On Sept. 23, the Urban Issues Forum of Greater Los Angeles will celebrate the 10th anniversary of its forum, and given this difficult economic time, it is quite an achievement that the event has made it to, and surpassed, the 10-year milestone.
Founded in October of 1999 by Anthony Asadullah Samad, Ph.D. and former Los Angeles City Councilman Bob Farrell, the Urban Issues Forum, according to their website, "is a lively exchange (debate/counter-debate)." Its mission is to "provide the community at large and community news sources with first-hand insights to their constituencies on issues of national and local concern."
Speaking to Our Weekly about the Forum, co-founder Samad reflected on its past, and talked about plans for the 10-year celebration.
"The Urban Issues Forum," says Samad, "has proven to be a significant driver in the public discourse in our community. It's a one-of-kind forum nationwide inasmuch as in urban cities, we invite our community--at no expense to them--to come out and hear significant newsmakers. And some of the nation's top newsmakers speak at our forums. So we think it's an accomplishment that we were able to reach the 10-year benchmark."
The journey has not been without struggles. Samad says that their challenges are the same as all non-profits, such as sustainability and trying "to continue the program in a tough economy." The biggest problem the Forum faces is that they have no full-time staff. On the positive side, the Forum has proven to be a viable product and people support it, as is evidenced by its longevity.
When asked about goals for the Forum, Samad says:, "The Forum is still an open mic for the community to begin to talk to issues that affect them outside of the mainstream media. Part of how the Issues Forum got (started) is traditionally we had to go through the gatekeepers like town halls, like L.A. Times speakers' forums and those kinds of things, or elected officials who chose to bring folk in our community on their terms. We had very little access to them, and we had very little interaction with them in terms of our ability to interface with newsmakers. So the Urban Issues Forum will continue to be the place where we invite (leaders and others) to speak to everyday people," says Samad, who for the last 20 years has operated a strategic planning/urban affairs firm specializing in the assessment and management of public policy, economic development, urban, social and race issues.
There have, of course, been many highlights. The co-founder recalled several, each of which demonstrates the national and international influence of the Forum. The first person he brought up was South African parliament member and influential leader in the anti-apartheid movement Winnie Mandela, who spoke at the Forum in 2000.
She appeared, says Samad, "as part of the Racial Reconciliation Mission to find out how African-Americans in the United States managed to heal the wounds of segregation and oppression with their former oppressors." He laughed as he shared "one of the comments I remember she said was 'I don't see how y'all did it.'"