Brown Bag Talks With Latino Leaders Show Students ‘Where Purpose Meets Passion’ Summer sessions focus on the importance of choosing career paths that make an impact

On Aug. 26, Paul Luna of HELIOS Foundation wrapped up a summer series of brown bag talks that provided guidance to the undergraduate and graduate fellows of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative at UCLA Luskin.

The sessions, which took place over Zoom this year, continued a tradition in which community leaders connect with the policy initiative’s students to discuss career paths and the importance of making an impact.

“I learned that career trajectories are not often a linear progression but instead a culmination of unexpected turns where purpose meets passion,” said policy fellow Diana Garcia, who is studying for her master of public policy at UCLA Luskin.

The brown bag series “allowed me to expose myself to the plethora of career paths available, which will allow me to give back to my Latino community,” said policy fellow Bryanna Ruiz, a political science and Chicana and Chicano Studies major at UCLA.

Each conversation ended with the same question. Here’s that question and how some of the summer speakers chose to answer:

Q: The fellows are an essential part of UCLA LPPI’s strategy to invest in leaders dedicated to making an impact. Returning to the normalcy we remember is no longer an option. We must reimagine a world that centers the needs of the most vulnerable communities and advocates opportunity for all. In a time that asks that we invest in new leadership, what does leadership look like amid COVID-19 and in a world after COVID-19?

Luis Perez, legal services director, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA): We’re not talking about helping out individuals anymore, but systemic change. That’s the framing that people need to start adopting. Helping one person at a time has not changed the systems of oppression that we experience. This is the right time to start reframing the model of systemic change. Systemic change, in many ways, reflects policy change. The Supreme Court looks to society’s expectations of one another as much as they are looking into laws. Laws need to reflect what people think, and they change with society. What are the ways in which we can change the system?

Francela Chi de Chinchilla, vice president of partnerships at Equis Labs: There has been a reframing on what work can be and what to value because of this pandemic. There is a lot of writing already on what leadership in a workplace should look like because of COVID-19. I am grateful that the companies I have worked for have recognized the importance of valuing the whole person and work-life balance, but now I have a baby and I can’t work all day long. I have to stop working and take care of her. This time has allowed me to be more patient and forgiving with myself.

Noerena Limón, senior vice president of public policy and industry relations at the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals: The bolder you are, the farther you’ll get. This is the time where you form coalitions. I have found that the COVID-19 pandemic has allowed me and housing experts to forge some of the best coalition work that I have ever seen happen, because we don’t have to travel to meetings, we are constantly checking in with each other, constantly giving each other the latest information. I would say that we need to ensure that we are working in coalitions and to be bold.

Juan Cartagena, president and general counsel of LatinoJustice PRLDEF: The good news is that there are multiple examples of excellent leadership happening on the ground. I have seen it in a lot of my criminal justice work with LatinoJustice. I have seen people of all age groups create intersectional conversation about the systems. I see incredible promise about immigration enforcement and criminal justice enforcement in the same breath. I encourage it. I promote it. I have a lot of hope because I have always been an optimistic person. I am not going to let the same barriers that challenged who I was when I was young, when I was picked up for no reason by police, challenge my identity. I refuse to let all of those obstacles get in the way of: I know exactly why I’m here. I’m here to help gente. My optimism extends to today. My optimism took a hit with the outrageousness of body after body being killed on tape. But then again, I talk to people, listen to people and promote people that have better ways of analyzing and connecting with others than I do. They give me a lot of hope. Keep doing what you’re doing. Be honest with yourself about your hard work.

Paul J. Luna, president and CEO of HELIOS Foundation: A great leader has a vision for the future and brings a new or clearer vision or understanding, especially during a time when we need one. In times of change and in times that we are living through today, we look to our leaders to bring that vision, to provide that guidance and, with their knowledge and understanding, to help us make the right decisions. Secondly, a great leader understands the present. We cannot have decisions that are being made for political reasons, and not for the general welfare and health for our community and citizens — especially during this pandemic when we know that communities of color and low-income communities are more directly impacted. Thirdly, a great leader has an appreciation for the history and the past and can acknowledge who came before them. For any leader to think that they are uniquely in the position to lead because of who and what they are or how uniquely bright and talented they are — and don’t appreciate that there are people who came before them and who paid dues and made sacrifices so that they can have the opportunity to lead — if they don’t appreciate that, they will never truly be able to lead successfully and into the future. Honor the past and those who came before you, acknowledge their contributions. I would not have gotten to Stanford University if my dad was not willing to work at a copper mine for 45 years. Leadership will look different than it did before, and the people who are given the opportunity to lead will hopefully involve more women and people of color and from different backgrounds. You all reflect and represent the great future.

Dukakis on Public Leadership in a Time of Crisis The former governor of Massachusetts and Democratic nominee for president shares his insights on leadership

By Stan Paul

As the former governor of Massachusetts and a onetime Democratic nominee for president, UCLA Luskin faculty member Michael Dukakis knows a lot about leading during a crisis.

“The only thing that I had that, from a state standpoint, came even close to [the coronavirus crisis] was the famous blizzard of ’78,” said Dukakis, recalling a catastrophic storm that struck New England states and shut down air, rail and highways. Some commuters were trapped in their cars, and the storm destroyed homes and forced people to evacuate, and find food and shelter.

Thankfully, Dukakis’ secretary of public safety, Charles Barry, “just was obsessive on emergency planning,” he said.  “We had a detailed plan for dealing with emergencies and I said, ‘You run it, and you tell me what to say every afternoon at 3 o’clock,’ because I had shut down all traffic and all these other things and, fortunately, came out of it in great shape.”

Dukakis teaches a policy course on institutional leadership at UCLA Luskin each winter quarter, and it focuses on case studies that include his own experiences in government and public service. He stressed the importance of preparing public managers well, noting that graduate students should be serious about learning how to run an agency and deliver the goods during a crisis.

“If you are not organized for this, and you don’t have really superb people, look out,” Dukakis said. “Whoever is in charge should be someone who knows what he’s doing.”

The interview with Dukakis took place shortly after the stunning reversal of fortune of presidential candidate Joe Biden.

“This is an extraordinary year. What’s happened over the last 10 days is beyond extraordinary,” Dukakis said a few days after Biden swept to victory in 10 of 15 Democratic primary contests on Super Tuesday, March 3. “Nobody would have predicted it, including yours truly, and somebody smarter than me is going to have to try to figure out how it happened.”

Normally, at the end of the winter quarter, Dukakis meets with faculty and staff at the Luskin School to share advice and make political observations. This year, that meeting had to be canceled because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, which also temporarily delayed the return of Dukakis and his wife, Kitty, to their home in Massachusetts.

“What I would say to the faculty is that what Joe needs now — and you’ve heard this rant of mine before — is a first-class, 50-state, 200,000-precinct organization … and no more reds, blues and purples, firewalls and all that nonsense,” Dukakis said about what Biden would have to do to defeat Republican incumbent Donald Trump.

A presidential candidate has to be competitive in every single state, “if only to keep the opposition busy in those states,” reiterated Dukakis, who has guided a number of UCLA Luskin alumni to careers in public office and public service over the years.

“It’s all grass roots,” he continued. “They can raise enough money to run a campaign like this, but it’s a precinct captain in every precinct, six block captains” that win an election. “It’s so dependent on the quality and caliber of the people you have working for you. I can’t emphasize that enough. I don’t think people understand just how important that is.”

An Outdoor Oasis Research spearheaded by Urban Planning's Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris contributes to a new public space designed with older adults in mind

At Golden Age Park in Los Angeles’ Westlake neighborhood, visitors can stroll along circular walkways, build strength and balance on low-impact exercise machines, practice their gardening skills, or rest in areas designed for socializing or solitude.

Spearheaded by Urban Planning Professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, pictured, a team from UCLA Luskin launched a study of senior-friendly open spaces based on a model from Taiwan where older adults enjoy the benefits of outdoor recreation.

Many parks in the United States are constructed with children in mind, leaving the over-65 population feeling unwelcome. The Westlake park incorporated aspects of urban planning, design and gerontology to turn a vacant lot into a small oasis with age-appropriate features.

Read more about the project.

Social Workers Identify Dire Needs as Schools Prepare to Resume Classes Research brief recommends a nationwide rapid-response initiative to coordinate guidance for education in the COVID-19 era

By Mary Braswell

As school districts nationwide grapple with how and when to safely reopen in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, a survey of 1,275 social workers across the United States shows the immensity of the challenge ahead.

The results of the survey, conducted by UCLA and research partners from Loyola University Chicago, Cal State Fullerton and Hebrew University, were published today in a research brief that calls on elected officials and other leaders to act quickly and invest heavily to bolster the nation’s schools.

In addition to concerns about online learning platforms and physical distancing protocols, the school social workers reported that many students and their families are struggling with their most basic needs during the COVID-19 era.

“They’re reporting overwhelming numbers of students who don’t have food, who don’t have stable housing or health services, whose families are suffering,” said the study’s co-author, Ron Avi Astor, a professor of social welfare at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs who also has a faculty appointment at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies.

“The national dialogue on reopening schools is not focused on this right now, but the social workers are telling us loud and clear that meeting basic human needs for a large number of students is the big issue schools face in the fall.”

“Every school district is reinventing the wheel over and over and over again, and we think it would be wise to have a clear national strategy,” says Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor.

The social workers who responded to the survey work with students from preschool to 12th grade, mostly in low-income and minority communities. Serving on the front lines in the most underserved schools, the social workers are uniquely equipped to identify the students’ social, mental health and physical needs — and to help address them once states and schools enter into a recovery phase, he said.

As one social worker who participated in the study noted, “Creating equitable education isn’t about checking off to-do lists. It’s about getting into the work of getting to know the needs of the community and meeting them where they are.”

The brief calls for the creation of a national rapid-response team including teachers, administrators, medical professionals, counselors, psychologists and social workers to provide guidance for schools as they weigh in-person, online or hybrid learning models.

“Every school district is reinventing the wheel over and over and over again, and we think it would be wise to have a clear national strategy,” Astor said.

The report also recommends that a national technical assistance center be created to help any school adjust its procedures, if needed.

“The reality around this virus is changing day to day,” Astor said. “We can’t just have one plan at the beginning of the year and wait until the end of the next year to find out it didn’t work.”

The policy recommendations call for the hiring of a massive number of social workers, nurses, psychologists and other professionals in the hardest-hit schools, many of which serve low-income and minority students.

That’s going to cost money. But the teacher can’t do it alone,” said Astor, who added that state and federal investment is needed to expand support staff in schools that have historically been underfunded.

“If our country has trillions of dollars to bail out large wealthy corporations, we also have enough to create a Marshall Plan-like program to rebuild and provide basic supports to the nation’s students, schools and communities,” he said.

The report’s authors noted that their findings come amid calls for systemic change spurred by the Black Lives Matter movement. “The question of how to reopen and reinvest in schools that serve under-resourced communities and students of color has gained prominence and urgency,” they wrote.

In addition to providing resources and support for mental health, food, housing, transportation and medical services, a team of professionals is needed to locate and reengage the large number of students — up to 30%, according to some reports — who rarely showed up once classrooms went virtual this spring, the report found.

The recommendations are aimed at avoiding a “lost generation” of students, Astor said.

“That would be the epitome of social injustice,” he said. “We need a campaign to bring students who dropped out or disengaged due to systemic inaction back into the fold. We need to show that our schools are not just about sitting in the classroom and learning math or other academic subjects — that we care about their well-being as a whole.

“That’s a very important message for our country to send this generation of students and their families.”

Read the policy brief and technical report authored by Michael S. Kelly of Loyola University Chicago, Ron Avi Astor of UCLA, Rami Benbenishty of Hebrew University, Gordon Capp of Cal State Fullerton and Kate R. Watson of UCLA.

 

Study Aims to Bolster California’s Safe-Water Efforts at Child Care Facilities Luskin Center for Innovation analysis offers wide-ranging guidance on state mandate to test drinking water for lead

By Michelle Einstein

Efforts to ensure safe drinking water for children need further support to reach their intended audience, according to an analysis of California’s mandate requiring child care facilities to test their water for lead, known as AB 2370.

The finding from the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation is part of a new report and policy brief that examine strategies for developing and implementing the state’s testing and remediation program for those sites. Among its recommendations, the report stresses the need for a dedicated funding stream to ensure the program’s success.

“We’ve learned from a similar program in California’s schools that if robust monitoring and funding doesn’t exist, much of the needed testing and remediation won’t be implemented,” said Gregory Pierce, associate director of the center and lead author of the study.

In order to be successful, Pierce predicts, the program will require five to 10 times more funding than the $5 million currently budgeted by the state.

To determine how to best implement the program, the researchers synthesized feedback from a variety of stakeholders, including child care providers, environmental justice advocates and water utilities. They found several current shortcomings, including the fact that many child care providers have not received directives to test their water and that the program’s messaging is only available in English and Spanish.

The study recommends that stakeholders at all levels have a voice in helping to design the program to correct problems. A co-design process that includes parents, day care centers, utilities and state agencies will result in higher compliance rates and confirm that all centers have their facilities tested in a timely manner, the researchers say.

It is also important that the program not increase mistrust of tap water in settings where such concern is unmerited, according to the report. For instance, after hearing about the lead testing program, some day care centers and parents began using bottled beverages, even though their drinking water was clean. Bottled water can be expensive and has a negative environmental impact.

Lead exposure poses an acute threat to young children and their families. Even low-level exposure has been connected to loss in IQ, hearing impairments and learning disabilities. Recognizing this threat, California passed Assembly Bill 2370 in 2018, which mandates the testing of drinking water for lead at licensed child care facilities built before 2010. These sites must complete the tests before 2023 and, if elevated levels are found, remedy the problem or find alternative sources of water.

AB 2370 represents a meaningful step toward further protecting children’s health, the researchers say, but implementing the law remains a huge feat. Thousands of day care centers must test and clean up their plumbing systems, and many of these facilities are experiencing funding and staffing shortages, especially during the coronavirus pandemic.

Overall, the researchers view the program as an important step toward ensuring the human right to clean water for all Californians. A more streamlined and supported implementation process, they say, would help officials better deliver on-the-ground results statewide.

The study was funded by First 5 LA, an independent public agency working to strengthen systems, parents and communities so that by 2028, all children in Los Angeles County will enter kindergarten ready to succeed in school and life.

New Scholarship Offers Support to Emerging Latino Leaders Partnership with Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute aims to bolster student diversity

By Mary Braswell

UCLA Luskin and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute have entered a partnership to support underrepresented students in the School’s graduate programs.

Beginning this fall, alumni of the institute’s programs — aimed at developing the next generation of Latino leaders — will receive a $7,500 scholarship if they go on to pursue a master’s degree at UCLA Luskin. The scholarship is renewable in the second year of study.

“We are thrilled to start building our partnership with CHCI” to further the School’s goal of diversifying its student body, said Kevin Franco, recruitment and advising officer for UCLA Luskin Public Policy.

Franco credited MPP student Michael Rios with bringing the alliance from idea to reality.

“I kept hearing about some of the initiatives we were discussing for recruiting students of color, but I felt that there was a huge missing link, that there was a solution that we weren’t really pursuing,” Rios said. That solution, he concluded, was funding.

MPP student Michael Rios initiated the partnership between the Luskin School and CHCI.

“The pool of students of color who go into a graduate program is small, and the pool who go into a policy program is even smaller,” he said. Top candidates may be weighing handsome offers of financial assistance from private universities. Students considering UCLA must also consider the cost of living on L.A.’s Westside.

“As a student of color, you often have financial hardships, so you’re going to do what makes the most sense financially,” Rios said.

To tip the balance in UCLA’s favor, Rios researched potential partners who might work with the Luskin School to attract and support a diverse student body. Late one night in the spring of 2019, he decided to act.

Impressed by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, which creates opportunities for leadership and civic engagement for young Latinos, Rios sent an inquiry via the Contact Us tab on the group’s website. It was the first modest step of a yearlong rollercoaster ride.

Along the way, Rios worked to keep both sides engaged in what often seemed like a long shot. But his patience paid off in February when CHCI and the Luskin School finalized the agreement.

In the end, Rios said, “it was a match made in heaven,” one that would benefit students of color, advance the Luskin School’s recruitment goals and support the institute’s efforts to expand its reach.

The scholarships, awarded by UCLA Luskin to students who complete CHCI’s leadership program, are renewable for a second year for those with top grades, making them worth a total of $15,000. Rios’ efforts will benefit students entering all of the School’s master’s programs: public policy, social welfare, and urban and regional planning.

With the CHCI scholarship as a model, Franco said he is interested in pursuing similar partnerships with student leadership institutes representing the black and Asian communities.

Rios anticipated that future agreements would be easier to complete.

“We have the foundation, we’ve gone through the formalities, we know what the agreements look like, and we now know that we have the backing of the faculty and staff,” he said.

Rios hopes his efforts, spurred by his own sense of isolation when he first arrived at UCLA, will resonate with ethnically diverse students considering a graduate education at the Luskin School.

“For prospective students, I think it would be cool to see that there are students in the program who are doing things to benefit other students of color,” he said.

 

 

UCLA Study Finds Strong Support for LAPD’s Community Policing Program Researchers say crime declines and trust increases when officers work alongside residents to build relationships

By Les Dunseith

Families living in public housing developments with a history of gang violence and troubled relationships with law enforcement are seeing less crime and feeling safer because of a policing program launched in 2011 by the Los Angeles Police Department, according to a comprehensive analysis led by Jorja Leap, an adjunct professor of social welfare at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

The Community Safety Partnership, or CSP, began in the Jordan Downs public housing development and later expanded to two other Watts locations, Nickerson Gardens and Imperial Courts, as well as Ramona Gardens in Boyle Heights. The program assigns specially trained LAPD officers to work alongside residents to reduce crime by developing youth outreach, sports, recreational and other programs tailored specifically to their communities.

The yearlong UCLA-led evaluation compared crime rates in Jordan Downs and Nickerson Gardens with computer-generated, synthetic models of demographically similar neighborhoods that did not receive CSP services. The research team also conducted community-based research with officers and residents, logging 425 hours of observation, conducting 110 interviews and 28 focus groups, and completing close to 800 surveys as part of a mixed-methods research effort at Nickerson Gardens and Ramona Gardens. Clear majorities at both sites expressed support for this innovative program.

“Their lives were literally changed by CSP,” Leap said during a May 12 online meeting of the Los Angeles Police Commission at which the study was publicly unveiled.

Leap is an expert on gangs whose academic research and community engagement in Watts spans four decades, including the Watts Leadership Institute, a 10-year initiative based at UCLA Luskin. She told the five members of the civilian commission that people interviewed by the UCLA team “felt it was safer to go outside, mingle with people, use green spaces.”

As part of the LAPD program, extra effort is made to bridge communication between officers and residents, many of whom have deep-seated distrust of the police. Leap said a critical component involves officers apologizing to community residents for past mistakes and incidents of brutality.

“We were the enemy — pure and simple — if you had the LAPD uniform on, it was as if you had a target on your back. If there were reports of a shooting, officers were not supposed to come in without back-up,” said one officer interviewed for the report. “That’s all changed. The residents of this community want CSP here, they want this community to be safe. They welcome us.”

The impact on crime is significant. According to the analysis, in a one-year period, CSP has led to seven fewer homicides, 93 fewer aggravated assaults and 122 fewer robberies than would otherwise have been expected at Jordan Downs and Nickerson Gardens.

Statistics like those, plus the high level of resident support found by researchers, encouraged Leap to recommend to the commission that CSP serve as a model for department-wide LAPD policing efforts. The relationship-based focus could also be helpful in other crisis situations, including public health problems such as opioid abuse or the current coronavirus pandemic, she said.

“It could be extremely useful for epidemic crises, including homelessness and the pandemic,” Leap told the commission. “This is the type of approach that represents a new and important paradigm in law enforcement.”

The program has already expanded beyond Watts and Boyle Heights to housing developments in South Park and San Fernando Gardens, as well as the neighborhood surrounding Harvard Park. That expansion was funded by the Ballmer Group, co-founded by Clippers owner Steve Ballmer, and the Weingart Foundation, which, along with The California Endowment and several private donors, were among the seven funders of the $500,000 UCLA study.

The report describes many positive outcomes related to CSP, but it also identified several shortcomings.

“It is not all sunshine and roses,” Leap warned the commission, adding that the community was skeptical regarding the department’s commitment. “This must become part of the DNA of the LAPD and not a hit-and-run program that is gone in a few months.”

Some respondents questioned the level of community involvement in CSP activities, for example, saying that the officers implemented some programs without first seeking resident participation. Many residents — and even some of the officers — also expressed confusion about the specifics of the program.

“Everyone understood it was about relationships. Pretty much everyone understood it was about building trust,” Leap said. “Nevertheless, there was tremendous confusion” about the CSP model and a strong desire from all parties for better documentation of the program’s components.

Leap said the level of support for CSP in the study differed according to demographic characteristics.

Overall, she said, women were the leaders in both of the housing developments that were studied, and women were slightly more supportive of CSP than men. On the other hand, she noted, there were major differences in terms of ethnicity.

Latino residents predominantly supported CSP, Leap said. “Where we got push-back and mixed results,” particularly on community surveys, was among African Americans. The researchers were able to delve into the underlying reasons for this response during their interviews and focus groups.

“It should come as no surprise — African Americans have had the most tumultuous history” with law enforcement in Los Angeles, said Leap, who noted that incidents of police violence against blacks in other parts of the country in recent years have only added to longstanding tensions between the community and the LAPD. “There are many individuals who carry this history and this mistrust.”

In the report, one interviewee said: “Don’t say everyone loves CSP because not everyone loves CSP. There’s some people who think it’s a bunch of bull. There’s some people who are never gonna trust the police. And there’s some people who are waiting to be convinced. They’re waiting to see if the CSP sticks around or — if once all the publicity goes away — then [the CSP officers] go away.”

That concern was echoed in the report, which included a recommendation to increase funding for CSP and a designation of the program as a permanent part of the LAPD’s law enforcement strategy.

Staying the course over time is important to Leap. She pledged that this study will be just one part of an ongoing effort by her research team, which included UCLA Luskin social welfare professor Todd Franke, a methodological and systems expert, and UCLA anthropology professor P. Jeffrey Brantingham, who is a lead researcher for the Los Angeles Mayor’s Office Gang Reduction and Youth Development program. Also on the research team were UCLA research associate Susana Bonis and UCLA Luskin alumna Karrah Lompa, who served as the project manager. Several students, some of whom grew up in Watts and Boyle Heights, joined project staff in conducting field research and data analysis. A multicultural advisory board helped guide the study and will contribute to follow-up efforts.

The key to the program’s success is cooperation. Leap told the commissioners something she has repeated in public meetings: “The community truly partners with the police — this is not rhetoric but a meaningful model.”

UC Regent and Former Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez Delivers Commencement Address The ‘lifelong advocate for the people of California’ honors UCLA Luskin graduates at a virtual celebration

John A. Pérez, a leader in California politics, labor and higher education, was the keynote speaker for UCLA Luskin’s 2020 virtual Commencement celebration.

Pérez, chair of the University of California Board of Regents and former speaker of the state Assembly, addressed graduates at the June 12 ceremony, moved online in light of health concerns related to COVID-19.

“John Pérez is a lifelong advocate for the people of California,” said Gary Segura, dean of the Luskin School. “From his days as a labor leader fighting for working families to his pathbreaking tenure in Sacramento, he has distinguished himself as a public servant who represents every member of this gloriously diverse state.

“John is now at the helm of the nation’s premier public university system at a time of unprecedented challenge,” Segura said. “I am eager to hear his insights on the path forward for higher education.”

The Luskin School’s virtual celebration invited graduates, families and friends to view Pérez’s address as well as remarks from student speakers, department chairs and Dean Segura.

Each graduate was celebrated individually with a slide, photograph and brief video greeting before the conferral of degrees. A separate “Kudoboard” featured congratulatory messages to the Class of 2020 from families, alumni and the rest of the UCLA Luskin community.

The virtual Commencement ceremony commenced at 9 a.m. and will remain available for viewing through May 2021.

Pérez’s priorities as a UC Regent include providing an elite education without elitist barriers that keep qualified students out, making sure the UC student body better reflects the people of California and keeping the cost of education affordable, equitable and predictable.

A native Angeleno, Pérez has long been active in the labor movement and Democratic politics. Elected to the state Assembly in 2008, he rose to the speaker’s post in 2010, becoming the state legislature’s first openly LGBTQ leader. He held the top post for more than four years.

In the Assembly, Pérez made affordability and accessibility of higher education a statewide priority. Among his legislative achievements was passage of the Middle Class Scholarship Act, which has provided tuition relief for nearly 100,000 UC and California State University students.

He also worked with legislative colleagues and then-Gov. Jerry Brown to end California’s era of chronic budget deficits. During his tenure, the legislature passed back-to-back balanced, on-time budgets that improved the state’s credit rating.

In 2014, Brown appointed Pérez to the UC Board of Regents; his one-year term as chair began in July 2019. In addition to exercising approval of university policies, financial affairs, and tuition and fees, the regents appoint the president of the university. In September 2019, Pérez named a special committee to lead a search for a successor to UC President Janet Napolitano, who plans to step down in August.

Pérez is an advocate for the LGBTQ community and in the fight against HIV/AIDS. In addition to leadership positions with AIDS Project Los Angeles and the Latino Coalition Against AIDS, he served on the President’s Commission on HIV/AIDS under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

The longtime member of the Democratic National Committee has also served as political director of the California Labor Federation. In 2012, fellow speakers from across the nation elected him president of the National Speakers Conference.

Jerry Brown Speaks Out on Curbing Coronavirus and Building a Strong Future Former governor's conversation with biographer Jim Newton draws virtual audience of more than 1,300

By Mary Braswell

Former Gov. Jerry Brown shared his views on stepping up the fight against COVID-19 and repairing the rifts that divide Americans during an expansive conversation with Jim Newton, editor of UCLA’s Blueprint magazine and author of a new book on the California statesman’s life.

More than 1,300 viewers tuned in to the May 12 webinar to hear insights from Brown, who built a reputation as both pragmatist and visionary in his half-century of public service, including four terms at the state’s helm.

The virtual audience had the opportunity to pose questions during the hour-long session, organized by the Los Angeles World Affairs Council & Town Hall and the nonprofit Writers Bloc, in partnership with the 2020 UCLA Luskin Summit.

The webinar took place amid a nationwide debate about how best to contain the novel coronavirus. Newton, author of the new biography “Man of Tomorrow: The Relentless Life of Jerry Brown,” asked the former governor how he would balance the dueling imperatives of protecting the nation’s health and reviving its economy.

Singling out Taiwan as a nation that acted swiftly and effectively to curb the virus’ spread, Brown urged that anyone infected be quarantined away from their families. The urgency of widespread coronavirus testing cannot be underestimated, he said, faulting the federal government for failing to mobilize the nation’s resources to fight the virus.

“This is a great manufacturing powerhouse, we’re a great biotech innovative powerhouse as well,” he said. “So the fact that we don’t have the tests we need, not by the hundreds of thousands but by the tens of millions every day, is leading to the problem we’re now at.

“The longer you wait, the harder it is, the more people get sick, suffer and die,” Brown said.

To rebuild the economy, the former governor invoked the words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who called for “bold, persistent experimentation” in his New Deal package of relief and reforms following the Great Depression.

“We need that. Not partisan rancor, not petty politics, not halfway measures. To get this economy going with so many people sequestered at home requires massive federal spending and investment,” Brown said.

He called for the immediate launch of ambitious infrastructure projects to reopen hospitals, bring internet access to rural areas, and build roads, highways and high-speed rail. The projects, he said, would be staffed through a jobs program that would provide a livelihood for millions of Americans now facing prolonged unemployment.

“I would call this really a Rooseveltian moment. And it ought to take into account all the problems that we have. Whether it’s the maldistribution of income and opportunity, whether it’s the pending challenge of climate disruption, all these things are on the table,” he said. “Unfortunately, if we can’t do them right in calmer days, it’s going to be very difficult.”

Known for sprinkling his comments with historical references, Brown cited Roosevelt numerous times and also namechecked economists John Maynard Keynes and Friedrich August Hayek, inventor and architect Buckminster Fuller, and Supreme Court Justice Edward Douglass White, who served in the early 20th Century.

But the names most cited were Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell, the president and Senate majority leader whom Brown held accountable for both an inadequate COVID-19 response and a fractured populace.

“If the choice is Trump for another four years … all these problems, from my vantage point, are going to get much, much worse, dangerously so,” Brown said, looking ahead to the November election.

“We have a lot of challenges and probably the biggest is building trust in our leadership, which is now being done better by our governors than by those occupying a power pole position in Washington,” he said.

Brown, a longtime Democrat whose own presidential aspirations fell short, predicted that an era of greater national unity lies ahead — but it requires abandoning far-reaching proposals from both the political left and right.

“I think we do need a unifier. I know we need polarization to activate the electorate, but in governing we need someone who reaches beyond the particular issues that are currently the stuff of campaigning,” Brown said.

“And that’s why politics is not all that satisfying and why politicians are not enduringly popular.”

Fielding audience questions, Brown weighed in on a range of topics.

On the future of financing higher education in California, he said, “We need to change the university from being an arms race of amenities to one that will be more limited but also fully creative. … The current course is not sustainable without a rising burden put on students, and I think that would be very wrong.”

On his signature issue, combating climate change, he called for an era of “planetary realism” and noted that the coronavirus emergency offers a sober lesson: “If you delay, if you don’t seize the moment when you can, you pay a much bigger price.”

And on maintaining hope amid an array of global threats, Brown took a poetic turn:

“I look out the window here and the wind is blowing on the walnut tree in front of me, the oak trees, the leaves, they’re flourishing” even amid drought, he said. “The rabbits are running around, the dogs are chasing the squirrels, the coyotes are howling at night. …

“Life — just to be here and be part of it — is quite a lot. So to worry, to think about down the road how it’s going to turn out? That’s fortune telling. That’s ouija board stuff.

“Do what you can do in the moment that you have. And God will take care of the rest.”

 

Listening to — and Learning From — Urban Youth of Color New research by UCLA Luskin faculty finds young people who are actively engaged in civic improvement and eager to be heard about solutions

By Les Dunseith

In places where exposure to violence is prevalent, those seeking to advance causes on behalf of urban youth of color should start by listening to the young people themselves, according to a new publication from two UCLA faculty members.

What do such youth say about violence in their neighborhoods?

“You see it everywhere. You could ride down the street, you would see somebody arguing. You go down another street, see somebody fighting,” said Justin, a 17-year-old black and Asian youth.

“I don’t like it. It’s too many killings. … I can’t choose, I can’t do nothing about it. I’m still young,” said Salome, a 16-year-old Latina.

So, what can be done — and by whom?

“We all have to communicate and cooperate. …  I just feel like if everybody just came together and put their minds together about what the community should be and how it should be, I think the community would probably be much better place for kids to grow up,” said Jamal, a 17-year-old black youth.

“Why we got a mouth?” asked Kendra, a 15-year-old black youth. “Our opinions do matter. It can even change the world.”

These four interviewees were among 87 youth living in high-poverty neighborhoods in Rochester, New York, who spoke with Associate Professor Laura Wray-Lake for a qualitative study of youth engagement. She was joined in analyzing the information by co-author Laura S. Abrams, professor and chair of UCLA Luskin Social Welfare. Their monograph — essentially an eight-chapter book on one topic — was made available online May 12 by Monographs for the Society of Research on Child Development, a respected quarterly journal.

“The purpose of the study was to understand how civic engagement is defined and experienced by these youth of color in their own words and from their own perspectives. We also wanted to know what assets and adversities young people experienced that shaped their civic engagement,” Wray-Lake said of the publication, “Pathways to Civic Engagement Among Urban Youth of Color.”

The monograph, which is accompanied online by teaching and outreach materials, is based on data collected by Wray-Lake in 2015-16 when she was on the faculty at University of Rochester. The interviewees ranged in age from 12 to 19, and were mostly black (61%) or multiracial black (27%). A majority (60%) were male. About one-quarter had parents who had completed high school, and 36% had a parent who attended at least some college.

The study participants did more than just express strong opinions. Many took action to benefit others. The most common type of civic engagement was helping out in the community — mentoring younger children at the recreation center, for example, or participating in an annual community cleanup. Some youth helped their neighbors by mowing lawns or shoveling snow.

“Some youth were civically engaged by intervening to protect others from harm, and this was a form of civic engagement not often recognized in the literature,” Wray-Lake said. “A number of youth described helping to stop or break up fights to protect a friend, or talking a friend out of joining a gang.”

Although political engagement was much less common among the youth she interviewed, Wray-Lake said a few talked about sharing posts on social media to speak out against injustice or joining marches or protests against gun violence.

The monograph is based upon work funded by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). Wray-Lake sees value in publishing it during a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has radically changed the ways that youth can connect with others, navigate community spaces and participate in civic life.

“In this time when people are confined to their homes, we hope this work contributes to conversations about reimaging community spaces for youth that are safe, supportive and prioritize their voices,” Wray-Lake said.

She and Abrams believe the findings can lead to more-informed policies related to investing in safe spaces and community-led anti-violence initiatives for urban youth of color.

Civic empowerment was one of two key factors that influenced the level of engagement among study participants.

The other?

Feeling heard and supported by adults.