South LA Freedom School students make mark with art

Joyous cheering, rhythmic clapping and motivational chants welcomed Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas as he kicked off a colorful mural-painting activity to brighten up the construction underway at Martin Luther King Jr. Hospital.

More than 200 energetic children and teenagers dipped paint brushes into vibrant hues to fill murals with words such as “aspire,” “create,” “believe,” and most appropriately, “read.”

imageThe young student artists were chosen from Freedom Schools in the Second District of Los Angeles. Supervisor Ridley-Thomas’ office, which provides partial funding for the six-week summer literacy program, partnered with the Department of Public Works and City Year Los Angeles for the mural activity. The murals will be displayed in front of the Martin Luther King Jr. Multi-Service Ambulatory Care Center until construction ends in 2013, when they will be moved to a permanent location.

“This is an opportunity to contribute to the quality of life in this community, ” Ridley-Thomas told a room filled with lively youth who routinely broke out into call-and-response cheering. “We have doctors in the house, we have school administrators in the house, we have scholars in the house, and the house is packed.”

imageChanting and cheering is an integral part of the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools® curriculum. Each morning begins with the Swahili tradition of harambee, which includes a guest reader, motivational singing, call-and-response cheering, affirmations and a meditational moment of silence before the day’s activities begin. Guest readers are community professionals from a wide range of careers, and they tell students how reading and literacy is relevant to their field of work.

“The main thing we want them to know is that reading is fun and that they can connect all of these rich activities to that,” said Yolanda Robinson, site coordinator for the program at First New Christian Fellowship. “We try to stay away from traditional sports and activities so they leave having had new experiences.”

Many students enter the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools® program with little to no interest in reading. After a summer of connecting literature to unfamiliar activities like croquet, badminton and Zumba dance aerobics, many change their minds.

“I didn’t like reading before, but when I got here it was a whole different story,” said 9-year-old Damon Fuery, who eagerly described his favorite book this summer: a Kid Caramel Private Investigator novel about a werewolf impostor. “I love mystery books because they’re kind of like a puzzle to solve.”

imageChildren’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools® are hosted at four sites within Ridley-Thomas’s district: First New Christian Fellowship, Bethel A.M.E. Church, Community Coalition at Foshay Learning Center and First Church of God in Inglewood.

The Freedom Schools program is based on the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer Project, a college student-driven campaign that erected Freedom Schools and Freedom Houses that helped African Americans register to vote and expand their literacy through engagement with the arts. The current iteration of the program under the Children’s Defense Fund began in 1992 and operates in 84 cities nationwide.

“We don’t believe that there are any bad apples in our school,” said Aaron Burleson, site coordinator for the Community Coalition chapter of the program. He noted that the Freedom School philosophy of never expelling a student from the program due to behavioral difficulties separates it from traditional public schools. “Everyone’s a scholar, and we hold them to that standard.”

South L.A. gets Empowered to Realize the Dream

By LaMonica Peters, executive Producer of “The Hutchinson Report” on KPFK 90.7 FM

imageThe 2nd Supervisorial District’s annual summit, “Empowered to Realize the Dream,” brought local politicians and residents together on Saturday to reflect upon the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and inspire those in attendance to continue his work here in Los Angeles.

Hosted by Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas at USC, this community event highlighted the State of the 2nd District. The Empowerment Congress, a community-based non-profit, was founded in 1992 for the purpose of involving constituents in the governmental decision-making process with their elected officials. For nearly two decades, it has been responsible for bringing hundreds of millions of dollars in economic development and 2,800 new jobs to the 8th Council District, which includes many communities in South Los Angeles.

Mark Ridley-Thomas is the first African-American man to be elected to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. He represents the 2.3 million people of the Second District, spanning Carson, Compton, Culver City, Gardena, Hawthorne, Inglewood, Lynwood, Alondra Park, Athens, Del Aire, Dominguez, East Compton, El Camino Village, Florence, Ladera Heights, Lennox, View Park, West Athens, West Carson, West Compton, Willowbrook, Wiseburn and portions of all 10 Los Angeles City Council Districts. Prior to becoming the Second District’s Supervisor, Ridley-Thomas represented the 26th District in the California State Senate.

During his address at the 2011 Annual Summit, Ridley-Thomas focused on the 2nd District’s plans and accomplishments, including:

• The new partnership with the University of California that is restoring in-patient hospital care at a new Martin Luther King, Jr. hospital;
• The adoption of Construction Career and Local Worker Hire policies at the Exposition Light Rail Construction Authority to ensure 2nd District residents receive their fair share of job opportunities and economic benefits associated with public works projects;
• The adoption of the Light Rail Transit option as the locally preferred alternative for addressing the public transit needs in the Crenshaw to LAX corridor;
• The re-opening of settlement negotiations with parties to the litigation surrounding the Baldwin Hills Community Standards District in an effort to better address the sight, smell, sound and safety issues presented by this large urban oil field; and
• The pursuit of establishing Environmental Service Centers as a means of creatively building environmentally sensitive and sustainable communities.

Although Ridley-Thomas’s presentation was the featured segment of the morning and very informative, he was followed by two of the most accomplished women in California’s history. Congresswoman Karen Bass, the first African American woman in the United States to be elected as Speaker of the Assembly, was on hand to introduce the keynote speaker. The keynote speaker was Kamala Harris, the newly elected Attorney General. Harris is the first African American, the first South Asian American, and the first woman to hold this office in California.

Harris spoke of moving away from divisive ideologies and focusing on the work the people want done: equality, safe communities, protection from corporate abuse and sound leadership from elected officials. She spoke of prison reform that would find alternatives to the mass incarceration of people of color, prosecuting those who target the elderly for fraudulent activities and the tackling the gang problem in California. Harris also encouraged the audience to not allow this generation to be complacent, accepting the ills of society as the status quo, but to be willing to unite, sacrifice and ultimately, meet the challenges that we face today.

The event culminated with breakout sessions on a range of issues affecting the Los Angeles community: the child welfare system, economic development, youth empowerment, green technology, mental illness, non-profit organizations, social justice through arts, incarceration, redistricting and emergency preparedness. The workshops were facilitated by Los Angeles County officials, including Dr. Lori Glasgow, Deputy Chief of Staff for Supervisor Michael Antonovich and Richard Fajardo, Senior Deputy for Justice and Public Safety.

Next year will mark the 20th Anniversary Celebration of this community Summit. Since 2012 will also be an election year, the 2nd District Annual Summit will undoubtedly be an unmissable event. For more information about the Empowerment Congress, go to or call 213-346-3246. You may also reach Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas at 213-974-2222.