Neither rain nor frigid temperatures could dampen the joy on 9-year-old Amauria Bowman’s face Friday night at the fourth annual tree lighting ceremony at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Multi-Service Ambulatory Care Center in Willowbrook.
The fourth grader at Carver Elementary school was one of nearly 250 children that showed up to sip hot cocoa, eat sugar cookies and receive a toy for Christmas at the event hosted by Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas. As she snuggled into her warm jacket, Bowman reflected on the true meaning of the holidays.
“I just think this is a big celebration of life and the rain doesn’t ruin it,” she said. “What matters is that we have fun and celebrate and have a nice time.”
The gathering, which was also supported by Legrant Communications, served as a time of reflection in honor of the Newtown, Connecticut mass shooting where 27 people died—including 20 children. The Rev. Shane Scott of Macedonia Baptist Church, MACC Chief Executive Officer Cynthia Moore-Oliver and Elaine Batchlor, the Chief Executive Officer of the MLK Community Hospital joined Chairman Ridley-Thomas and the Grant AME Church Youth Choir at the event in addition to more than 100 adults from the local community. In his welcoming remarks, Chairman Ridley-Thomas noted that the tragedy put a spotlight on the importance of protecting children.
“When we think about Newtown, Connecticut we must give special accord to the children. We cannot act as if something extraordinary didn’t happen in this land,” said Chairman Ridley-Thomas. “We are here, also saddened by the circumstances in which any of us could have found ourselves.”
After a moment of silence and a prayer, 9-year-old Chryshell Perkins, a fourth grader who is also from the Watts-Willowbrook Boys and Girls Club, flipped the switch to light the tree. Perkins was selected for the honor because of her good grades. She smiled proudly and as she sipped her hot cocoa she noted how getting good grades would help her get into college. “If I get good grades and I don’t have enough money for college, they could pay my way,” she said, describing the possible scholarships that could be available to her.
The lighting of the “Tree of Hope” also highlighted anticipation of the upcoming construction and eventual opening of the brand new medical campus that is coming to the site. The Medical Campus, which will host an inpatient hospital, mental health urgent care center, medical office space, residential facilities for seniors and medical interns and residents, will provide a more holistic and preventative approach to health care for local residents. “We signal hope and life and new beginnings at the Martin Luther King Medical Campus,” said Chairman Ridley-Thomas.
But for 6-year-old Jonathan Eason, the night’s highlight was the Hot Wheels Trick Track stunt set that he received.
“It looks awesome and has very cool cars!” he said as he held the box tightly.
And while 12-year-old Karen Mendoza, of Edison Middle School, was happy to receive a Scrabble Slam card game to play with her siblings, her wish was a simple one for the holidays.
“I would like for my family to get together and have a great time,” she said.