Dr. William A. Burke, chairman of the SCAQMD Governing Board, presents the Environmental Justice for All award to Gloria Walton, president/CEO of Strategic Concepts in Organizing and Policy Education. (E. Mesiyah McGinnis/LA Sentinel)

Environmental Justice was the emphasis of the 7th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service hosted by the South Coast Air Quality Management District on Jan. 18.

The agency brought together community leaders, elected officials, young people and dedicated activists to honor King as well as focus on the collaborative efforts to improve air quality in Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, and Riverside counties.

“Dr. King’s vision of a world of parity and harmony was not just a source of inspiration, but also a symbol of hope for those without a voice,” said Dr. William A. “Bill” Burke, chairman of the SCAQMD governing board. “South Coast AQMD strives to continue the spirit of Dr. King’s legacy through our commitment to environmental justice, so everyone has the ability to breathe clean air.”

Dr. William Burke, chair of SCAQMD governing board (E. Mesiyah McGinnis/L.A. Sentinel)
Dr. William Burke, chair of SCAQMD governing board (E. Mesiyah McGinnis/L.A. Sentinel)
Fabian Wesson, SCAQMD deputy executive
officer/public advisor (E. Mesiyah McGinnis/LA Sentinel)

The program featured several components that highlighted the theme, “Continuing the Legacy Through Clean Air for All.” Attendees viewed the compelling video, “The Right to Breathe” which employs powerful personal stories to reveal the devastating health effects of Southern California’s air pollution, and watched the live recording of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

Several participants expressed their support for SCAQMD’s mission, including Rachel Brown, a co-anchor and reporter for ABC7 Eyewitness News, who served as emcee.

“Reading about the South Coast Air Quality Management District and learning that people of color and people in low-income communities are disproportionately affected by air quality issues inspired me to come out to support their mission to create equal quality air for everyone,” Brown said. “I am inspired by their cause and as a journalist, I can give it a voice and spread awareness on something that should not be happening in 2020.”

“Continuing Dr. King’s legacy is especially critical to the future of historically dis-invested communities like South Los Angeles,” insisted Pacheco, a civic engagement specialist at Community Coalition. “When it comes to the environment, these communities are still fighting for basic human rights like clean air and clean water.”

Gloria Walton, president/CEO of Strategic Concepts in Organizing and Policy Education (SCOPE), received the Environmental Justice for All Award. In her remarks, she urged the crowd to join SCOPE in their campaign to bring accountability and transparency to state climate agencies and top polluters.

Gloria Walton, SCOPE president/CEO (E. Mesiyah McGinnis/L.A. Sentinel)

“Receiving this award isn’t about me, it’s about the community – the leaders and organizations that I commit myself to every single day,” said Walton.

(From Left-to-Right): Former Los Angeles Supervisor Yvonne Burke, Danny J. Bakewell, Sr., founder and CEO of Bakewell Media and publisher of L.A. Sentinel & L.A. Watts Times Newspapers, Assemblymember and chair of the Revenue and Taxation Committee, Autumn Burke and Dr. William A. “Bill” Burke, chairman of the SCAQMD governing board.

“I don’t believe any real progress is made today without having courageous conversations and Dr. King did it best. Not only was he willing to spark courageous conversations but he had the audacity to express a courageous vision. As the AQMD and the other champions in air quality regulations continue to do your good work and partner with the communities you serve, let’s not forget to ask ourselves the hard questions like how do we structure regulatory efforts that both hold corporations accountable and ensure real solutions for the communities of Los Angeles,” she said.


From left are Rev. Dr. Carl Washington, SCAQMD Judith Mitchell, Rachel Brown and Victor Pacheco. (E. Mesiyah McGinnis)


Other program participants were the Rev. Dr. Carl Washington, associate pastor of St. Mark Missionary Baptist Church, who gave the invocation and benediction; and Gregory “Greg” Jones, minister of music at First AME Church, who led an ensemble in several gospel selections.

“We are grateful for our program participants who honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s memory by sharing their gifts of speech and passion for a positive change. By being here today, you are doing your part to continue his legacy and be a voice for change, growth and clean air for all,” Burke said.

The Gregory Jones and Ministry ensemble. (E. Mesiyah McGinnis/L.A. Sentinel)