As part of its celebration of Black History Month, the Greater Los Angeles African American Chamber of Commerce (GLAAACC) hosted a virtual “Dialogue with the Next Generation of Black Leaders” on Thursday, February 16.
Cameron Onumah, head of Public Policy with Amazon Studios, served as moderator, and the featured panelists included Ty Bland, head of Global Government Affairs for Creative Artists Agency, the largest and oldest talent agency in Hollywood; Yasmine-Imani McMorrin, vice mayor of Culver City and also an attorney; Mae Gates, chief of staff to newly-elected Senator Lola Smallwood-Cuevas; Triston Ezidore, Culver City Unified School District board member; and Devyn Bakewell, the Sentinel assistant managing editor and also author of two books exploring Black love and the Historical Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) experience.
Among the issues impacting Black Angelenos and Black Californians, top of mind for Gates was the jobs crisis and its effects on Black workers. The youngest chief of staff in the entire legislature noted, “6% unemployment is an indicator for recession…but 6% unemployment is actually the norm for Black Los Angeles…what that means is that, when everyone else is in a recession, we are in a depression.”
As such, it is on Senator Smallwood-Cueva’s current agenda to address discrimination in the workplace, including issues around pay equity. The office has made strategic efforts to hire Black staffers.
Additionally, with grocery stores being closed in Black communities disproportionally throughout Los Angeles, food insecurity is a concern. “It is a huge deal to not have a grocery store within a 5-mile square radius of your home,” said Gates, who noted that the imminent merger between Kroger and Albertson’s will inevitably lead to further closings.
“Liquor stores, gas stations and corners stores [do not take the] place of grocery stores,” she added, before going on to note the third of a trifecta of tragedy for the Black community.
“The number one demographic falling into homelessness at this time are Black seniors,” said Gates. “That tells us that our folks do not have strong, reliable retirement…and number 2…the folks that are still working, we cannot afford to support ourselves, our kids and our parents.”
Vice Mayor McMorrin, a single parent, is particularly empathetic. “I’m only here to create a conversation and hopefully disrupt to create policy that will impact the lives of others…,” she said. “There are plenty of other single moms who struggle with the rent, who don’t see an option for ever owning a home or a condo in Culver City, who rely on transit. There’re so many people who are not privileged in this country, and their voices are very infrequently centered in our policy process. And that’s not right,” said McMorrin.
Ezidore spoke to similar challenges in the education system.
“We have about 7,001 enrolled students, 12% or 13% identify as Black and are historically underrepresented in our gifted and talented education classes, our honors and AP courses, all of those that are catalysts for positive outcomes,” he said.
“Half of our Black and brown students are not meeting the state’s Language Arts standards,” said Ezidore.
“We really need to have an intentional focus on Black students’ ability to read and specifically when they’re in 3rd grade because in 3rd grade, you stop learning to read and you start reading to learn.”
In terms of solutions to systemic problems affecting the Black community, Bland offered this advice: “Find ways to be strategically radical. I think that you can change the course and the tone of our interaction with police officers if they recognize that the city of L.A. or Culver City or Long Beach has removed the qualified immunity issue. That’s going to change the landscape of their measure of accountability.
“In all of these things, whether it’s politics, whether it’s business, there are measures of accountability. And I think to the degree that we can look at our city and look at our county and find ways to make those in power more accountable, it works better for the community.”
Bakewell stressed the importance of civic engagement. “The number one thing that people, especially Black people, can do is to be politically engaged and to be registered to vote. If you are not registered to vote, you don’t have a voice in your community.
“Another thing that I think is really important is that people follow our council members on social media. Stay up to date with what’s going on in our communities, what’s going on in the world, what’s going on with the people who are trying to make change in our communities and see if we agree, see if we don’t agree,” she said.
The conversation was fiery, joyful and thoughfully addressed a wide range of issues affecting the community with a focus on forward movement.
Looking ahead, Onuhman stated, “We ought to have a real conversation about a Black agenda. Another thing I’ve learned today is that it’s one thing to talk the talk, but we gotta make sure we’re walking the walk.”
Learn about upcoming GLAAACC events and how to get involved at glaaacc.org.