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Alex Johnson: Respect for tradition, commitment to progress NOW

By Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas | 8/7/2014, midnight

When I was elected to the Los Angeles City Council 23 years ago, African Americans comprised close to 14 percent of Los Angeles’ population. Today, it’s approximately 8 percent. As demographic trends are projected, African Americans will continue to decline in number relative to the total population in coming decades.

Our engagement in public life must remain significant. This cannot be accomplished unless we turn our attention to a new generation of leadership and move these younger leaders up now.

The future success of African Americans in L.A. relies on two essential tasks: Improving the academic achievement of African American students, and deepening the engagement of African Americans in civic life and politics. The two tasks are inseparable.

African American political clout will empower us to achieve improvements we need in our schools. Dramatic school improvement in our community is a task we must give our priority attention like never before. Our future is on the line in education.

That is why I was impressed with Alex Johnson upon our first meeting and why I continue to be impressed with his talent, skill and capabilities.

Audrey Quarles, a retired LAUSD teacher and leader in the local chapter of the National Council of Negro Women and Dr. William Epps, pastor of Second Baptist Church, introduced Alex to me.

These respected elders, and many others, felt an urgent need to identify and support future leaders for Los Angeles. Alex clearly had the right package—a product of LAUSD schools, ‘Morehouse Man’, law school grad and an accomplished professional who had devoted considerable time to public service. He was eager to learn, ready to serve, willing to lead and determined to succeed.

I paid close attention to Alex’s career as an education lawyer and domestic violence prosecutor. When he was ready to immerse himself in the issues of the community in which he was raised, I was glad to have him join my staff to advise me on education and public safety issues.

Alex’s candidacy for the L.A. School Board exemplifies the long-term preparation and planning for next generation leadership that Pastor Epps, many others and I began more than a decade ago to ensure that African American voices remain influential and relevant in Los Angeles.

That is why the African American Voter Registration, Education, and Participation (AAVREP) organization was founded in 2002 by committed civil rights, religious, labor, and business leaders. AAVREP promotes strong African American voter turnout and supports leaders who advance African American interests and democratic values.

What’s my stake in all of this? Frankly, I bridge two generations of African Americans. I have the greatest respect for the civil rights pioneers who journeyed on the great migration to Los Angeles, as my family did from Louisiana. Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte and her contemporaries ‘fought the good fight’. We remain indebted to them for their struggles, sacrifices and service.

The only way to preserve the work of our elders is by cultivating a set of capable, proven leaders to follow my generation. This is critical. It’s why Alex Johnson’s candidacy is compelling and promising for so many of us. We need to project decades into the future, not rely on perspectives held decades in the past.