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Transformative Climate Communities Built Resilience During Pandemic, Studies Find 

New reports from the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation show that the local knowledge, partnerships and established trust that underlie Transformative Climate Community (TCC) partnerships have allowed them to identify changing needs and respond quickly during the pandemic. These responses were bolstered by government-funded community engagement plans that offer leadership opportunities that tackle community goals around climate action and resiliency. TCC was established by the California Legislature in 2016 to provide funds to the state’s most disadvantaged communities while simultaneously reducing pollution, strengthening the local economy and improving public health through community-based projects. Cap-and-trade dollars have funded the first three rounds of the program under the direction of the California Strategic Growth Council, and Gov. Gavin Newsom’s current budget proposal includes $420 million for TCC implementation and planning grants over three years. The latest round of reports by UCLA document the progress of TCC grants in four sites: Fresno, Ontario, Watts/South L.A. and Northeast Valley L.A. A fifth site, Stockton, will soon be added to UCLA’s TCC evaluation cohort. “We can learn a lot from these five living laboratories for holistic climate action,” said Professor JR DeShazo, principal investigator on the ongoing study and director of the Luskin Center for Innovation. “It’s impressive,” said Jason Karpman MURP ’16, project manager of UCLA’s TCC evaluation. “During a year when so much has come to a halt, these initiatives have continued to quickly adapt and meet the needs of residents.”

It’s Like Reliving History, Yaroslavsky Says

Thirty years after the video of the brutal police beating of Rodney King went viral, Los Angeles Initiative Director Zev Yaroslavsky spoke to USA Today about the killing of George Floyd and the jarring similarities between the two events. A group of white police officers who beat King in March 1991 were acquitted the following year by a mostly white jury in Los Angeles, prompting massive unrest and calls for social reforms. At the time, Yaroslavsky was a Los Angeles city councilman. Last year, Floyd’s death in Minneapolis prompted protests led by the Black Lives Matter social justice movement, and the police officer involved is now on trial for murder. “What happened that instant, on that sidewalk, at that moment, that was not a one-off. It’s a story that has replayed itself for decades, over and over again,” Yaroslavsky said of Floyd’s death. “When I look at what’s happening in Minneapolis, I see L.A. in 1992, so it’s like reliving history again.”

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Ritterbusch Part of International Team of Scholars Studying Child Rights and Well-Being

Assistant Professor of Social Welfare Amy Ritterbusch is part of an international team of researchers working on child rights and well-being under a grant awarded to the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM). The multi-country study also includes scholars and activists from Sri Lanka, New Zealand, South Africa and Uganda. “This study will advance current scholarship on two topics related to honor – honor as a factor in sustaining violence against children, and honor as a factor contributing to child well-being through children’s social relationships with family, peers and community,” LSHTM researchers said. Drawing from Ritterbusch’s methodological area of expertise, the research will use child-led participatory approaches that will place children’s voices and experiences at the center of the initiative and that will lead adult researchers toward community-driven solutions to violence in their daily lives. Ritterbusch serves as principal investigator of the Uganda country component of the project. “It continues my work on mobilizing street-level solutions to violence against children in the urban margins of Uganda, including a continuation of child-led advocacy against the multiple forms of police brutality that street-connected children and adolescents experience,” she said. Ritterbusch, a human and urban geographer, has led social-justice-oriented participatory action research initiatives with street-connected communities in Colombia and Uganda. “As part of the team of principal investigators, I will collectively lead the Uganda site of this multi-country study with the street-connected youth researchers I have been working with since 2015 in Kampala,” Ritterbusch said.

Steve Kerr Has More on His Mind Than Winning The NBA head coach speaks with UCLA Luskin about life, justice and important lessons Americans still need to learn

By Les Dunseith

One of NBA coach Steve Kerr’s oldest memories occurred in the early 1970s when he attended his first NCAA basketball game at Pauley Pavilion with his father, then a UCLA professor. It was the heyday of UCLA men’s basketball, when the Bruins rolled through season after unbeaten season on the way to 10 championships in 12 years. The opponent was highly ranked Maryland.

“I was 6 or 7 years old, and UCLA wins the game by one point. The place is electric. Every seat is sold, and it’s an incredible game,” Kerr remembered, telling the story Oct. 7 during a webinar hosted by UCLA Luskin.  “There’s all these All-American players on the court, and I’m thinking, you know, that was amazing!”

As he exited the arena with his father, Malcolm Kerr, they overheard Bruin fans complaining about UCLA’s performance. “What’s wrong with the team?” the fans said. “We only won by one point.”

Young Steve stopped suddenly. “‘But dad, we won?’ And my dad had to say, ‘Well, son, I’m going to have to teach you about context.’”

When a team wins championships, “fans are not just interested in winning, they’re interested in how they win and how dominant they look,” Kerr told an online audience of about 200 students, alumni, faculty, staff and other invited guests while helping the Luskin School celebrate a new academic year. Dean Gary Segura moderated the talk, which touched on Kerr’s role as a player, coach and outspoken advocate for social justice.

Understanding expectations has meaning for Kerr in his role as head coach of the Golden State Warriors, a team that went to the NBA finals five years in a row, winning three championships, before finishing the most recent season with the worst record in the league amid injuries and player departures.

Moving forward, Kerr can draw inspiration from his interactions with a who’s who of coaching role models from college and professional basketball, starting with John Wooden. During his father’s 20 years as a political science professor at UCLA, Steve got to know Wooden, and even served as a ball boy for the Bruins when he was 13 and 14 years old.

“I have [Wooden’s] photo hanging on the wall at my office in San Francisco,” Kerr said during the audience Q&A portion of the webinar. “He is one of the people I really admire and look up to as much as anybody — not only in the basketball world, but just in terms of people who have impacted me and the way I try to coach.”

Kerr’s Bruin connections run deep. So why didn’t he play for UCLA?

“I would have if they had wanted me,” Kerr said, laughing. “I’ll just say I was a late bloomer” — a statement borne out during his days as an NBA player when he earned five championship rings and set a still-unmatched record for career 3-point shooting success.

Kerr ended up playing college ball at the University of Arizona, where he learned from another great coach, Lute Olson.

“Coach Olson really kind of set the stage for my entire career,” Kerr said. “You’re so impressionable at that age, and to learn from one of the great coaches and to feel that presence — in that structure and with that wisdom — every day was incredible.”

This was in the 1980s, a couple of years after Malcolm Kerr had left UCLA to become the president of American University in Beirut. Then, during Steve’s freshman year at Arizona in 1984, Malcolm Kerr was killed on the Beirut campus by two gunmen. “He was one of the early victims of Middle East terrorism,” Kerr said. “And, obviously, it was a devastating time for our family.”

Steve Kerr is active today in efforts to prevent gun violence and provide guidance to troubled youth. But he doesn’t see the tragedy as the defining moment in shaping his worldview and that of his siblings.

“It was the way we were raised,” Kerr said, reflecting on his upbringing on and around the UCLA campus. “My mom and dad always exposed us to a lot of people from all over the world.”

His mother, Ann Kerr, has worked at UCLA since 1991 and still coordinates the Visiting Fulbright Scholar Enrichment Program for the International Institute. His siblings include John, who teaches at Michigan State University; Susan, an author and an elected county councillor in Great Britain; and Andrew, a businessman working in Washington, D.C.

Steve Kerr played pro basketball, then became a sportscaster and later a coach.

“I was definitely kind of the black sheep of the family. My siblings have all pretty much gone on to various educational endeavors. My mom likes to say that she has two Ph.D.s, an M.B.A. and an NBA,” Kerr joked.

Then again, Kerr’s job involves helping a group of people to learn and work together to achieve a goal. “Coaching is just teaching,” Kerr said. “It dawned on me after a while that I actually wasn’t as big of a black sheep as I thought I was.”

Few athletes have careers as varied or successful as Kerr, an eight-time NBA champion — five as a player on the Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs, and three as coach of the Warriors.

In Chicago, he played for another legendary coach, one known for then-unusual tactics like meditating before games. “Phil Jackson taught me that you can be totally unique — and even weird — and be an incredible basketball coach.”

In San Antonio, he played for Gregg Popovich, who remains a close friend and mentor and is “just an incredible human being.”

“He’s the one who taught me … not to be afraid to speak out,” said Kerr in reference to his own reputation as an outspoken advocate for progressive political viewpoints.

During the webinar, Kerr answered questions about basketball:

  • Could he beat Steph Curry in a game of H-O-R-S-E? “In theory, yes, but probably not.”

And he answered questions about his life:

  • Would he ever consider a run for public office? “No. I’m a basketball coach and that’s what I love to do.”

But Kerr and the dean spent a good portion of their hour together talking about societal issues, the sorts of things that are on the minds of the faculty, students and alumni of a school that educates future social workers, urban planners and policy experts.

So, what’s getting him hot under the collar lately?

“Well, voter suppression is probably the thing that makes me the angriest right now,” Kerr responded. “We have this country that we all want to believe in. And we want to believe in the words that were written in the Constitution, and the words that were uttered by our founding fathers.”

But, to Kerr, people need to recognize the “parallel universe” that was often hidden beneath the surface of the American ideal.

“This parallel universe has existed from Day 1 in this country — where slavery existed and Black people were considered to be three-fifths of a human being in the Constitution,” Kerr told Segura. “What this social movement is about right now is trying to reconcile these parallel universes. How can we be so proud of our country and so thankful, and yet at the same time really be staring at some of the things that are still going on like … voter suppression? It’s really disheartening.”

The 2019-20 NBA season was suspended for months because of COVID-19, then restarted amid protests about anti-Black violence by police. When play resumed, coaches and players let their views be known, such as wearing slogans in support of racial justice on their uniforms.

“I’m very proud that the NBA has taken a leadership role with this issue,” Kerr said.

During a 15-year playing career that spanned all of the 1990s, Kerr was on teams with some of the most famous basketball players of all time. Circumstances, he noted, have changed.

“Social media didn’t exist. And so somebody like Michael Jordan, for example, rarely spoke out about politics or social issues. But at the same time, he wasn’t really asked, and that’s the biggest difference,” Kerr noted.

Kerr singled out Andre Iguodala, a former Warrior who is now with the Miami Heat, as a current player whose activism has been influential for him.

“I had one of the most meaningful conversations I’ve ever had on race with Andre,” Kerr said, recalling a chat at the team’s practice facility about how white America can be oblivious about reconciling with the nation’s past.

“Andre, he just said, very matter of factly, ‘Coach, have you ever heard about Black Wall Street?’”

Kerr had not, so he went online to learn the horrific story of the 1921 massacre of Black residents by a white mob in the Tulsa, Oklahoma, suburb of Greenwood, known as the Black Wall Street because of the relative wealth of many of its residents.

The tragic nature of the story isn’t the only reason this incident is significant to Kerr, who “has read a lot of books about history and thoroughly enjoyed American history classes in high school and college, and was a history minor in college. Not one person ever taught me about the Tulsa race riots.”

For Kerr, the son of educators and the recipient of wisdom from legendary coaches known not just for winning games but for shaping young lives, the path ahead is clear.

The tragedy of Black Wall Street “should be an entire chapter in every high school student’s textbook,” Kerr said. “We have to face what we’ve done, and the evils and the awfulness that has existed.”

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Keum on Speaking With Children About Race in America

Brian Keum, assistant professor of social welfare, spoke to CEOMOM magazine for an article advising parents on how to discuss race and social justice with their children. Young people will inevitably be exposed to the violence, hate crimes and tragedies that dominate both the news and social media. “If parents aren’t able to meet eye-to-eye with their children about their online racial experiences, it may create a disconnect,” Keum said. He urged parents to remain vigilant about the platforms their children use. “Parents should have an ongoing dialogue with their children about their experiences on social media, and they should develop their own digital media literacy by engaging with a variety of platforms and apps, researching hate speech policies and moderation related to those platforms and apps, and surveying potential racism and racial experiences their children may be exposed to on them,” Keum said.

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Bruins Play Key Roles in Report Calling for Sweeping Reforms in L.A. Dean Gary Segura and Luskin School students are among the many UCLA contributors to ambitious effort to reimagine life in the region from a racial justice perspective

By Les Dunseith

A new report that lays out a road map for the transformation of the Los Angeles region built on racial equity is rooted in research from the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. The report’s co-authors are Gary Segura, dean of the Luskin School, and Manuel Pastor, director of the University of Southern California’s Equity Research Institute.

The paper, “No Going Back: Together for an Equitable and Inclusive Los Angeles,” was issued Sept. 9 and shared with a UCLA audience Sept. 15 at a virtual salon. At more than 250 pages, the report is a comprehensive examination of the hidden barriers to success that limited many of the city’s residents even before COVID-19, but have been exacerbated since the pandemic began.

A wide swath of the Bruin community contributed to the paper. Numerous faculty and staff members provided new research, offered historical context and analyzed existing data. UCLA alumni serve on the Committee for Greater LA, which developed the report. And a handful of current UCLA students conducted research that fed the recommendations.

 

Those students, Antonio Elizondo, Dan Flynn, Mariesa Samba and Ellen Schwartz, share a passion for building a new Los Angeles grounded in social justice and racial equity.

Flynn, a second-year graduate student, contributed to the report’s sections on health and homelessness. His experience working with nonprofit agencies has made him acutely aware of the need to think differently about the region’s homelessness crisis.

“You’re looking at 70,000 unhoused people in Los Angeles at any given point,” Flynn said. “There’s no way to look at that issue and describe it as anything other than a failure — and a catastrophic one, with immense human cost. There has been a failure to build systems of accountability and to hold people responsible and accountable.”

Setting forth a strategy to create accountability to end homelessness is among 10 guiding principles (PDF) that underlie the report, which also tackles economic justice, mental and physical health, child and family well-being and other topics.

Samba is pursuing a master’s in social welfare and is a graduate student researcher at the Black Policy Project at UCLA. She contributed to sections of the report that related to children, families, mental health and justice.

“A lot of the work that I do is within the community with folks who are directly impacted by the pandemic,” she said. “Especially with this project, my top-line goal was to uplift those voices and experiences into the research.”

The report builds on the personal insights of the researchers and the people they interviewed to identify social problems, pairing those lived experiences with data to point toward solutions. For example, research findings about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on education highlighted the region’s racial disparities. Under Los Angeles’ safer-at-home orders, Black and Latino schoolchildren have been far less likely to be able to engage successfully in remote learning because of a lack of computers and access to high-speed internet connections.

As Segura noted during a Sept. 9 webinar to unveil the report to the general public, public officials are expected to ensure that residents have access to electricity, trash collection and a sewer system — so why not something as vital as the internet?

“The time has come for us to think about the internet as what it has become,” he said. “It is a civil right.”

The opportunity to think about such issues in new ways appealed to the UCLA Luskin students who played a role. Plus, there were practical benefits. For example, Schwartz was happy to work on the transportation section of the report because that’s her area of concentration as an urban planning master’s student. But her biggest takeaway from the experience was the mindset of the project’s leaders.

“What I loved seeing is how the community leaders on the committee really focused on empowerment. That’s something that I want to take with me into my own career,” she said.

“… work remains to be done to prevent those long-term effects from being catastrophic.”

—Antonio Elizondo

Elizondo, a master’s student in urban planning, said during the virtual salon that the most impactful aspect of his involvement in the project came during his review of interviews with people impacted by the health crisis and thinking about the repercussions.

“At the moment, it’s an unfolding crisis, so every policy response is a short-term response,” Elizondo said. “This project helped me realize that there will be long-term effects, and how much work remains to be done to prevent those long-term effects from being catastrophic.”

The Committee for Greater LA comprises a diverse group of civic and community leaders and a joint research team from UCLA Luskin and the USC Equity Research Institute. Initially, the committee intended primarily to address the racial disparities exposed by the pandemic, but in the wake of the recent police-involved killings of Black people and the nationwide protests that followed, its focus expanded to encompass a broader understanding of systemic racism.

The UCLA students helped Segura with the policy-related aspects of the report, which cover issues like housing affordability, immigrant rights, alternatives to incarceration, transportation and equitable access to health care, among others. Because of the pandemic, the work had to be coordinated via phone, email and Zoom sessions.

Flynn, who is pursuing a master’s in public policy, said he appreciated the chance to work directly with the dean on a project of such ambition and scope.

“What makes UCLA such a special place is that you have world-class academics and practitioners who are not just interested in generating work but are interested in mentorship and teaching and in giving opportunities to the next generation of policymakers,” he said.

As gratifying as the work was, the students realize the real work is still to come. Schwartz said she’s hopeful that society is ready to adopt the meaningful change advocated in the report.

“We live in a world where people are really isolated and don’t always know what’s going on in the community,” she said. “I hope that this report will just shed some light on issues that people are facing and that it will inspire elected officials to take action and make real, lasting changes to the system.”

Samba said her participation offered a unique opportunity to process her emotions about the extraordinary impact of the COVID-19 crisis, particularly because of how it coincided with the growing racial justice movement — and she sees cause for hope.

“We’re at a point in time where we are trying new things,” Samba said. “We’re able to experiment with our justice system, with our foster care system, with what social services look like, with what community care looks like. I would like to see some of those social experiments — some of those new ideas and visions — become real, and for us not to revert to the status quo. I would love to see us really, actually reimagine what a more racially equitable future looks like for the people of Los Angeles.”

Among the other UCLA connections to the effort: The Committee for Greater LA is chaired by Miguel Santana, a member of the Luskin School’s advisory board, and the project is funded in part by philanthropists who have also supported UCLA.

The Committee for Greater LA has invited interested parties, including policymakers and candidates for elected office, to join in making the #NoGoingBackLA promise, a commitment to build a more equitable and inclusive Los Angeles. Sign up at nogoingback.la.

Roy Awarded ‘Freedom Scholar’ Grant to Advance Social Justice

Professor Ananya Roy, founding director of the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy, has been named a Freedom Scholar as part of a new philanthropic initiative to support progressive academics at the forefront of movements for economic and social justice. Marguerite Casey Foundation and Group Health Foundation launched the $3 million Freedom Scholars initiative to advance work in critical fields of research that are often underfunded or ignored. The 12 academics in the inaugural class of Freedom Scholars are leaders in abolitionist, Black, feminist, queer, radical and anti-colonialist studies. Each will receive $250,000 over two years. “These Freedom Scholars are shifting the balance of power to families and communities that have been historically excluded from the resources and benefits of society,” said Carmen Rojas, CEO and president of Marguerite Casey Foundation. “Support for their research, organizing and academic work is pivotal in this moment where there is a groundswell of support to hold our political and economic leaders accountable.” Roy, a professor of urban planning, social welfare and geography, holds the Meyer and Renee Luskin Chair in Inequality and Democracy. Her research has focused on urban transformations and land grabs, as well as global capital and predatory financialization, with a focus on poor people’s movements. The Freedom Scholar award, which will be administered through the Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy, is designed to advance “a new vision and new ideas for what it means for our society to be just, fair and free,” said Nichole June Maher, CEO of Group Health Foundation.


 

Protests Bring Lasting Change, Zepeda-Millán Says

Associate Professor of Public Policy Chris Zepeda-Millán spoke to AP News about the long-term impact of protests. Studies estimate that over 15 million Americans have taken part in demonstrations decrying racial injustice following the death of George Floyd. While it’s too early to gauge the impact of current protests, a look at the history of U.S. activist movements — including calls for women’s suffrage and civil rights — highlights the victories that have been achieved through protesting. Zepeda-Millán weighed in on a 2006 bill seeking to classify undocumented immigrants as felons and penalizing anyone who assisted them. The bill was shut down in the Senate after millions turned out to protest against it. Zepeda-Millán credits the protests for both stopping the bill and encouraging voter registration among Latinos. However, he said the protests also intensified congressional polarization, dimming prospects for any immigration overhaul and citizenship for undocumented immigrants. 

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Report Explores Temporary Settlement Options in Wake of Evictions

A final report in a three-part series on housing justice and evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic has been released by the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy. The report draws upon guidance from unhoused people, legal advocates and community-based researchers to strongly advise governments to sanction existing self-organized communities of unhoused people and maintain sanitation stations on-site. The authors also recommend that authorities cease the seizing of property from the unhoused and stop conducting sweeps that result in people’s displacement from public space. The report is offered as guidance for policymakers and organizers seeking to support insecurely housed and unhoused people during and after the pandemic. It was written by doctoral student Hilary Malson of UCLA Luskin Urban Planning and Gary Blasi,  professor of law emeritus at the UCLA School of Law. The authors also cautiously recommend that local governments establish temporary settlements in which tents and tiny structures would offer private, socially distanced forms of emergency shelter.


 

Students Urged to Let Personal Mission Guide Career Choices

Marcia Choo

Marcia Choo shares advice during Career Services webinar.

Current students and recent graduates of UCLA Luskin tuned into Zoom to hear Wells Fargo Vice President of Community Development Marcia Choo discuss incorporating passion for equity and social justice in career decisions. After graduating from UCLA, Choo explored many different careers, building an eclectic resume while sticking to a common theme of community engagement and community service. She worked in race relations, conflict resolution, government and nonprofits before joining Wells Fargo Bank to pursue corporate philanthropy. Now in her sixth year at the bank, Choo channels resources to help underserved communities. “I hope my trajectory gives you some hope and encouragement that you shouldn’t limit yourself,” she said at the July 7 webinar hosted by UCLA Luskin Career Services. “You can write your own job description, you can create your own organization. The job you end up doing may not exist until you create it.” Choo explained how a part-time job while she was a UCLA undergraduate eventually transitioned into a full-time position, giving her workforce experience and a confidence boost. “Internships and fellowships are the best way to check out what you might want to do,” she noted. To current students, she offered this advice: Build your network, learn to be your own advocate, and start saving for retirement early. She encouraged students and graduates to consider their personal mission and purpose, what defines them, and make it their brand — and to imagine broader possibilities in the context of the changing world. “Don’t lose your humanity and purpose,” she said. — Zoe Day


 

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