A special session was added to the groundbreaking Tools for Transformation conference hosted by the Special Needs Network, Inc. (SNN). The Presidential Primary Roundtable took place on Friday, April 8 at the California African American Museum. Areva Martin, SNN president, spoke about this year’s conference.
“It was incredible,” said Martin. “The turnout was just amazing, we registered about 1,600 people.”
This year’s conference was SNN’s tenth. It was created for two purposes: to connect grassroots leaders and parents with elected officials face-to-face to address concerns within the community and to provide tools for parents in advocating for their children with special needs.
The conference took place over the course of two days. The first day brought professionals in special needs to speak with the community. The second day focused on parents and getting them all the resources and materials vital to families raising children with special needs.
The focus for this year’s conference was “Protest, Participation, Progress,” and reflected the current trends and issues in the community. The addition of the roundtable reinforced this focus and provided a bipartisan space for primary candidate representatives, supporters, and community leaders to share their perspectives and stance on policy and legislative issues which affect the special needs community.
“The first day, that legislative breakfast is always about civic engagement,” said Martin. “How do we make sure people on the ground, grassroots folks, know what’s going on legislatively because we know voting and being involved in the process of elections is the way we have power in our community.”
The presidential roundtable was held in conjunction with the legislative breakfast and policy town hall meeting, which brought together some of California’s most influential elected officials and representatives. State Senator Isadore Hall and Supervisor Sebastian Ridley-Thomas and Assemblymember Jimmy Gomez were keynote speakers and provided a legislative update on key California legislation involving health education and the developmentally disabled community.
“I had parents coming up saying, ‘Wow, I know I’m voting democrat this year but I don’t know between the candidates…’”said Martin. “A lot of people came out because they are undecided and there were some people there that had some pretty pointed questions for the GOP supporters, we made sure it was bipartisan, so we had representatives for Ted Cruz, John Kasich and Donald Trump.”
Martin had a chance prior to this conference to question presidential candidate Hilary Clinton on where she stood on special needs.
“I had an opportunity to meet her personally at a meet-and-greet for African American and other leaders in Los Angeles,” said Martin. “The first thing I asked her is what was her policy on autism and how do we expand at the federal level, the resources that are made available to state to provide for individuals with autism particularly around jobs and college education.
“And we had a conversation, we had a little autism summit and she was very vocal, and committed to making sure that the affordable care act was one vehicle where additional resources would be made to families.”
The morning continued with a Constitutional Policing Panel Discussion as experts and advocates explored constitutional policing, the status of LAPD post Ferguson, the current policies the community should be aware of with respect to interacting with police, and the new laws that have been enacted in California post Ferguson. Guest speakers for this panel included the Honorable Curren D. Price, Jr. and the Honorable Mike Feuer. Kimberly R. Willis, Esq. moderated this panel.
One of the most promising surprises of this year’s conference came from Dr. Daniel Geschwind of UCLA when speaking about where the autism community is now in finding the cause of autism.
“After making a bunch of disclaimers, he finally committed,” said Martin. “[Geschwind] thinks we’re 10 years away.”
Sponsors of the conference included Toyota, American Water, El Pollo Loco, First 5 LA, ACCESS, Univision, US Bank, The John M. Langston Bar Association, California Endowment, Falcon Youth and Family Services, Ralphs, KCBS, and Community Coalition.
SNN will be holding a gala to raise funds to support their annual summer camp and honor special guests including champion boxer and TV personality, Leila Ali on May 15.
For more information on Special Needs Network, visit snnla.org.
Brian W. Carter contributed to this article.