Educating, engaging, and empowering in 2012: The 20th anniversary of empowerment

[fancy_box]More than 2,000 community members, activists, dignitaries, elected officials, and religious leaders registered to attend the 20th Annual Empowerment Congress Summit hosted by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and the Empowerment Congress on the University of Southern California’s campus, Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend. The Summit began with a plenary session inside USC’S Bovard Auditorium featuring Master of Ceremonies and KCRW Host and Executive Producer Which Way LA? and To the Point, Warren Olney, Executive Secretary-Treasure of the LA Federation of Labor Maria Elena Durazo, Best Selling Author and Actor Hill Harper, and MSNBC’s PoliticsNation host and Keynote Speaker Al Sharpton. [/fancy_box]

[fancy_box]Invited to speak by Empowerment Congress Founder, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Reverend Al Sharpton delivered a spellbinding keynote message, encouraging the standing room only crowd to honor Dr. King’s memory by fighting both right-wing assaults and left-wing apathy in order to preserve civil rights that were won with blood and struggle. “This election is not about Obama; it’s about your Mama,” he quipped. View Reverend Al Sharpton’s keynote remarks in their entirety in the above video. [/fancy_box]

As a special highlight of the program, two of Los Angeles’ most prominent labor leaders, Maria Elena Durazo, Secretary Treasurer of the LA Federation of Labor, and Laphonza Butler, President of SEIU Long Term Care Workers Union, made a special presentation to Rose Mary Gudiel, the San Gabriel Valley woman who, with the assistance of community and labor organizers, successfully averted foreclosure on her home by camping in her own house. After the plenary session, participants had the opportunity to attend a variety of workshops ranging from topics such as health, public safety, and economic development. Following the breakout sessions, attendees were able to take advantage of a resource fair with more than 40 booths containing information about County and community services.

The Summit ended with a luncheon entitled Empowerment Connections hosted by ABC 7 traffic reporter, Alysha Del Valle. Aside from the delicious food, generously donated USC President C.L Nikias, the luncheon featured entertainment from local band The Bricks, and special presentations from community leaders in the Second Supervisorial District.

“Apathy is the most serious threat to democracy,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “Vehicles such as the Empowerment Congress serve as a platform that allows people to collectively come together to solve the concerns in their individual communities.”

[fancy_box] The Empowerment Congress was born in the aftermath of injustice and violence: the beating of Rodney King, the acquittal of the Los Angeles police officers responsible and the wave of destruction that swept throughout Los Angeles. Under Ridley-Thomas’ direction, a budding neighborhood improvement effort — begun before the civil unrest — was formalized into the Empowerment Congress, with the motto Educate, Engage, Empower. The video above highlights the history of the Empowerment Congress that has paved the way to celebrate 20 years of empowerment in 2012. [/fancy_box]

The dynamic coalition of neighborhood groups, residents, nonprofit organizations, businesses, religious institutions, and community leaders served as a model and precursor to the City of Los Angeles’ Neighborhood Councils, and now serves over 2.5 million residents in the Los Angeles County Second Supervisorial District, from Koreatown south to Carson, Playa del Rey to Compton.

The Empowerment Congress’ tried and true methods of civic engagement have garnered national attention. This year, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the non-profit Community Partners organization, launched the Community Engagement Leadership Institute, bringing together teams comprised of civic and business leaders from Hawaii, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Washington and Wisconsin for a three-day institute where they studied the civic engagement model. The program was 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 since 1992.

2012 has been called “The Year of Empowerment.” Each month will focus around a specific policy area of interest to the second supervisorial district and will feature educational, engaging, and interactive programming. For more information and to get involved, please visit

[fancy_box]California Forward’s coverage of the 20th Anniversary Empowerment Congress courtesy of and Gloria Deleon.[/fancy_box]
[fancy_box]View Los Angeles County Channel’s news coverage of the 2012 Empowerment Congress Summit.[/fancy_box]