Kingdom Day Parade: MyFoxLA.com

The life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was celebrated by second district residents as they joined Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, this year’s grand marshal, Stevie Wonder, and thousands of spectators and participants at the 27th annual Kingdom Day Parade on January 16.  The procession progressed along Martin Luther King Boulevard and ended with a festival at Leimert Park. The parade featured dozens of marching bands from schools throughout  the Second Supervisorial District, in addition to community leaders, musicians, floats, equestrian units, drill teams, dance groups, dignitaries and the surviving members of the Tuskegee Airmen, the legendary African American aviators in the U.S. armed forces.
Coincidentally, these World War II pilots made their way through the parade route just days before the opening of the movie about their experiences entitled Red Tails. The movie is produced by legendary filmmaker George Lucas and hit movie theaters throughout the nation on January 20.  More than 25 years after Kingdom Day Parade founder, Mr. Larry E. Grant launched the first event, the parade it continues to be a vehicle for people of all races and religions, colors and creeds to pay homage to the deeds and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Free high efficiency toilets

Central Basin Municipal Water District has been awarded a conservation grant from the California Department of Water Resources, which includes funding through the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California to provide free high-efficiency toilets, including installation for qualifying multi-family properties. The Central Basin Municipal Water District covers all of Florence-Firestone, all of the City of Lynwood and Parts of Willowbrook, East Rancho and Compton.

This program is designed to install 10,000 High-Efficiency Toilets in multi-family residences throughout the District’s service area. Made possible from grant funding awarded by the Department of Water Resources and will conclude by December 2012. By replacing conventional 3.5 gallons-per-flush devices, residences will conserve over 200 acre-feet of water annually over the 25-year life-span of the HETs.

Click here for more information and to register.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas delivers keynote address at the 41st Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Brotherhood Breakfast


Supervisor Ridley-Thomas delivered the keynote address Friday morning at the 41st Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Brotherhood Breakfast, held at YMCA of Metropolitan Los Angeles. His full speech appears below:

I am honored to be here this morning as we pay tribute to the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I am also pleased to acknowledge the work of both Carl Ballton and Linda Griego who through their respective positions and associations seek to improve the quality of life for what Dr. King termed, “the beloved community.”

Let me also give appropriate acknowledgement to the YMCA of Metropolitan Los Angeles, its President, Alan Hostrup, and the Board of Directors, many of whom are here today.

The work of the YMCA adds value not only to those who participate in its various programs, but to the wider communities that it serves. Its work is underscored by the Christian values that the YMCA was founded on: trust, respect, responsibility, fairness, character, and civility. Inherent in those values is a universalism that can be applied in all contexts, regardless of religious tradition, age, ethnic background, race or experience.

The essence of Dr. King’s witness is embedded in the values of the YMCA. Dr. King was reared in the religious tradition by his mother and father. Yet while a student at Morehouse College, and later seminary, his worldview was shaped by the lessons of Gandhi, and, closer to home, Howard Thurman, and Dr. Benjamin Elijah Mays. The intertwining of the values learned in the religious context, coupled with that of Thurman, Gandhi, and Mays, enabled Dr. King to take controversial stands on the important issues of his time as well as to espouse a principled opposition to the violence that was occurring on the streets of Birmingham and jungles of Vietnam.

Dr. King’s ethos led him to march his weary feet across the red soil clay of Georgia to fight for dignity. It led Dr. King to walk through the rainstorms in Alabama to encourage African-Americans to vote. His ethos led him to build a movement to fight slum conditions in Chicago and stand for equality in education. Dr. King’s range of vision and his wisdom was much broader than the parochial interests of segregated communities. He understood the interconnectedness of all humanity and the role that different movements have in the fight for social and economic justice.

Therefore, it was no coincidence that Dr. King emphasized the relationship between organized labor and civil rights. We are all familiar with the language articulated in the Declaration of Independence, specifically the statement that “all men are created equal” and that each individual is endowed with the rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Implicit in the meaning of both phrases is the notion of human dignity.

Dr. King wielded an understanding of those simple but mighty phrases. And so, on the steps of the Washington Monument, he spoke of his dream that the quality of life of all people would one day be equal. He spoke of justice and democracy; of brotherhood and the urgency of the moment.

Dr. King was not satisfied with seeing those who toiled in the factories day and night traveling to their resting place only to find themselves unable to feed their children. He was not satisfied with witnessing farm workers stoop low in the searing sun and not receive a livable wage. He was not satisfied with policies that benefited the rich over the poor. He was not satisfied with mediocrity and so he challenged us to view the interests of African-Americans and labor on one accord. I am here because of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In my work as a former teacher, an activist, and now as a public servant for over 20 years I have sought to champion that which will improve the lives of the least among us.
And so the question becomes, what does that mean?

It means focusing on unemployment not only by creating jobs in the Second Supervisorial District, but by ensuring that a significant proportion of local residents are hired for those good jobs.

It means making sure that the aptly named, new Martin Luther King, Jr. Hospital provides quality, competent heath care to the residents in south Los Angeles. It means ensuring that our children are literate and numerate by supporting the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom School initiative.

It means completing the work begun by Tom Bradley and Julian Dixon and making certain that we have light rail transportation in our community with the Expo Line and the Crenshaw-LAX line.

It means focusing on the issue of developmental disabilities, particularly autism, and the inequity and challenges that confront those who battle with that condition making it one of the new civil rights issues of our time.

And lastly, it is our moral imperative to address the manner in which we incarcerate juveniles and adults by providing them with quality education, mental health services, and jobs that enable them to live productive lives and successfully transition back into the community.
Our work continues.

Dr. King’s life is a testament to the fact that one individual can bring about catalytic change.
Although he believed that individuals possessed the capacity to make a difference through direct action; Dr. King demonstrated that mass participation is necessary to improve the body politic.

And so I am pleased that tomorrow, on the campus of the University of Southern California, we will celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the Empowerment Congress. The Empowerment Congress is a model founded on the principle that the sum of our collective wisdom and talents is greater than our individual reach.

We must raise up and empower a generation of leaders, committed to find solutions to the enormous challenges that confront us today. We need a new generation leaders who are agents of responsible, ethical and social transformation in their communities. Leaders who posture themselves as conduits of new ideas and innovation across a wide array of disciplines. Leaders who have the courage to change the tide. Leaders whose moral compass is oriented toward justice.

In closing, let me leave you with the following: Our work is not done. The songwriter states, “We who believe in freedom shall not rest.” I renew my commitment to be unyielding in the fight for equality and justice on every issue, large or small. “Let us march on until victory is won.”

Thank you.

Kellogg Foundation partners with the Empowerment Congress to launch national leadership program modeled on L.A. initiative


The W.K. Kellogg Foundation, along with the non-profit Community Partners organization, has founded a new, national program to be modeled on Los Angeles’ Empowerment Congress, the grassroots organization begun by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas in 1992 to help ordinary citizens engage more deeply with local and state government.

The launch of the Community Engagement Leadership Institute, which kicked off Tuesday and will culminate Saturday at the 20th annual Empowerment Congress Summit at the University of Southern California, brings together teams comprised of elected leaders, civic and business leaders, from around the country. The teams hale from the following locations: Hawaii, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Washington and Wisconsin.

The three-day institute is designed to help participants develop strategies to improve their respective community and public policy outcomes by using the practices, techniques, and tools that have been most effectively applied by the Empowerment Congress, the inspiration for the city’s neighborhood council movement. While visiting Los Angeles, participants will experience hands-on learning methods and create action plans to begin their own civic engagement processes once they return to their communities. At Saturday’s Summit, they will attend workshops on issues including safe sleeping practices for parents of infants, the impact of incarceration on families, and a youth discussion on heritage and community.

The Empowerment Congress is entirely orchestrated by community members who develop strategies to advance policy in their communities and improve the quality of civic and community engagement.

The 20th Anniversary Summit will feature keynote speaker Al Sharpton, actor and best selling author Hill Harper, and will be moderated by Which Way LA host Warren Olney. The program, which is free, begins at 9 a.m. and will be followed by a luncheon.