Upfront: Hot Button Issues Facing Los Angeles Voters

Written by lafocus on . Posted in 2017, LA Focus Issue 03, Top Stories, Top Stories, Up Front, Upfront



By Emma Gannon

Los Angeles County will vote on several hot-button issues at the primary on March 7. After the California November election legalized recreational marijuana and approved a $1.2 billion bond for homeless housing units, voters will have a chance to approve or bypass several critical ballot measures meant to help Los Angeles County execute its November promises.


California joined the ranks of eight other states when it legalized recreational marijuana on November 8th, but many questions were left unanswered as to how this new addition to California’s already flourishing medical marijuana industry would be regulated. Measure M proposed that the mayor and city council should regulate and tax marijuana funds. The other marijuana measure, which has since been abandoned by its original backers (albeit too late to remove the legislation from the ballot) is Measure N, which would allow a medical marijuana trade group regulate the industry instead of city hall. Measure N’s original supporters have now publicly backed Measure M, which is endorsed by NAACP LA President Minnie Hadley-Hempstead, L.A. Chief of Police Charlie Beck, and L.A. City Councilman for the 10th District Herb Wesson.


Measure S—or the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative—would impose a temporary ban on construction within Los Angeles that would decelerate development growth for up to two years. This would require the city’s general plan to undergo a public review every five years, and amendments to the city’s general plan specific to development projects would be prohibited until they had undergone public review.


While proponents say the measure would cut down on corrupt city planning and would provide some much-needed affordable housing, critics say that the measure wouldn’t be able to deliver on its promises. Measure S’s efforts to downsize city growth could backfire, as a lack of new development has, in the past, fallen to the detriment of low-income renters. But forcing City Hall to undergo a more thorough, gradual planning process, proponents say, puts the power back with the people—and gives the public more of a say in the city’s growth.

One March primary measure focuses specifically on housing for the homeless. Measure H, which would authorize a 0.25 percent county sales tax to fund homeless services, would last 10 years, and is expected to generate about $350 million annually. Proposition HHH, a $1.2 billion bond that was approved in November, will finance the thousands of homeless housing units that Measure H will service, providing 10,000 units for an estimated 28,000 homeless population. Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas donated $250,000 to the proposition, telling the press it was time to “get on with the business of making a significant dent in homelessness.”


City Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson told the LA Times that he believed LA voters were “prepared to make an investment” in the homeless issue.


“What’s different now than what I think it’s been in the past is that there’s no part of the city that doesn’t experience homelessness,” he said.


But smaller cities within L.A. County disagree with Harris-Dawson, and are dubious about opting in to the hefty price tag. Burbank City Council declined to support the ballot measure, and Burbank City Councilman David Gordon told the Los Angeles Times that it would irresponsible for Burbank to support the measure.


“There are many things we’re going to have to decide as council members in very short order,” Gordon said. “There may be discussions of tax elevation. We have to utilize the full benefit of any taxation of Burbank residents for the benefit of Burbank citizens. And since we have a really small homeless population here, I think it’s short-sighted to support this.”


Curren Price, current L.A. City Councilmember for the 9th District, is also up for reelection in the March primary. Formerly a California senator for the 26th Senate District, Price is now seen as the figurehead leading the “New Ninth” District. Curren’s past four years in the seat have been active—since his election in 2013, Price led the movement to increase hotel employee wages (and went on to author the legislation promising a $15 minimum wage in Los Angeles by 2020) started a “Clean and Green” neighborhood cleanup initiative, and acted as an important voice in the county-wide push to legalize street vending. Price has established himself as an advocate for the homeless, and helped sponsor Measure HHH before it was passed.


Price is up against Adriana Cabrera and Jorge Nuño for the seat. Cabrera has a B.A. in Political Science with an emphasis in Public Policy & Management and describes herself as “the only working class candidate” running for the 9th District. Nuño is a small-business owner known for renovating a mansion in South L.A. to use for an after-school space for local children.

Saving Grace with Keith David

Written by lafocus on . Posted in 2017, LA Focus Issue 03, Saving Grace, Saving Grace, Top Stories


Keith David is a man who appreciates clichés. Someone told him very early on that the race was not for the swift, but for those who can endure. And endure he has in a career that has spanned three decades in Hollywood and included work in such blockbuster films as “Armageddon”, “Platoon”, “Road House”, “Dead Presidents”, “There’s Something About Mary”, “Barbershop”, “Head of State” with Chris Rock,  “Crash”, “Mr. & Mrs. Smith”, “Transporter 2”, “First Sunday”, “All About Steve” and most recently, “The Princess & The Frog”.

“You have a lot of sprinters who make a great movie here and have a big splash and their career is then over,” says David, who views himself as more a marathon runner. “I consider myself among a great breed of character actors who endure. It doesn’t mean we don’t get to play lead roles because we do. But even when I’m playing a lead part, I’m still a character.”

A particularly good villain at that, as demonstrated in his most recent role as the voice of Dr. Facilier in what is Disney’s first film to feature a black princess in a cast that includes Anika Noni Rose, Oprah Winfrey, Jenifer Lewis and Terrence Howard.

“Villains are especially wonderful because I get to exercise that part of my imagination so I don’t have to come home and beat my wife and kick the dog,” he jokes. “I get all that energy out in the studio at work”.

Yet for all of his tough guy roles, one would hardly guess that Keith David was a church boy who at one time aspired to be a minister while growing up in New York City.

Recalls David, “My relationship with God started very early on in my life—from the time I was about seven when I was saved. Both of my grandmothers were very prominent in their respective churches. One died a deaconess. My other grandmother used to ask me everyday, ‘did you pray this morning? If I hadn’t but told her yes, I would hang up the phone and pray immediately so I wouldn’t make a liar out of myself.

“She was my best friend and always kept me in check with having a relationship with God. And both of them made it very clear to me how important it is to have and maintain a relationship with Him.”

Today, the actor—who has done at least one film a year since landing a key role in the Oliver Stone’s critically acclaimed 1986 war film, Platoon, with Johnny Depp, Willem Dafoe and Forest Whitaker—understands the importance all too well.

“I can do nothing without the grace of a good God. God comes before everything I do and everything I’m able to do I am able to through Him. The only credit that I can take is to try to be available to the opportunities that come before me. But I have no control over what those opportunities are.”

It wasn’t so easy to reconcile at first.

“I used to get very anxious,” David recalls. “My very first film was “The Thing” and I thought after getting some decent reviews I was going to have a life in the movies, but I didn’t work in film again for four years until “Platoon.”

“Nobody’s promised a life in this business,” he continues. “I’m fortunate enough to get paid to do this, but on some level, I’m compelled to do it, whether I’m paid or not. “

A love for acting came early.

“I knew I wanted to be an actor when I was 2,” David reveals. “I also wanted to be a minister, a lawyer, a bank president and a pediatrician. As an actor, I could be all those things.

“Theatre in the Greek tradition actually started in the churches, —also in the African tradition. So the theatre for me has always been a very sacred place, filled with spirit, not religious necessarily, but very spiritual.”

His most recent role in Disney’s “Princess & The Frog” showcases not only his skill at narration and animated voices, but another talent as well: singing.

“I was a singer before I was an actor,” states the twice-married 53-year old native New Yorker who grew up singing in church and in 1992 received a Tony Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor in a Musical, for his performance in Jelly’s Last Jam.

“I used to sing with the All-Borough Chorus in junior high school and I also used to sing in synagogues and at Bar Mitzvahs. I just liked to sing and whenever I got an opportunity to do it, I did it and at this point in my life, I want to sing more and I am finding more opportunities to do that. I’m been doing my nightclub act—a tribute to Nat King Cole—for a couple of years now and hopefully in 2010 I’ll be doing a couple of symphony jobs and expand my horizons.”

Constantly evolving as an artist is what prompted his initial move to the West Coast in 1988 and for the next decade and a half would move back and forth between California and New York until settling permanently in Los Angeles nine years ago with his second wife, Dionne, who is also an actress.

Though always up for a challenge, David refuses to do roles that conflict with his Christian beliefs or uphold long held stereotypes about African American men.

“There are things I absolutely will not do. One of the things I won’t do is a black man as some stereotypical idea that has no redeeming quality and perpetuates what you’re always thinking a black man is.”

Thus far, he states unequivocally that he has neither complaints nor regrets in a career that has spanned the Broadway stage, more television and voiceover work than he can recount, video games and documentaries like Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson, which earned him an  Emmy Award for Outstanding Voice-Over Performance.

“And the fat lady hasn’t sung yet. I’ve got miles to go before I sleep and I’m sure that there’s plenty of stuff for me to do, some of which will be of my own creation, and the rest from other people’s creations.”

In a twist of irony life comes somewhat full circle for David with his next film, “Pastor Brown”, which is set for release this year. In the film directed by Rockmond Dunbar and featuring Salli Richardson, Nicole Ari Parker, Tasha Smith, Tisha Campbell-Martin, Ernie Hudson, and Creflo Dollar, David plays “Pastor Brown”.

Other upcoming projects include comedies such “Lottery Ticket” with Ice Cube, Mike Epps, and Bow Wow and “Death At A Funeral” featuring Zoe Saldana, Martin Lawrence, and Danny Glover; and the dramas “Now Here” with Mickey Rooney and “Stomp The Yard 2: Homecoming.”

Faith and a close relationship with his family have helped to keep him grounded.

“My relationship with God is my saving grace,” David states. “My relationship with my family is my saving grace, especially my wife, children, and my mother. But I don’t leave my father out because I have a very decent relationship with my father and in the time that we have we’ve enjoyed some years now repairing our relationship. It hasn’t always been that way.”

Adding to his success is the contentment for David that comes with knowing he reached his goal of being a professional actor while both of his beloved grandmothers were still alive.

“Praise God, I’m living my dream and they got to see that.”

Growing Clout of First Ladies Helps To Reshape Church And Community Outreach

Written by lafocus on . Posted in 2017, LA Focus Issue 03, Top Stories, Top Stories

For more than a century, pastor’s wives were content to sit on the front pew or thereabouts with a pretty hat on or sing in the choir and teach Sunday School. They smiled and served quietly, pitching in wherever they could in their local churches as the perfect helpmates to their husbands. But with the rise of mega churches in the 70s and 80s, came more attention to pastors and subsequently their wives leading to the advent of first ladies, a term almost exclusively born out of the black church.

Its core meaning is tied in definition to what many refer to as the “royal treatment” often reserved for pastors and while tracking the term’s origin may be difficult, its growing importance—with one in ten adults attending mega churches— is anything but.

The proof of that is reflected in the popularity of those like Dr. Betty Price, Lady Mae Blake, Taffi Dollar, Serita Jakes, Pastor Deborah Morton, Victoria Osteen, Pastor Bridget Hilliard, and Pastor Susie Owens who have not only amassed national followings through their speaking and ministry engagements, but in many cases have authored books and fostered programs that have impacted their surrounding communities.

A fierce advocate for community development, Dr. Betty Price—wife of Apostle Frederick K.C. Price, the founder of what has been dubbed as America’s first black mega church, Crenshaw Christian Center—is not only the author of several books, but a leader in the effort to restore beauty and viability to the Vermont Avenue corridor in Los Angeles. A world-renowned author and motivational speaker, Taffi Dollar—who along with her husband, Creflo Dollar established the Atlanta-based World Changers Church International with 27 locations throughout the nation, including Los Angeles—serves as CEO of their gospel record label and established an outreach ministry to women involved in the adult entertainment and sex trade industries. Sandy Iverson, wife of Pastor Aaron Iverson of Paradise Baptist Church has a lead role in the management of the church’s charter school.

“The third-pew-ensconced pastor’s wife has given way to a dynamic type of woman who juggles her own ministries, supports her husband, builds a church, and manages a family, all at the same time. Like another famous first lady, Michelle Obama, these women are not content with being symbols of status and position; they’re getting their hands dirty with the things that matter most,” wrote Newsweek/Daily Beast columnist Joshua DuBois, who once headed the White House’s Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

The factors contributing to the growing clout of first ladies is varied. For a very long time, the focus of mega church programming was inward—to ministries that sought to serve those who attended. But with a huge shift to outreach and the popularity of women’s programs (with women accounting for upwards of 60% – 70% of black church devotees) also helped to elevate the role first ladies play in the church and its extended community.

Mae Blake, wife of Bishop Charles Blake—Presiding Prelate of the 7-million member strong Church of God In Christ and pastor of the 20,000 member strong West Angeles Church of God In Christ—founded the church’s Women Affairs Organization and equips women on everything from inner beauty and discipline to managing a budget and getting one’s estate in order at her annual “A Day In May With Lady Mae”.

Fact is, throughout Los Angeles and the nation first ladies have stepped up in their communities establishing programs and services that outreach to the community everything from health, wellness and youth services to

voter awareness and political/social engagement.

“While being a first lady is not my identity, I’m happy to be in service,” states First Lady Judi Sauls of Holman United Methodist Church. “I really enjoy serving others and was privileged to have been honored at L.A. Focus’ First Ladies High Tea last year. I was amazed at not only the turnout but to see what other first ladies are doing as well. It opened my eyes to the impact we collectively have on the community. Lisa Collins is one of the first people to spotlight the work of first ladies and to coalesce them together as a force in this community.”

The first of its kind, the First Ladies High Tea—now in its 20th year— was established by L.A. Focus publisher Lisa Collins to not only honor the role first ladies have long played in their communities, but their contribution in shaping the destinies of our youth.

“I’m often in settings with pastors’ wives who are woefully underutilized,” says Tara Jenkins, whose husband Pastor Charles Jenkins is a Stellar-winning gospel artist and pastor of Chicago’s Fellowship Baptist Church. “Sure, their congregations will follow their hairstyle or their clothing—but will they follow them into community service?

God didn’t invite me into this role to sit; He invited me to serve.”

It is a sentiment echoed by Allyson Scott of Macedonia Baptist Church.

“I decided I didn’t want to just sit there in the front row and look pretty,” Scott says. “I wanted to get busy— involved. I had conflict in the beginning and would have run away if I could, but I knew what God was calling me to do so therefore I stood my ground and pushed through it. I’ve embracing my call and I’m walking in it.

She adds, “Today, first ladies are looked at more as individuals and not just a pastor’s wife. They’ve created their own platforms, their own businesses and other things they are doing aside from their husbands.”

In the past and now however, much of the tone is set by their husbands.

“When we first came to the church 35 years ago my husband told them that I wasn’t going to just sit there and do nothing,” said Togetta Ulmer, First Lady of Faithful Central Bible Church.

“I sing in the choir, I was on the praise team and then I lead a “Life Without Limits” event three times a year, which has been really great for women of all ages because we do everything. It was good for me because my husband spoke up to let them know that I may be doing some things and they can jump on the bandwagon or not. For the most part they did. Of course, there’s always going to be naysayers, but you have to do what you were called to do.”

“It can become overwhelming if you allow it to,” adds Rinnita Thompson, First Lady of Southern St. Paul Church. “After 12 years there’s still some times I second guess myself and think maybe I shouldn’t do this or shouldn’t wear that, but then you also want to be true to who you are. Just to be a woman of God, not only as a first lady.”

Standing her ground was something Park Windsor Baptist Church First Lady Regina Taylor learned firsthand.

“This is our third pastorate and I remember the very first one,” Taylor recalls. “They had an idea what the first lady would be like and because it was new to me, I was like okay this what I need to do. Going through that I kept thinking, ‘I need to be myself.’ With this third church— and it being the church I grew up in—I was received for myself and as a totally different kind of first lady. Because of my technology background, they are amazed at some of the things that I am doing at and for the church, managing the website and social media.”

While today’s first ladies have—for the most part— evolved beyond hats, gloves and reserved seating, expectations remain a sticking point in the friction that can arise between parishioners and their first ladies.

“I believe that first lady is probably one of the church’s toughest roles,” observes Apostle Beverly “Bam” Crawford, who serves as both pastor and first lady of Bible Enrichment Fellowship International. “If you chose it and you took college classes, you have to have a Masters and a Ph.D in human psychology when it comes to the expectations, but things are changing just as the world is changing. I’ve been in ministry for 45 years, but you can’t do ministry how you did it 45 years ago. You have to evolve.”

Michelle Porter, who became first lady of one of L.A.’s largest Baptist churches —Greater Ebenezer—just eight months ago, is still adjusting to the role.

“There is a certain amount of empowerment that comes with my husband being pastor,” Porter said. “Now there are certain things I have influence over and actual power to do, and with that comes a certain amount of clout. If we are listening to God and are able to join together, then we can actually accomplish quite a bit.”


Staff Writer

An Unsung Hero from Selma, Alabama Called Leatha

Written by lafocus on . Posted in 2017, LA Focus Issue 02, Top Stories, Top Stories

Late one Monday afternoon, as a broken fire hydrant gushed water into a busy

street in Inglewood, Leatha Clay Davis, 72, sat behind her desk where she works as an

executive sales agent.

Her air-conditioned third-floor office with a clear view of the small storm drew a

striking contrast to her childhood days picking cotton in the fields under the scorching


“I was already picking cotton from sunup to sundown at five years old,” she said.

Leatha, as she insisted on being called, grew up in Selma, Alabama, a city that

gained international notoriety in March 1965 for the “Bloody Sunday” assaults upon

black protesters during the Selma-Montgomery Voting Rights March.

Although Leatha, the daughter of a sharecropper, suffered emotional wounds

from the social upheavals of the time, she wears an enormous smile, exposing her

straight, white teeth against her dark skin as she recounted tumultuous events of

poverty and violent racism of her native South.

“After we’d worked tirelessly, making sure the cotton was perfectly cleaned, the

white man with the pen who counted everything would always tell my father he only

broke even,” she said in her soft and gentle voice.

“For all the work we did, he only gave my father one dollar and a one-gallon

bucket of syrup . . . My father was cheated out of thousands of dollars, and that’s what

made me know that sharecropping was no life for me.”

She was a high school student, just 17 when she began to stand in the front ranks

of civil rights marchers. Facing off against them were ardent segregationists who often

employed extreme measures to defend Jim Crow laws—a legal system based on white

supremacy. She spoke of whites committing vicious acts against blacks with impunity

and underscored that these attacks were a routine occurrence.

Women and children, she said were not shielded from such horrors.

“In those days, if you didn’t say ‘yes sir, no sir’ to the white man, you were subject

to be lynched,” Leatha said.

But a determined and even quite stubborn Leatha believed racial equality was a

birthright, and that she had to free herself from the shackles of racism. She credits her

Christian faith with emboldening her and thrusting her into the fray.

As they marched, Leatha said they sang songs like:

Before I be a slave

I’ll be buried in my grave

And go home to my Lord and be free.

“We wholeheartedly believed that,” she said.

“I didn’t fear no man. If I didn’t wanna say ‘yes sir, no sir’, I had that right. I had

to be free.”

To be a freedom fighter, she said, required mental toughness.

“I can still hear that sound when the police struck protesters over the head with their

billy clubs,” she recalled.

Asked if she ever took a beating while demonstrating, Leatha chuckled,

inadvertently showing off her white teeth, she replied, “I was fast on my feet.”

Despite the great risk to herself and her family, Leatha maintained she would

have embarked on the same path for racial equality if she had to do it all over again.

And she noted that as an active member of her church, she is just as passionate

about the social and racial issues of today.

“The fight continues because I don’t want my grandchildren shot down on the

street because of their color,” she said.

Her granddaughter, Disha Ave McNeese, a gifted 13-year- old violinist described

Leatha’s tenacity, strength, and fighting spirit as a unique quality.

“My Gammy,” she called Leatha, “will give anything and everything that she has

to anyone in need. Her love is unconditional.”

Leatha’s only daughter Aveli Clay McCoy echoed similar sentiments.

“It takes someone with a huge heart to not only have lived through those horrific

times but also remain loving to everybody no matter the person’s ethnicity,” said McCoy.

“In spite of all what she endured, none of it tarnished her as a person,” she added.

As people began deserting the office building once the clock struck 5, Leatha

explained why she insist on being called by her first name.

“For so long the white man made us say ‘Mr. This and Mr. That, and you call my

wife, Mrs. This, and Mrs. That.”

African-Americans learned to accept this as the norm, she said.

“Well, if I get married fifty times over I’m still going to be me. So call me Leatha.”

By Stephen Oduntan

Ralphs Supermarket Announces Remodeling Plans Amid Backlash Over Unsanitary Conditions

Written by lafocus on . Posted in 2017, LA Focus Issue 02, Top Stories, Top Stories, Up Front, Upfront

All it took was a quick dash to the nearest grocery store from the house Kandice Hill, 31,

had just purchased for her happy mood to plummet with dizzying speed.

“It was July 2013, and I went into the store moments after I got my house,” said Hill.

“The store was filthy. Had I known that I’d had to shop at a store that dirty, I probably wouldn’t

have purchased a house in the area.”

Hill’s referring to the Gramercy Park Ralphs supermarket located at 1730 W. Manchester

Ave. The Ralphs supermarket came under fire in recent weeks after Hill took photos of what she

thought could have possibly been rodent droppings or mold – then posted the photos on her

Facebook page.

The post went viral, sparking outrage online that brought new attention to the South Los

Angeles grocery chain—a location that locals have complained about for years.

Kendra Doyel, a spokesperson for the grocery company, told L.A. Focus there were no

rodent droppings and that “it was someone’s perception, which was misinformed.”

She underscored that the disturbing pictures depicted in the photos “was a very isolated

incident” but added the store passed health inspections “with flying colors.”

But Hill rebuffed Doyel’s assertion that the supermarket was in impeccable shape. She

said that three or four days after she posted the photos on Facebook, she revisited the same

Ralphs location.

“They cleaned up in there a little bit—because they’d seen all the negative publicity they

got all over the news and social media—but when I got on the ground it was still disgusting.

“I went over to the open refrigerator, and the chickens had dripped liquid. . . Blood and

all that stuff. I honestly don’t know why that Ralphs location is still open.”

Other area residents complained about the lack of access to healthier foods and that

they’re often forced to drive miles away to shop in different parts of L.A.

“I live in South L.A., but I have to drive five miles to the nearest Trader Joes to do my

shopping,” Toni Ann Johnson said.

Johnson expressed her frustration at a neighborhood council meeting last month where

more than 80 people crowded into a small room at the Constituents Service Center in South L.A.

Doyel, who also attended the meeting, addressed the audience and told them that the

Gramercy Park Ralphs is the focus of fierce investment activity.

“The store’s set to have a $5 million investment,” said Doyel.

“I’m not here to offer any excuses,” continued Doyel. “I agree the store’s been neglected

for far too long.”

Still, Doyel’s words offered little comfort to many in attendance that evening. They

peppered her with questions and concerns about the unsanitary issue that has plagued the


“Would you eat or shop there,” one audience member asked Doyel, who then replied “yes

I would” but the crowd echoing “no you wouldn’t” as they roared with laughter.

The crowd also expressed concerns about the inconvenience the remodeling construction

might have on shoppers.

Samahndi Cunningham, the field representative for Assemblywoman Autumn Burke,

urged the audience to contact their local officials if they believe the Ralphs supermarket’s

construction isn’t moving at a reasonable speed.

“If you see something wrong, call our office,” said

Cunningham who also noted that once news about the unhealthy conditions at the Ralphs

supermarket reached Burke’s office, they contacted Ralph’s vice president, as well as the

California Grocery Association.

“It’s important to hold everybody accountable,” she said.

Nonetheless, other residents at the meeting voiced skepticism about the timing of the new


“They’re only investing now because there’s a new stadium coming,” Karen Thomas


But Doyel reassured them the company had been planning to remodel that location for

well over a year.

“I’ve been in this community for 35 years, and I’ve seen not even a slap of paint put on

Ralphs,” said Edward K. Watson, another local in the audience incredulous as to the sincerity of

the new investment.

Doyel maintained that regardless of the neighborhood, it’s important that every Ralphs

location remains a great shopping experience for every customer.

“That’s how we operate as a company,” she said.

Syreeta Williams, who often shops at the Gramercy Park Ralphs, agreed. She exited the

supermarket’s sliding doors with a few necessities and said she was looking forward to preparing

a family dinner for the evening.

She was carrying various food supplies such as vegetables, tasty ingredients, potatoes,

and beef.

“The quality of food here is pretty good,” she said as she assembled her bags into the

trunk of her old car.

“I’ve never had a problem with the produce or anything else here.”

The Gramercy Park Ralphs is expected to complete remodeling in four months.

By Stephen Oduntan

Oscars Not So White… This Year At Least

Written by lafocus on . Posted in 2017, Entertainment, LA Focus Issue 02, Top Stories, Top Stories

Last year, the big news surrounding the Academy Awards was the “Oscars So White Controversy” sparked by the second straight year no minorities were nominated in any of the four acting categories. Well, Oscar’s not so white this year as blacks were represented in all of the four acting categories,— dominating the best supporting actress category with three nominations— Viola Davis (“Fences”), Octavia Spencer (“Hidden Figures”) and Naomie Harris (“Moonlight”). Denzel Washington’s performance in “Fences” earned him an Oscar nod in the best actor category, while Mahershala Ali was nominated for his breakout role in “Moonlight” and Ruth

Negga earned a best actress nod for “Loving”. Other black nominees  include Moonlight director Barry Jenkins, and in the documentary category Ava Duvernay earned a nomination for her feature, “13th”, while “I Am Not Your Negro” by Raoul Peck was also nominated, as was Ezra Edelman’s OJ: Made In America.

Blacks also made headway in the editing category with Moonlight’s Joi McMillon and in producing with nods to Denzel Washington (Fences), Pharrell Williams (Hidden Fences) and Kimberly Steward (Manchester By The Sea). Writing nominations went to Jenkins, Tarell Alvin McCraney and August Wilson. In the best picture category, there’s Fences, Hidden Figures and Moonlight.

The Mounting Problem of LA’s Growing Homeless

Written by lafocus on . Posted in 2017, LA Focus Issue 02, Top Stories, Top Stories

There’s no place like home for every resident of Los Angeles except the 47,000 homeless men, women and children who, at sundown, make their way to a freeway underpass, dilapidated tent, or a local shelter in hopes of a good night’s sleep.

The big city that attracts millions to its championship arenas and celebrity mansions has the reality of sharing sites like Skid Row as part of its brand. That reality has struck a nerve with many Los Angeles stakeholders who are frustrated with the pockets of visible homelessness popping up in unsuspected areas of Los Angeles county wide.

The homeless population is approximately 26,000 in Los Angeles proper–an 11% increase since 2015.

This is due in part to a lack of affordable housing, overall low vacancy rates, and high rent. These key drivers are limiting housing options and putting more residents at risk of becoming homeless.

“It’s a West Coast phenomenon,” says Dhakshike Wickrema, Deputy for Homelessness and Mental Health in the office of Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. “It’s tied to a whole host of things in bad policy decisions. Before the 1970s you had a surplus of affordable housing because the federal government funded a lot of [them]. Something changed in the 1980s and the federal funding was slashed by 18 percent and it has dwindled away since then.”

According to a 2016 report submitted to Congress by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Los Angeles recorded the largest number of chronically homeless people in the nation — nearly 13,000 for the second year in a row. 95 percent of them live outdoors, in cars, tents and encampments. Chronically homeless means people are sleeping somewhere uninhabitable for a year or more, or has had four episodes of homelessness over the span of three years. In 2015, Los Angeles led the nation in homeless veterans–some 2,700–and also counted the most unaccompanied homeless youth – 3,000–the report said.

Across Los Angeles County the homeless crisis is further compounded with individuals suffering from mental illness, domestic violence abuse, substance abuse and HIV/AIDS. Hence, more than a comfortable dwelling is needed, but many homeless citizens and families require case management to address a myriad of special needs from employment training to health care to urgent drug and alcohol treatment.

The big jump in homelessness is creating public health and safety concerns for several residents and leaders who say the resolve couldn’t come fast enough. “We did not pay attention to this problem as it continued to get worse and now it is practically out of control,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who is on the frontline combatting homelessness in Los Angeles. “It’s not just on Skid Row. It’s when I walk out of the county administrative doors, it’s at the bus stop, on 10th and Grand, Temple and Hill,

Leimert Park, it’s on 39th and Figueroa under the freeway…That’s why we have to rush and do some innovative things. Otherwise we’re going to be in a bad way and worse than what we see now in our neighborhoods, at the restaurant, [or where] kids are walking to school.” He goes on to exclaim, “It’s unsafe, it’s unsightly, it’s unsanitary.”

Citing conversations with colleagues and other city and county officials, Ridley-Thomas said there are also concerns for how homelessness in impacting revenue generated through tourism in Los Angeles and even local families who simply want to enjoy a day of entertainment in their city. “We came out of the movie and there was a whole family, with blankets and that was their resting place,” he recalls. “This was right on Hollywood. It’s sad and it’s sick. It’s a public safety problem, it’s a public health problem.”

Last November, Los Angeles voters approved what some call an “ambitious” measure, authorizing $1.2 billion in bonds to pay for the construction of 10,000 units of housing for homeless people. Measure HHH (Homelessness Reduction and Prevention, Housing and Facilities Bond) passed with 76% of the vote, meaning that voters gave the okay to increase their own property taxes to help the city’s most vulnerable citizens. This is a huge victory for the city officials who crafted and pushed for the measure, and a brave step for the voters who recognized that ignoring people sleeping on sidewalks or living in minivans is not a solution to the growing issue.

The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) oversees an annual count of the homeless population and coordinates and manages more than $132 million annually in federal, state, county and city funds for programs providing shelter, housing and services to homeless persons. According to their reports, and after extensive analysis of the data, they are working closely with the County of Los Angeles, the non-profit community, and the City of LA who have drafted and adopted a 47-part Comprehensive

Homeless Strategy. The strategy determined that 13,000 units of new housing, including the 10,000 units of supportive housing, are needed to house the homeless. The City’s strategy incorporates the United

States Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) and LAHSA’s position that providing stable housing to a homeless individual prior to providing needed services (case management, health care or jobs) is more effective at resolving homelessness compared to offering services first without guaranteed housing.

What’s lies ahead are a number of development efforts, at various levels, to secure dwellings for the homeless as quickly as possible. This will require erecting affordable housing for those at risk of homelessness, supportive housing or units for individuals and families who are chronically homeless, and temporary shelter facilities, storage facilities, shower facilities and other facilities and supportive services or goods to those who are at one stage of homelessness or another. These developments will also mean affordable housing or units for veterans and for individuals and families who are extremely low income as defined by HUD for the County of Los Angeles. Additionally, these housing benefits will be extended to individuals and families who are not currently homeless but are at risk of homelessness; provided that not more than 20% of general obligation bond proceeds are used exclusively for those purposes.

With bond funds being allocated to start construction, there are opponents raising questions about where these new units are going up. Their issue is what it will mean for the value of their property if they have low-income housing going up in their communities.

According to Wickrema, people should not be concerned about the property value because the kind of supportive housing that will be planned by developers is not intended nor has it proven to drive property values down. “I would challenge you to look at the data in New York and what it does show is we have some very good strong developers who build fabulously,” she said. “They invite the neighborhood to be a part of the [planning process] and property values actually go up.”

While it’s clear that residents want homeless people off their streets, there are mixed feelings about welcoming them to occupy a home or unit in their community. To that Wickrema contends, “There have been some very, very supportive neighborhoods who understand [the importance] of supportive housing in their neighborhood.”

It has been reported that under Measure HHH, 12 parcels of land have been identified as possible

development sites in Lincoln Heights, Sylmar, Marina Del Rey, Westchester and San Pedro. Wickrema did not confirm such reports but says there are both “non-profit and for private developers with real estate representatives looking at the best available sites.”

This set of 47 comprehensive strategies that the LAHSA, the City, County and others have joined forces with pinpoints six areas: Prevent Homelessness, Subsidize Housing, Increase Income, Provide Case Management and Services, Create a Coordinated System, and Increase Affordable/Homeless Housing. To make a significant dent in the homeless problem, this all-hands- on-deck approach is being entrusted to several stakeholders and organizations around LA. Thus, city programs, businesses and faith leaders have been invited to participate in combating the crisis.

Since the approval of this strategy a year ago, some 500 faith-based institutions in Los Angeles including churches, mosques, and more with active outreach programs in operation have been contacted to partner and avail their housing and support services to the endeavor. Ridley-Thomas' office has commissioned select entities to research and mobilize such resources with the confidence that homelessness can be greatly reduced.

“I have no doubt that we are going to see change and we’re going to help a significant number of people who are out there struggling, thinking they have been forgotten,” says Janice Martin, Ecumenical Liaison with Brothers and Sisters in Communication (BASIC). As an independent community relations and government affairs consultant, Martin was tasked by the Ridley-Thomas to lead the faith based outreach for the 2nd District, for the Faith-based Initiative – one of 47 Homeless Strategies.

Martin has been fortunate to identify institutions of faith that are not only eager to help, but have the ability, the property and/or the resources to assist the homeless population with housing and other stabilizing opportunities. “What the research shows is housing alone is not enough. You have to have wrap around support services in order to reach the point of sustainability,” says Martin. “I believe we will see housing added to the Los Angeles’ baseline of what’s available to people who are currently homeless.

We will also see the faith community extending itself as landlords and as extended family to people who don’t have it. And whatever resources those faith institutions provide they will extend those to people who really need them.”

The passing of Measure HHH is only one step, but a sizable one for the City of Los Angeles. HHH will provide 10,000 units in a city whose estimated homeless population of 26,000 sits in a county where there are 47,000 homeless people to attend to. Simple math reveals that over 20,000 homeless citizens are still hoping for more than a sidewalk or tent to provide shelter at night.

“I would like to see us pass Measure H on March 7th because that would give the county resources to help the 88 cities in the county of LA,” says Ridley Thomas. “Cities can’t do it without the county.”


Written by lafocus on . Posted in 2017, LA Focus Issue 01, Top Stories


Botswana: Continued efforts to shed its tax haven label have proved to be fruitless for

Botswana officials as the diamond-rich nation continues to be blacklisted as an

uncooperative tax jurisdiction and thus excluded from the international business


Burundi: Burundi's parliament has passed a law imposing strict controls on international

non-governmental organizations after President Pierre Nkurunziza accused such groups

of backing an insurrection against him. The law will force international charities and

rights groups to keep their accounts in foreign currency at the central bank, with a third of

their annual budget to be placed there before the government agrees to cooperate with


Cameroon: Thousands of teachers and lawyers in English-speaking regions of Cameroon

are on strike because they think the government is trying to marginalize them by

imposing the French language on their schools and courts. The roughly five million

Cameroonians who speak English say their language and culture have been stifled for

decades, adding that official documents are often only published in French.

Chad: Eight million people in Africa's Lake Chad basis face starvation and rates of child

malnutrition have been described as 'terrifying' in a crisis aid agencies warn has been

largely overlooked. The root of the problem is a disappearing Lake Chad, which has

shrunk to a fraction of its size due to a variety of reasons including climatic phenomena,

taking the regions biggest source of food with it.

Congo: The U.S. and European Union announced sanctions against nine Congolese

officials accused of playing a role in the violent repression of recent years in the hopes of

deterring further abuses and prompting President Kabila’s governing coalition to reach a

deal with opponents that will pave the way for elections to take place as soon as possible.

The sanctions include travel restrictions and asset freezes.

Djibouti: Saudi plans to open a military base have raised concerns among Egyptian

officials, as strained relations between Egypt and Saudi Arabia show little sign of


Ethiopia: Ethiopian authorities disclosed the release of some 9,800 people detained

under six- month state of emergency during which anti-government protests were banned

and restrictions placed on movement and on the use of social media and some

conventional media. Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said the

government was undergoing a period of self-examination following the crisis.

Ghana: In a surprise upset for incumbent President John Dramani Mahama, voters

turned out strongly for opposition candidate Nana Akufo-Addo, who earned 54% of the

vote and whose campaign for the presidency gave hope to thousands of jobless


Kenya: Community leaders are breaking promises made just months ago to end the

practice with public ceremonies celebrating female genital mutilation (FGM) going

unchallenged by authorities in some areas of Kenya. Over the past month hundreds of

girls have undergone FGM, while some witnessed groups of men (some armed) going

door-to- door harassing the families of uncircumcised girls.

Lesotho: The Vodafone Foundation announced a mobile-based HIV program in Lesotho,

where an estimated 23% of the population is HIV positive, many of whom live in

extreme poverty in rural areas with no access to care. As many as 5,000 children under

the age of 14 are estimated to be undiagnosed and living with HIV and their lives are

therefore at immediate risk if they are not identified and put on treatment.

Mali: Malian and European Union officials signed a deal to expedite the return of

migrants to the North African nation. Upwards of 10,000 Malian migrants have illegally

entered Europe since 2015. The deal includes projects focused on cutting the tide of

irregular migration from Mali and the creation of jobs for young Malians.

Rwanda: New technologies make Rwanda a frontrunner in enhancing regional trade. The

World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business report placed Rwanda at position 56 globally,

making it the most attractive East African country to foreign investors.

Sierra Leone: A recent string of high-profile murders have raised serious questions

about the ability of the Koroma government in running the country, as well as the

capacity of the police in maintaining law and order in the capital Freetown.

Somalia: Somalia has decided to delay its presidential election for a fourth time amid

allegations of fraud and intimidation and al-Shabab Islamic extremists opposed to

Western-style democracy.

Uganda: Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni has advised his South Sudanese

counterpart, Salva Kiir to ensure early elections are held to give power to people in the

war-torn nation. Aid workers say half-a- million refugees from volatile South Sudan

continue to fill sprawling camps in northwestern Uganda.

News Brief: Obama Signs Upgraded Emmett Till Act Into Law

Written by lafocus on . Posted in 2017, LA Focus Issue 01, Top Stories, Top Stories


A bill named in honor of Emmett Till, the 14-year old Black teen whose lynching in

1955 sparked public backlash across the nation, has been signed into law by President

Barack Obama. The Emmett Till Act will make it possible for civil rights cold cases that

took place prior to 1970 to be reopened, investigated and prosecuted.

The legislation was originally passed into law in 2008. The upgraded version signed

by Obama last month eliminates the restrictions on cases that occurred prior to 1970 and

will allow ongoing investigations conducted by the FBI surrounding civil rights cases.

Under the revised bill, groups would receive funding to help solve civil rights cases.

Those responsible for the lynching of Till were set free by an all-white jury even after

publicly admitting they killed him. The 14-year old Chicago native was visiting relatives

in Mississippi when he spoke to a 21-year old, married white woman, who would later

allege that he flirted with her. Nights later the woman’s husband and half brother

abducted the teen from Till’s great-uncle’s house. They beat and mutilated him before

shooting him and throwing his body in the Tallahatchie River.

White House Notes Advances In Equity for Women and Girls of Color’

In what was the final official report on the ‘Advancing Equity for Women and Girls of

Color’, the White House announced the steps they’ve taken to elevate and address key

issues that disproportionately affect women and girls of color, including women and girls

from marginalized and underserved populations.

According to the report, women’s high school graduation rates are up to record highs.

Teen pregnancy rates are at record lows, with disparities narrowing for girls of color. And

more than half of college graduates are women.

Over the last eight years, the number of private sector workers with paid family leave

has grown by 6.2 million—about a 73 percent increase—and 10.6 million more

Americans have access to paid sick leave.

“Our work is far from done, but we have shown that together, we can bend that arc of

the moral universe toward justice,” the statement read. “We’ve seen firsthand that

although our task is daunting, change only seems impossible right up until it becomes

inevitable. We know that when we invest in a girl and her mother, who are struggling, we

can change not only their lives but the communities in which they live. And when we

work to address the challenges that women and girls of color face, we lift up our whole


“We know that, as President Obama has long said, when women succeed, America


Pastor Profile: Rev. Dr. J. Benjamin Hardwick

Written by lafocus on . Posted in 2017, LA Focus Issue 01, Pastor Profile, Top Stories

Church: Praises of Zion (“Praise City”)

How Long: 61 years since founding the church in 1955 at age 24

Family: Wife of 58 years, Thelma, two grown children

Hometown: Los Angeles

Key Position: President of Western Baptist State Convention, representing 312 churches in the state of California


Reflecting back on founding the church at 24, how has the L.A. church community


There’s a vast difference in the quality of people. Members at that time were so loyal to the

church but there’s a decline in the attendance of churches all over the nation. That’s a sad

commentary. What it means it that we must work almost day and night with all kinds of

programs and ministries that will catch the attention of all segments of our community. We have

30 ministries and services here, which range in scope from mental health and college prep to

childcare in addition to our gymnasium.

You’re especially proud of one such program…

You might remember the name Leonard Deadwyler [the case that sparked the Watts Riots in

1966]…they were members of my church. Johnny Cochran represented him and was my attorney

at the time and we had to beg money to bury him. With all the national publicity from the riots,

5,000 people turned out for a march and people began sending money to their family. Every

television camera was there, but at some point Johnny said to me something must happen in the

black community and after some time, we came up with an insurance policy so that people could

bury a loved one. Everyone who joined this insurance group—and it is still good

today—received $15,000 to cover burial costs. We are the only black church to have this kind of


You started the church at a time when activism was a huge part of the fabric of the black

church, do you believe that is still as big a factor today?

I’m concerned about that. I feel like that’s the church’s duty. Wherever there is a real need, I

believe that the church ought to be a part of seeing that it is met. I’ve been in this community for

a long time and I’ve seen the community change but instead of fighting it, we’ve embraced it and

I’ve really advertised the church as “the east side church”.

Does the shifting—or already shifted—demographics challenge what you’re doing here?

Yes, it affects us and I’m concerned about it, but we also have people who drive long

distances—from Riverside and Fontana—and we have some members who now live in

Sacramento who were in church last week. Many of our members have passed and you can’t

replace them, so I thank God for the young people of this church. Every month we get gospel

recording artist Malcolm Williams to come here from Chicago to draw young people and we

open the gym up to neighborhood youth.

Additionally, we had 9-10 Hispanics to join our church a few weeks ago, and we have an

active social media ministry. Many of those taking part in our feeding program, mental health

services and utilizing our gym are Hispanic.

I’ve encouraged young preachers to get 501c3s and instead of moving or them coming to take

over your church, they come to support your church. We are building a life center, senior citizen

home and housing and we are going to keep buying houses until we control the neighborhood.

That’s what I’ve been trying to get people to do years ago, don’t move, improve.

Yours is a more traditional congregation, it is more challenging to outreach to youth?

To get young people in your church you must do one of two things. You lower the standard of

the church to get them or you stand still and win them over to what the real church is for. Now

I’ll be criticized for that, but I’m telling you there’s a lot of things going on in the church that

years ago you would have been condemned and caused some to be put out of the church. Young

people dress a certain way, they live together…

Do you think young people want the tradition that churches like yours has to offer?

Well I believe this: that you don’t have to yield to modern technology to get young people in

your church. I still think you can stand firmly on the word of God and if your ministry is Christ

centered you can make it.

I’m old but I think young and that’s the policy, but it’s about ministry. We have the

gymnasium, family preservation with the county, a foster family unit, childcare center, and

adoption facility and we prepare our young people for the SAT.

And we are getting ready to build. The L.A. Lakers just donated $85,000 that is earmarked to

update our gym.

You were privileged to know Martin Luther King who died at just 39 years of age, what do

you think about the young pastors coming up now?

Can you imagine that the nation in a few weeks will recognize the works that he [Dr. King]

has produced for this nation? Everywhere he’s a treasure and I listen to his speeches now and it

brings back memories.

The church has been successful in every worthwhile movement. We have the influence and

the resources and if we could live up to the potential and be more progressive in that vein, the

black church could make so much more of a difference.

I just wish more young ministers would think more about the people than themselves.

Do you think it’s necessary for pastors to be political today?

Definitely so. I think Martin would be kind of shocked at the involvement of the black church.

This last election just crushed my spirit and I’m wondering will this nation ever recover?

What is the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome?

I had a stroke some years ago where I couldn’t speak for nine days and I still can’t speak as

clearly as I used to, but they told me I would never speak again so if I can just utter a word I’m


What has been the highlight of your six decades of ministry?

Helping people for over 60 years. When I see young people who I know are making it because

some of the programs at this church. Every year we give 10 scholarships for $4000 and between

that we give even more funding. We’ve helped so many of our youth to go to college and get

scholarships. A young fellow I know just received his doctorate through this program. I only

wish we could do more. There is a sense of belonging to other people and knowing that you have

given your best and see it become a reality in someone else’s life. It’s the satisfaction that comes

with truly helping somebody.

Copyright © 2016 L.A. Focus Newspaper