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A Call to Action Two-day UCLA Luskin Lecture event champions academic research to help community activists promote societal change to address issues such as inequality, urban displacement and California’s ongoing housing affordability crisis

By Cristina Barrera and Les Dunseith

In Los Angeles during a time that is so rife with political conflict, it’s hard to find a topic upon which everyone seems to agree. But UCLA Luskin’s Ananya Roy quickly honed in on just such an issue during her opening remarks at a two-day event convened by the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

Ananya Roy, director of the Institute on Inequality and Democracy, speaks during the recent Luskin Lecture “Black, Brown, and Powerful: Freedom Dreams in Unequal Cities.” Photo by Les Dunseith

“Rent is too damn high,” said Roy, a professor of urban planning, social welfare and geography who also serves as director of the Institute on Inequality and Democracy (II&D) at UCLA Luskin.

Her declaration generated rousing applause from the crowd of about 250 students, scholars, community organizers, local residents and other stakeholders who gathered on April 26-27, 2018, at L.A. Trade Technical College near downtown Los Angeles to ponder the lack of affordable housing and other issues that are of special importance to residents in lower-income areas such as South L.A.

Participants in the event, “Black, Brown, and Powerful: Freedom Dreams in Unequal Cities,” also learned of recent research and discussed solutions to problems such as urban displacement, racialized policing, criminal justice debt, forced labor, and the mass supervision and control of youth.

UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura welcomed the crowd, telling them that the event was part of the Luskin Lecture Series, which is intended to enhance public discourse for the betterment of society.

“The Luskin School is home to three public-facing departments. I want to emphasize that — public facing,” Segura said. “I like to say that the Luskin School of Public Affairs puts the public back in public higher education research institution.”

Roy said one of the goals of the institute she directs is to share “freedom dreams” through research and teaching. “We borrow this beautiful phrase, freedom dreams, from our rock at UCLA, Robin D.G. Kelley,” said Roy, referring to writings by the esteemed UCLA distinguished professor of U.S. history.Freedom, Robin notes, is an integral part of the black radical tradition and its global imagination.”

The Institute on Inequality and Democracy is certain that “university-based theory and research has a role to play in transforming unequal cities,” Roy said. “But II&D is also certain that this role can only be meaningful when it is in humble partnership with social movements and community-based organizations that are on the frontlines of struggle.”

Photos from the event:

Freedom Dreams

Holding the event at L.A Trade Tech rather than on the UCLA campus was about more than geography.

“Here in South L.A., there are fierce struggles for self-determination, for black and brown power, for resistance in defiance of banishment,” Roy said.

Over the course of one evening and almost a full day of programming that followed, attendees heard from a variety of speakers and engaged in discussions during workshops that included representatives not only from UCLA and L.A. Trade Tech, but also from the Los Angeles Black Worker Center, Urban Habitat, Right to the City Alliance, and a wide variety of community-based organizations such as the Watts Leadership Institute and Loving Hands Community Care.

Attendees also were treated to music and dance from “Lockdown Unplugged” by Bryonn Bain & the Lyrics Crew. Funmilola Fagbamila, a founding member of Black Lives Matter LA, also presented a stirring spoken-word performance derived from her recent play, “Woke Black Folk.”

In addition to Roy and Segura, speakers from UCLA included:

  • Paul M. Ong, professor emeritus of urban planning, social welfare and Asian American students and the director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge, who spoke about recent research that found little progress in improving the lives of residents in South L.A since the Kerner Commission report in the 1960s.
  • Manuel Criollo, activist-in-residence at II&D, who talked about his research into the so-called school-to-prison pipeline that often results when school police officers focus primarily on punishing youthful offenders rather than dealing with the underlying societal issues that lead many youth to commit antisocial acts.
  • Jorja Leap, adjunct professor of social welfare and director of the Watts Leadership Institute, who was joined on-stage by Kathy Wooten of Loving Hands Community Care for a discussion of that nonprofit organization’s efforts to serve families of murder victims, specifically mothers who have lost a child to violence.
  • Lola Smallwood Cuevas, project director at the UCLA Labor Center and director of the Los Angeles Black Worker Center, who noted that 50 percent of black workers in South L.A. are either unemployed or earning subminimum wage.

The second day of the event focused heavily on problem-solving strategies and advice for organizing to promote solutions. Three separate workshops took place, producing discussions about the shared vision of many attendees to use research and analysis as a foundation to build proposals that will result in meaningful societal change.

A wrap-up session was moderated by Roy and Pete White of the Los Angeles Community Action Network.

The event was an opportunity “to be and think together,” Roy said, “in what is often a divided city with dispersed urban life. Now at II&D we take up some new mandates of research and action that emerged from this convening.”

Additional participants at the event included T.R.U.S.T. South LA, Union de Vecinos, Time for Change, Anti-Eviction Mapping Project, Los Angeles Center for Community Law and Action, L.A. Coop Lab, Long Beach Residents Empowered, THRIVE Santa Ana, Right to the City Alliance, CD Tech, A New Way of Life Re-entry Project, Back on the Road Coalition, East Bay Community Law Center, Debt Collective, Million Dollar Hoods, Journey House, Social Justice Advocate, Urban Youth Collaborative, #cut50, Underground Scholars Initiative, Black Organizing Project and InsideOut Writers.

Visit the II&D website for workshop reports.

On-camera interviews:

Recordings of the live streaming that took place each day:

Day 1

Day 2

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