South LA residents rally to protect funding for community clinics

Listen to an audio story by Annenberg Radio News

imageMore than 300 South Los Angeles residents, politicians and health care providers packed into the St. John’s Well Child & Family Center Wednesday night to take a stand against potential cuts that would make health care less accessible to thousands of residents.

Over plates of rice, beans and taquitos, people sat and stood shoulder-to-shoulder, spilling out into the street on the corner of Hoover and 58th. The temperature rose as did people’s passionate pleas to the Los Angeles County Supervisors: don’t cut funding to community clinics in South LA. The event was the kickoff of a campaign to protect community health clinics. SEIU United Healthcare Workers organized it and numerous other health organizations showed up to offer their support.

The five Los Angeles County Supervisors will vote in January on whether to end or extend funding to community clinics throughout LA County. The vote is expected to be tight.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who pledged to protect clinic funding in South LA, was greeted with a standing ovation. In a rallying cry, he commanded the room:

“SEIU in the house? Who got the power?”

“We got the power!” the crowd responded.

“We are not prepared to allow any of our programs to be defunded,” Ridley-Thomas said. “In other words, we need all of what we have and then some, because frankly in South Los Angeles we are over due. Somebody ought to say overdue!”

imageMany attendees would be directly affected if clinics lost funding. Hattie Walker’s daughter Khadiya Walker has down syndrome and autism. Walker’s work doesn’t insure her and she pays medical costs out of pocket. Because of Khadiya’s special needs, Walker depends on health care funding. If costs were to increase, that would mean less food on the table.

“It’s horrible, it’s already up high enough for me,” she said. “I’m barely making it from check to check. But we all need health care, so I don’t really have a choice.”

Marlene Brand, a mammogram technician, says that an increase in health care costs will result in fewer people seeking medical attention for really problems. She has already seen this since the beginning of the recession in 2008. She says that it makes a huge difference in people’s quality of life and, in some cases, can mean the difference of life and death.

“It doesn’t happen all the time, but it does happen,” Brand says. “And it shouldn’t. Ever.”

The word of the night was equality. The cuts would disproportionately hurt South LA, where about 70 percent of the community have no private health insurance and depend on community clinics. Diabetes and heart disease rates are higher there than any other part of the county and the life expectancy is 10 years less in South LA than the national average.image“I believe that everyone has a right to get their medicine no matter what your income level is, your education level is,” Brand said. “The thing about it that is it could be your mom, your sister, your uncle, it could be someone in your family. Would you want to see them waste away or die because they don’t have money?”

If the cuts pass, South and East Los Angeles, the poorest areas of LA county, will be hardest hiss. South LA will lose $11 million. Among the providers that stand to lose the most is St. John’s clinics, which would lose $4 million, according to UHW media representative David Tokaji. He says that four of St. John’s clinics will likely shut down.

“God didn’t make any mistakes. We are all created in the image and likeness of God,” Ridley-Thomas said at the end of his talk. “Therefore we want first-rate care, we want the first draw of resources at our disposal. If we do that, we will have served all of these children well. And every single adult in this room has a responsibility to stand up for these children.”

New technology brings more convenient, confidential STD testing to South LA

The 2010 stats on STDs in Los Angeles are in, and while it’s not good news for South LA, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas says he’s determined to do something about the high numbers in his district.

The Second Supervisorial District, which includes South LA, has the highest number of cases of chlamydia and gonorrhea in the county. Last year, a total of 14,999 chlamydia cases and 3,646 gonorrhea cases were reported for residents of the Second District—that’s more than 30 percent of all chlamydia cases and 38 percent of all the gonorrhea cases in the county.

It was against these grim statistics that Ridley-Thomas addressed an audience of community and faith leaders, healthcare providers and educators outside the new Martin Luther King Jr. Public Health Center to share his district’s STD Control Plan.

imageThe plan, which seeks to help women overcome the barriers to the diagnosis and treatment of STDs, revolves around an expansion of the county’s “I Know” home STD testing program. The county is emphasizing the technology behind the “I Know” campaign—both in the test itself and in the way women can obtain the free testing kits.

The test, which can be done at home in a few minutes, is a nucleic acid amplification test, which the Department of Public Health identifies as the most accurate type of test for either chlamydia or gonorrhea. It’s the same type of test that would be done at a clinic, but now women can get tested on their own time without having to arrange transportation or face the embarrassment or stigma that may exist with going to a clinic.

Testing kits can be ordered for free through the website or by calling a toll-free hotline (800-758-0880). The kit arrives by mail within a week. And starting this year, outreach workers will be attending community events who can register women for a kit on-the-fly with mobile devices. The Second District will also be placing kiosks around South LA that allow women to sign up to have a kit delivered. Ridley-Thomas said the kiosks were movable and that they would be experimenting with locations to find the most high-traffic areas.

Results can then be checked online or through a toll free number. Women can have confidential access to their results at a time that works for them, without having to worry about a nurse calling them at home or work or somewhere else that lacks privacy.

The hope is that the increased options for testing, along with education, will help overcome feelings of shame tied to going to a public clinic to get tested. As Ridley-Thomas had his audience repeat several times, “Shame is not a cure.”

Mobile testing units offer another alternative to visiting a clinic or performing the test at home. Health workers can run tests for common STDs as well as HIV. Each RV contains two private examination rooms.

Dr. Jonathan Fielding, the director of the LA County Department of Public Health emphasized that it’s especially important for young women to get tested for these two diseases because they can be asymptomatic, and if left untreated, can lead to more serious complications like pelvic inflammatory disease, which can cause infertility in some cases. With increased testing, Dr. Fielding hopes the county can identify instances of chlamydia and gonorrhea early on, when they are easily treatable.

Reverend Clyde Oden, the senior pastor of Byant Temple AME Church Oden said the options for increased health awareness are much needed in “a community that has been overlooked and underserved.”

In addition to the new technology, Oden also encouraged a new kind of education for faith leaders in South LA so that they can actually talk knowledgeably about sexual health to the young people in their faith communities.

The question remains though, will the increased accessibility to testing reduce the number of cases of chlamydia and gonorrhea?

Angelica Woodard and Andreina Cordova, two peer counselors and volunteers with the “I Know” street team, think the kits will make a difference. While education about STDs continues to be a challenge, the kits, they explained, remove another barrier to getting tested that women in South LA were facing—transportation to a clinic.

“You get out there and realize that there’s just a huge knowledge gap for people in this area of their lives,” Cordova said. “We need to get people talking.”

And they’re hoping to do just that. Recently, they’ve been hitting the streets, passing out information on the kits and answering questions.

“We held up a banner at the Lakers’ parade that said ‘LA: Number One in basketball and Number One in chlamydia.’” Cordova said. “That got their attention.”

Crucial vote on Crenshaw-LAX Light Rail Line

On Thursday, May 26, 2011 the MTA board is scheduled to meet and vote on several motions by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas regarding the Crenshaw-LAX Light Rail Line.

The South Los Angeles Neighborhood Councils Joint Committee requested an engineering memo that was released today (May 25). To read the report, “Synopsis of Findings for the Review of Documents Related to the Crenshaw/LAX Transit Corridor, Park Mesa Heights Area,” written by Southstar Enginering and Consulting Firm, click here

Below is a news release from the Citizens’ Campaign to Fix the Expo Rail Line & Crenshaw Line Subway Coalition

At Thursday morning’s MTA meeting, the board members will vote on a motion by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas to underground the entirety of the Crenshaw Blvd portion of the Crenshaw-LAX Light Rail Line and return the Leimert Park Village station to the project. In addition to Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, Supervisor Mike Antonovich openly supports the motion, and a third board member has expressed their support privately. With 7 votes needed for passage, all eyes are on L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who controls 4 votes on the 13-member MTA Board. The $1.7 billion light rail line is scheduled to begin construction in 2012.

“The Mayor has an important decision to make and it’s about his legacy,” said Jackie Ryan, past president of the Leimert Park Village Merchants Association. “Does he want to be forever known as the Mayor who voted to put the nail in the coffin of the last African-American business corridor in Los Angeles, or the Mayor who provided for Crenshaw the greatest economic revitalization opportunity ever.”

2 of the 3 miles of the line that travels on Crenshaw Blvd is to be built underground. But “the final mile” in Park Mesa Heights from 48th to 59th Street is currently designed at street-level right next to View Park Prep School and a block away from Crenshaw H.S.

MTA’s street-level plan in Park Mesa Heights would also have severe impacts to future development and current businesses, the majority of which are African-American operated. The street-level plan would require: the removal of nearly half the parking on Crenshaw Blvd, the prohibition of left turns at streets like 54th, trains to cross every 2 ½ minutes across busy intersections like Slauson Avenue, which is currently operating at the worst possible level of congestion (LOS F), and 4-5 long years of disruptive street-level construction. During street-level construction on 3rd Street on the recently completed Gold Line Eastside Extension 90% of the businesses were put in the red, and multiple businesses were forced to close their doors.

“The Mayor needs to get on board and bring his block of votes with him,” said Damien Goodmon, Chair of Crenshaw Subway Coalition. “It is what we as a community group have been requesting and organizing towards for 4 years. Every other politician who represents South L.A. has stepped up in full support of the Ridley-Thomas motion.”

“South L.A.’s political versions of the Hatfields and the McCoys are united on this issue,” said Winnifred Jackson of the Hyde Park Organization Partnership for Empowerment (HOPE), a community-based group in the Hyde Park community that would be impacted by the street-level plan. “It’s a level of political unity not seen in generations. If Antonio Villaraigosa turns his back on us now, when the money has been identified, and as a consequence MTA builds their business-killing street-level plan through Park Mesa Heights, he can look forward to his name being mentioned right next to other despised officials like former LAPD Chief William Parker. We won’t ever forget it.”

A report released last Thursday by the MTA staff identified $2 billion dollars in resources that can be used to fund the Ridley-Thomas motion without compromising the delivery of any Measure R project. The cost of the changes to the Crenshaw-LAX Line project are projected between $339-400 million.

“We’ve been door knocking, phone banking, holding community meetings, getting petitions signed and writing letters,” said Goodmon. “We’ll be at Thursday’s board meeting by the hundreds to support the Ridley-Thomas motion. We applaud the Supervisor for stepping up to the plate to represent the Crenshaw community’s interest and the interest of transit users throughout the region who value safe and fast rail transportation. Mayor Villaraigosa needs to do the same.”

The Citizens’ Campaign to Fix the Expo Rail Line (Fix Expo Campaign) is a collaboration between over a dozen South LA community groups, neighborhood councils and homeowners association, civil rights leaders and rail safety advocates.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas’ motion is near the top of the MTA board agenda on Thursday, May 26th – MTA Headquarters (1 Gateway Plaza, Los Angeles, CA 90012). The text of the full motion can be viewed online at:

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.

Conference seeks to take the next step in health care for South L.A.

“From Declaration to Action!” That was the theme of this year’s Second Annual South Los Angeles Health & Human Rights Conference, held at the Los Angeles Convention Center on December 10, 2010.

The call to action comes after the drafting last year of a South Los Angeles Declaration of Health and Human Rights.

The declaration calls for the right to: health and behavioral health, education and employment, housing and a safe environment, food and food sovereignty, and dignity and safety.

With the declaration in hand, the community, health, labor activists and residents, were fired up to take turn those words into tangible approaches that will bring better health care to South Los Angeles.

“It’s time for movement again,” declared keynote speaker Mark Ridley-Thomas, L.A. County Supervisor for the Second District. Ridley-Thomas reminded the audience of how much has changed in the year since the group first gathered.

“Last year at this time, we didn’t have a health reform bill in the nation’s capital. There is a lot of debate about the issue itself, but when you think it, it is to be considered progress, significant progress.”

Many areas of Los Angeles County face deep and chronic problems, such as homelessness, unemployment, lack of health care access and violence. But the situation is particularly daunting in South L.A. where there is “widespread and intractable poverty,” according to Jim Mangia, president and CEO of St. John’s Well Child and Family Centers.

“Seventy-nine percent of children who live in South Los Angeles live below the federal poverty line,” said Mangia at a briefing before the conference began. “There’s an intense concentration of poverty in South L.A., so we feel that by building this movement, beginning in South Los Angeles, we can create an example of what a health and human rights movement needs.”

imageListen to Jim Mangia speak about the moral and economic need for healthcare for all:

imageEl Salvador’s Vice Minister of Public Health and Welfare, Dr. Violeta Menjivar, joined the conference to speak about her country’s adoption of a program to provide free medical care. The effort is a participatory model of health services that is now in 74 municipalities. The government plans to add 49 more in 2011 and eventually cover the entire country.

Conference participants plans to rally later in the day at the site of the demolished Orthopaedic Hospital on 23rd Street between Flower and Figueroa. Developer Geoff Palmer wants to build luxury apartments on the site; activists want to keep it zoned for healthcare services for the area’s underserved residents.

A broad-base of organizations are the driving force behind the South Los Angeles Health & Human Rights initiative, including SEIU-UHW, Community Health Councils, St. John’s Well Child and Family Center, SAJE (Strategic Actions for a Just Economy), Esperanza Community Housing Corporation, Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN), Los Angeles Metropolitan Churches and the Southside Coalition of Community Health Centers.

Mark Ridley-Thomas has proposal for juvenile justice reform

Listen to the audio story:


About 20,000 young people are on probation in Los Angeles County right now, and more than 40 percent of these youths will head right back to jail. Board Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas commissioned a report on making transition back into society more successful, and it makes some serious charges.

“We need to be smart about reentry,” Ridley-Thomas said.

The report found that some county juvenile detention camps have good reentry programs; some, but not all. The programs make sure that young people have a safe place, healthcare, addiction treatment, a support system and a plan for avoiding gang life before they leave. But the report argues that these transition services need to become institutionalized.

The researchers pointed to a few exemplary Los Angeles-based organizations as models for the Department of Corrections.