Rev. Al Sharpton and Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas at the Empowerment Congress
Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas marked the 20th annual Empowerment Congress and laid out its accomplishments, goals and objectives since its founding.
In 1991, when Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas became a city councilman, he instituted the Neighborhood Council Movement (NCM) which eventually evolved into the Empowerment Congress (EC). And throughout his moves to the assembly and the state senate, the Supervisor kept the NCM alive often times shifting the focus from the immediate concerns to matters such as larger scale public works projects.
Last weekend as the EC celebrated its 20 th anniversary, Rev. Al Sharpton, civil rights activist and host of MSNBC’s Politics Nation, was the keynote speaker; and actor and author Hill Harper, whose bestselling books have made him a nationally recognized voice for self help and community empowerment, also participated in the EC event.
They both masterfully blended their conversations with some participation from the packed USC’s Bovard auditorium and skillfully complemented the Supervisor, and the other special guests: LaPhonza Butler, of the SEIU United Long Term Care Workers’ Union; Maria Elena Durazo of the LA County Federation of Labor AFL-CIO; and the moderator KCRW host, Warren Olney. In addition, there was a host of EC workers and volunteers, and members of the union.
It is important to understand some of the inner workings of the EC and how it operates to help the community understand how government works and to participate in that process. The Mission of the EC is:
TO EMPOWER ALL MEMBERS OF OUR DIVERSE COMMUNITIES WITHIN THE 2 ND SUPERVISORIAL DISTRICT OF LOS ANGELES COUNTY TO ENSURE OUR COLLECTIVE VOICE IS HEARD BY:
- ENCOURAGING AND ENLISTING THE FULL PARTICIPATION OF OUR COMMUNITY TO IMPROVE OUR QUALITY OF LIFE;
- EDUCATING AND INFORMING OUR COMMUNITY ON HOW GOVERNMENT WORKS;
- DEVELOPING STRATEGIES THAT SHAPE POLICY AND LEGISLATION; AND
- CONNECTING OUR COMMUNITY TO RESOURCES AND SERVICES.
With the motto: Educate, Engage and Empower, the challenges that persist in the neighborhoods is a part of the driving force that keeps the EC alive. According to the record, more than 300 residents attended the first EC summit and attendance has increased rapidly over the years. It now consistently draws more than 1,000 participants and that kind of involvement commands national attention.
Enter Rev. Al Sharpton, the keynote speaker, who made some definitive comments relating to the weekend in which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. birth was celebrated leading up to the national holiday the following Monday.
Saying that Dr. King did what he did without fax machines and the like, Rev. Sharpton said, “… yet we are complaining when we now stand on the shoulders of those who went before us.” He also compared the struggles that Dr. King endured especially his (Dr. King’s) concern for the common man. “For he died in service to the sanitation workers in Memphis.”
Futhermore, Rev. Sharpton said, in no uncertain terms, that the same forces that Dr. King was fighting against for the civil rights of all people – especially people of color – are still in existence today. Some of them are called “the Tea Party,” he said, and whereas Dr. King was fighting against Jim Crow, “It’s now James Crow, Jr. Esq.”
It’s the same mentality whose sole purpose is to see that “President Obama is a one term president,” as the Senate minority leader echoes loudly for his party to hear.
Then Hill Harper – a Harvard graduate and former class mate of one Barack Obama – took the reins and read a letter he received from a 16-year old imprisoned youth. Reading the letter verbatim, Harper issued a challenge to those who listened that his foundation tries to rescue young people who “fell through the cracks” but that he was too late for the 16-year old, who had already been tried, as an adult, for murder. It was a moving delivery.
Harper also described his experience in visiting the Lorraine Motel in Memphis (the place where Dr. King was assassinated) and how he look at the spot through his “CSI” eyes (the role he plays on television).
Finally, the EC members were of invaluable assistance to Supervisor Ridley-Thomas in building political support for the new Martin Luther King, Jr. Medical Center, a top priority on his agenda.
All in all, the continuation of the work of the EC is vital to improving and sustaining the quality of life in the second district under the leadership of the Supervisor.