In a Team Human podcast hosted by Douglas Rushkoff, Professor of Urban Planning and Social Welfare Ananya Roy discussed poverty and social justice from a global perspective. Roy explained how the “visible forms of poverty and inequality” in her childhood “shaped [her] interests in the study of cities and the manifestation of social inequality.” Roy discussed the relationships and discrepancies between poverty in the United States compared to developing countries in the global south, explaining that “poverty in many other parts of the world is not necessarily associated with political disenfranchisement in the ways in which it is in the United States.” Roy discussed spaces of mobilization and political power, noting that while “the master’s tools will not dismantle the master’s house, the master’s tools can certainly occupy the master house.” Roy concluded, “As Americans, we have an ethical and political responsibility to address the policies that then produce poverty around the world and in the United States as well.”
Sahfa Aboudkhil performs "For Emilie" at the "Flip the Script" event hosted by the UCLA Luskin Undergraduate Program. Photo by Les Dunseith
On Thursday, Feb. 21, the UCLA Luskin Undergraduate Program presented “Flip The Script: Stories of Social Change,” featuring guest speaker Funmilola Fagbamila, founding member of the Black Lives Matter movement, and five student presenters who showcased their work. The event began with one simple question: “What does social change mean to you?” Each presentation sought to answer that question in a uniquely personal way. Student Mei Blundell performed a piece called “The Escape of Lin Cong” on the yangqin, or Chinese hammered dulcimer, featuring a haunting and complicated melody. Next, Carolyn Travis performed an original poem called “Mujeres” —spoken alternatingly in Spanish and English — about violence toward women and how so much of it often goes undocumented and unreported. Hua Chai presented an animated short discussing technology and conditioning in an abstract manner. Sahfa Aboudkhil performed an original song “For Emilie” on acoustic guitar about women speaking up in light of sexual violence. Alejandro Xipecoatl Juarez performed a dynamic spoken word poem, “Let Me Free,” about Chicano identity in our society. Kate McInerny, a freshman pre-major in public affairs, was emcee of the free event at the Kerckhoff Grand Salon. The evening ended with a talk and Q&A by Fagbamila, who was an inaugural Activist-in-Residence at UCLA Luskin’s Institute on Inequality and Democracy. She spoke about her experience in the social and political arenas and shared her views on modern activism as told through an allegorical story about three archetypal black activists. — Jackson Belway
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“The Sheriff’s Department has a credibility problem to begin with, and this adds fuel to the fire,” said UCLA Luskin Adjunct Professor of Social Welfare Jorja Leap in a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times. “The fact that they’re taking this stance this early in [the sheriff’s] tenure means they are putting him on notice,” Leap said in response to a decision by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors to publicly rebuke newly elected Sheriff Alex Villanueva after he unilaterally reinstated a deputy who was fired after domestic abuse allegations were raised against him. Villanueva, elected two months ago in an upset victory against incumbent Jim McDonnell, was criticized by the supervisors, who rarely speak out against sheriffs. Villanueva was also called into a meeting with the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission.
Activists Micah White, Tanzila “Taz” Ahmed and Yusef Omowale were welcomed to UCLA Luskin during a reception held Jan. 16, 2019. Photo by Les Dunseith
By Cristina Barrera and Les Dunseith
The 2019 UCLA Activists-in-Residence were introduced Jan. 16 to about 100 students, faculty, staff and community supporters who did not let a steady rain deter them from welcoming activists Micah White, Yusef Omowale and UCLA Luskin alumna Tanzila “Taz” Ahmed MPP ’07.
During their residency at UCLA, each of the three activists will pursue a project designed to advance their commitments to social justice. They will also engage with UCLA faculty and students to share their methodologies for social change.
The Activist-in-Residence Program was launched in 2016 by the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin and the UCLA Asian American Studies Center to advance core research themes concerned with “building power to expose and tackle various forms of dispossession in unequal cities,” said Institute Director Ananya Roy, professor of urban planning, social welfare and geography. “We have insisted on turning the public university inside out.”
Micah White, Ph.D., is an author, public speaker and lifelong activist who co-created Occupy Wall Street, a global social movement that spread to 82 countries. His first book, “The End of Protest: A New Playbook for Revolution,” was published in 2016.
“This kind of opportunity for the critical pedagogy of activism is as rare as it is needed,” White said prior to the reception. “Activism and the ways we protest must change if it is to regain its effectiveness. And the best way to do that, I believe, is to bring the rigorous thinking of academia to bear against the deep strategic and theoretical challenges facing practicing activists.”
White’s time at UCLA is focused on whether activism can be taught — and how to do it. He and Roy are exploring that issue by co-teaching a course on housing justice activism and protest as part of an effort known as Activist Graduate School.
During her opening remarks, Roy said, “Micah has brought to UCLA Luskin his latest project, Activist Graduate School, which I see as an urgently necessary effort to build pedagogy an infrastructure in these troubled times.”
As archivist at the Southern California Library, Yusef Omowale has been a participant in collective memory work to document the impacts of policing, incarceration, displacement and poverty. He has been involved in political education workshops, campaign support, and the offering of spaces for healing and material support to ease the day-to-day sufferings of individuals in need.
Founded over 50 years ago, the Southern California Library holds extensive collections related to the history of community resistance.
“I am thankful to receive this Activist-in-Residence position for the respite and resources it offers,” Omowale said. “Coming from a struggling nonprofit, having access to all the university affords is no small thing.”
Even so, Omowale said his acceptance of the fellowship carries with it a measure of trepidation.
“The university, consorting as it is with racial capitalism and its progeny, neoliberalism, is not a safe place for most of us,” he explained.
Working in South Central Los Angeles, Omowale is regularly confronted “with dominant imaginings of the violence that we must have to contend with in our work. And certainly, we encounter the violence of poverty, environmental toxins, policing and the interpersonal kind. From this reality, the university is meant to represent a safe haven — a north star.”
Yet, he said, the geography of the university is bounded and sustained in part by the “violence it enacts on communities like the one I work in.”
He continued: “Whether intended or not, this residency has a discursive role in legitimizing the university, erasing its violence, through appropriation of ‘activism.’ I cannot ignore this function, nor my participation in it.”
On the other hand, “there are so many people laboring in the university that I love, and I am thankful for the opportunity to join them in their collective projects for freedom. I will take the advice of Harney and Moten that ‘in the face of these conditions one can only sneak into the university and steal what one can,’” Omowale said, referring to the book, “The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study,” by Stefano Harney and Fred Moten.
During his residency, Omowale will extend his work on building an archival practice that can document displacement and dispossession in Los Angeles.
The UCLA Asian American Studies Center (AASC) selected Tanzila “Taz” Ahmed as its 2019 UCLA Activist-in-Residence because of her “creative use of storytelling, art, social media and digital technology to advance Asian American social justice movements that is path-breaking and fits perfectly with our center’s digital initiatives ” said AASC Director Karen Umemoto, professor of urban planning at UCLA Luskin. She further noted that while pursuing her Master of Public Policy degree at UCLA Luskin, Ahmed was part of a student-led initiative to bring critical race theory into public policy.
Ahmed said that “digital tools have become one of the most democratizing ways to access movement knowledge, history and analysis to inspire this community forward.”
She continued, “As a community, we have to tell our own counter-narratives and contemporary histories that keep getting sidelined — and what better way to do that than a digital storytelling project rooted at UCLA?”
Ahmed will explore the intersection of digital storytelling with the building of political movements by developing an audio advice column for new Asian American activists.
Her fellowship is made possible through the Yuji Ichioka and Emma Gee Endowment in Social Justice and Immigration Studies, which honors the late UCLA scholar Yuji Ichioka and his wife, activist-scholar Emma Gee.
The Institute on Inequality and Democracy fellowship program is supported by a gift from the James Irvine Foundation.
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'Wherever two or more black people are gathered, there is a chocolate city,' says Marcus Anthony Hunter, the first lecturer in UCLA Luskin's new Transdisciplinary Speaker Series. Photo by Mary Braswell
By Mary Braswell
To fully comprehend the experience of black Americans, start by throwing out conventional maps, tired vocabularies and old ways of thinking.
That is the core message of Marcus Anthony Hunter, chair of African American Studies at UCLA and co-author of a new book about the struggle and triumph of black culture over many generations.
Hunter drew on insights and anecdotes from the book, “Chocolate Cities: The Black Map of American Life,” to engage an audience of more than 50 students, faculty and guests at a Nov. 19, 2018, lecture at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.
“I believe that in order to move forward into a more productive world and more productive scientific conversation about space, place and people, we need new words,” he said. “And new words bring realities, bring frameworks, and so my agenda today is to give you some new words and bring it from the culture.”
Hunter’s takeaway — to seek out fresh vantage points for a clearer picture of truth — was a fitting launch for the Transdisciplinary Speaker Series at UCLA Luskin. A collaborative effort by Public Policy, Social Welfare and Urban Planning, the new series brings in lecturers from across the spectrum of social sciences to share messages that cross, even erase, disciplinary lines.
“We are talking about how to step out of our silos,” said Social Welfare Professor Mark Kaplan, who spearheaded the seminar series. “This is really an effort to get people to think beyond their immediate range of disciplinary interest.”
Faculty members including Mark Peterson of Public Policy, Laura Wray-Lake of Social Welfare and Amada Armenta and Kian Goh of Urban Planning worked together to nominate speakers “who perhaps we would not think of in our own fields,” Kaplan said.
The series aspires to do more than simply attract people curious about what’s happening outside their own disciplines. It aims to shatter old paradigms, overcome institutional resistance, encourage collaborative work and find solutions to the tough social problems that UCLA Luskin tackles daily, Kaplan said.
He envisions UCLA Luskin as a laboratory for the transdisciplinary approach, an idea that has been incubating at the School for years. The initiative got new life in spring 2018 when Dean Gary Segura met with Kaplan and endorsed the lecture series and its broader ambitions.
Hunter’s talk showed the potential of the cross-pollination approach, weaving urban geography together with demographic data, oral histories, news archives and a large dose of cultural touchpoints from poetry, fiction, film and music.
Parliament Funkadelic’s 1975 “Chocolate City” album inspired Hunter and co-author Zandria F. Robinson to adopt the term as a fitting description of black communities, replacing “slum,” “ghetto,” “Buttermilk Bottom,” “Cabrini Green,” “South Central” — and the stereotypes they invoke.
“Wherever two or more black people are gathered, there is a chocolate city,” Hunter told the Transdisciplinary Speaker Series audience. But he stressed that the black experience does not require a physical bond.
“There’s this idea of connectivity across black space that to me is deeply, deeply profound,” said Hunter, an associate professor of sociology. “Without meeting with each other, there’s a similar sentiment about all sorts of things related to trauma, struggle and accomplishment.”
To underscore his argument that conventional borders are misleading and outmoded, Hunter played audio of Malcolm X’s 1964 address at King Solomon Baptist Church in Detroit.
“If you black, you were born in jail, in the North as well as the South,” the racial justice advocate said. “Stop talking about the South. As long as you south of the Canadian border, you South.”
Hunter’s reimagining of U.S. territory is made up of many different “Souths.”
“When we think about the South, we’re talking about surveillance, Jim Crow, racial segregation, residential segregation. We know from the research that these practices exist all across the United States, but we usually attribute bad behavior to the South,” Hunter said.
“Everywhere is the South if you are black. The South follows black people as they leave.”
Some of these geographies exist below the surface, as in the case of black transgender women, Hunter argued. He aired video clips of “the two Ms. Johnsons”: Gay rights activist Marsha P. Johnson was killed in suspicious circumstances in New York City in 1992. Duanna Johnson was shot to death on a Memphis street in 2008, months after her videotaped beating by two police officers drew wide condemnation. The killers of these two black transgender women have never been found.
“Your status as trans puts you at this really interesting and dangerous intersection and you often come up missing,” said Hunter, who devoted a chapter in his book to the two Ms. Johnsons and the little-known worlds they traversed.
“Our goal here was to recover those maps and to also honor the lives of these people who tried to navigate the chocolate city in all of its dangers and wonders.”
View a Flickr album from the Transdisciplinary Speaker Series event.
Watts Leadership Institute cohort member Amada Valle, left. with UCLA alumna Crystal Thomas, WLI co-founder Jorja Leap and Valle's daughter Jenni. Photo by George Foulsham
By Mary Braswell
The community garden launched by the Watts Leadership Institute (WLI) a year ago is growing, thriving, bearing fruit.
The same could be said for the institute itself.
Since the start of 2018, the UCLA Luskin-based WLI has received several grants totaling more than $650,000 that will allow it to expand its core mission of empowering the community leaders of Watts.
“We’re absolutely thrilled,” said co-founder Jorja Leap, adjunct professor of social welfare. “We’re finding great support for this model, the idea that we want to lift up and help the small nonprofits and real community leaders in these marginalized communities.”
Along with Karrah Lompa MSW ’13, Leap founded the institute in 2016 with a two-year $200,000 startup grant from The California Wellness Foundation.
Since January, WLI has received new and increased investments:
- An additional two-year grant of $250,000 from The California Wellness Foundation is an expression of confidence that its initial investment was effectively used in the community.
- The Weingart Foundation is providing $200,000 for the next two years to support its efforts in Southern California communities most deeply affected by poverty and economic inequity.
- Ballmer Group provided $150,000 over two years. Ballmer Group supports efforts to improve economic mobility and has invested significantly in direct services and capacity building in the Watts-Willowbrook area.
- GRoW@Annenberg has invested more than $50,000 this year as part of a multiyear commitment for the WLI GRoW Community Garden. It has also provided generous additional funding and technical assistance to enhance WLI community engagement and outreach. In addition, GRoW’s founder, Gregory Annenberg Weingarten, has awarded almost $100,000 directly to Watts community leaders working with WLI.
These continued philanthropic investments will “take our mission to another level,” Leap said. Lompa added that “having the support of these leading philanthropic institutions reinforces both the need for WLI and the impact these leaders are making in Watts.”
“We are grateful for these new funders and grants because they help diversify WLI’s overall funding, helping us lead by example when encouraging WLI leaders to diversify their own funding streams,” Lompa said.
The funds are quickly being put to use on the ground in Watts. WLI works with community leaders who are already making a difference and provides them with the tools, resources and training to be more effective — including tutorials on using tablets to keep their books as well as tips on navigating the Southern California policy and philanthropic landscape.
“These are the people that the community listens to and follows,” Leap said of the first cohort of 12 Watts leaders supported by the institute. “They live there, they work there. But they’ve never had the capacity to really do the work of which they are capable.”
The key for WLI, she said, is to listen to people who are acutely aware of what their neighborhood needs. WLI builds on this knowledge by responding with tangible help to sustain the leaders and their efforts.
Leap told the story of WLI cohort member Amada Valle, a community organizer and advocate for residents of the Jordan Downs public housing development. “Amada is teaching women to sew and to create women-led businesses,” Leap said. “And what do you need if you’re teaching women to sew? Sewing machines.” Thanks to funds allocated by The California Wellness Foundation for direct service reinvestment, Valle received a grant from WLI to purchase six sewing machines.
“You would have laughed if you had walked into the Luskin development office and seen all these boxes of sewing machines, all piled up,” Leap said.
Doing good works is contagious, WLI has found. Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino donated office space to the institute. The Johnny Carson Foundation funded an MSW internship in Watts. The UCLA Luskin IT team offers technical support, bringing community leaders to campus for tutorials.
“That’s really our dream — to have everybody working together and leading within their community,” said Leap, who has been active in Watts for 40 years, since she attended UCLA for her BA, MSW and Ph.D.
“With WLI, UCLA Luskin has a 24/7 presence in Watts. This is not lip service, and we don’t want to be a temporary program. We’re part of the community, and we want to be,” she said. “We’re honored to be.”
Research by Professor Laura Abrams of UCLA Luskin Social Welfare is mentioned in a story that originated with the Chronicle of Social Change and has been picked up by other media outlets, including the Appeal and the Press-Telegram. Senate Bill (SB) 439 would prevent the juvenile justice system from hearing most cases of children younger than age 12. “I think people have an assumption that juvenile court is potentially a helpful intervention for young children,” Abrams says in the story, which notes her analysis of state juvenile justice data. “But in most cases, the charges aren’t sustained or they’re dismissed, so the family doesn’t get any help at all.”
As graduation looms, UCLA Luskin students must polish, perfect and present their projects and research results
The Center for Neighborhood Knowledge (CNK) at UCLA Luskin has updated its website to offer two important online resources: an inventory and map of anti-displacement policies in Los Angeles County, and a map of neighborhood change and gentrification in Southern California. The map of anti-displacement policies utilizes data collected between February and May of 2018, and it reflects CNK’s first step to highlight and better understand the policies that can promote affordability or mitigate displacement of vulnerable populations in gentrifying neighborhoods. Among the findings is the fact that despite a wide range of anti-displacement policies and strategies in Los Angeles County, their coverage is fragmented and implementation is not equitably distributed across jurisdictions. CNK’s urban displacement map reflects an update to a resource first provided in 2016. It focuses on understanding where neighborhood transformations are occurring and helps identify areas that are vulnerable to gentrification and displacement in both transit and non-transit neighborhoods. One of the key findings in this update is that the number of gentrified neighborhoods (based on census tracts) rose by 16 percent in Los Angeles County between 1990 and 2015.
On June 7, 2018, students from UCLA Luskin presented research on issues relevant to social justice, followed by a panel discussion about empowering immigrant communities in Los Angeles. Moderated by Val Zavala, formerly of KCET, the panel included Joseph Villa of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights; Daisy Esqueda and Nicole Mitchell of LAUSD; Jyotswaroop Kaur Bawa of the California Immigrant Policy Center; and Reshma Shamasunder of Asian Americans Advancing Justice. The event was organized by three student groups at UCLA Luskin: Policy Professionals for Diversity and Equity, Social Workers for Collective Action, and Planners of Color for Social Equity.
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