LOS ANGELES — Before a packed City Council chamber filled with celebrities, politicians and community activists, the city of Los Angeles and Our Authors Study Club kicked off its celebration of African American Heritage Month Feb. 5 with an opening ceremony and reception.
The celebration begins a series of African American Heritage Month events presented by Our Authors Study Club. The purpose of the celebration is to raise the awareness of the positive contributions African Americans have made to the city.
The three black members of the city council, Herb Wesson, Curren Price and Marqueece Harris-Dawson introduced the honorees along with Mayor Eric Garcetti, City Attorney Mike Feuer and City Controller Ron Galperin. Wesson kept the proceedings lively with his witty repartee. Before introducing the honorees, he paid tribute to two Buffalo Soldiers who were in the audience who received a standing ovation.
The event, hosted by Garcetti and city officials, was to honor five individuals for work in their respective fields.
Singer Jeffrey Osborne received the Living Legend Award, actress/comedian Tiffany Haddish received the Trailblazer Award, while Hall of Fame Awards were bestowed upon Michael Lawson, president of the Los Angeles Urban League for economics and civil rights; Sandra Evers Manly, president of the Northrop Grumman Foundation, for business; and Thomas Parham, president of Cal State Dominguez Hills, for education.
All five honorees were in attendance and said they were humbled and honored by the recognition.
While introducing Trailblazer Award-winner Tiffany Haddish, Mayor Garcetti said, “Some would read her history and says she’s not supposed to be here.”
“She knows how to deal with hardship and struggle,” he said. “Look at what she’s overcome. It’s not about what she does in front of the camera. It’s about what she does when they shut off. We’re honoring an incredible woman. She represents the best of this city.”
Haddish, dressed in a yellow blazer and black pants, jokingly said she’s been “on a lot of trails – blazing. It’s hot out here.”
Haddish, who has often spoken about her experiences in foster care, said it actually prepared her for “everything.”
“I’m strong with a ‘no,’” she said. “I just figure out another way to get my ‘yes.’
“I’m grateful and honored,” said Haddish, who recognized her Jewish and Eritrea roots — courtesy of her father. “I’m here to be of service. I love L.A. because the city embraced him. A trailblazer. I feel like I’ve been on a long, hard journey. I couldn’t have done it by myself.”
Haddish, who said she was going to put her award on the fireplace next to her Emmy, told city officials, “The next time I come back, I expect to get the key to the city.”
Jeffrey Osborne, who received the Living Legend Award, said it was “more special than a Grammy.”
“This is a recognition I never imagined,” said Osborne, who has received four nominations, but has never won a Grammy. “When you get a Legend Award that means you’ve gotten a little old. A legend is someone who leaves a legacy. This is special because I get to receive this while I’m alive. For me to be here and appreciate being appreciated is more than I can imagine.”
Osborne, who briefly warbled “Can you Woo Woo Woo,” from his hit song, called Black History Month, “an important time to celebrate.”
“It’s a way that we can reflect and appreciate all we’ve done for this nation,” said Osborne, the youngest of 12 children. “So many people came before us who should be illuminated.”
District 9 City Councilman Curren Price, who introduced Parham, said, “He strives to help students of all backgrounds.”
In receiving his award, Parham, who honored his mother during his speech, called himself a “round-the-way brother.”
“It’s flattering and humbling to be in the Hall of Fame of the city,” said Parham who called Cal State Dominguez Hills an “international multicultural mecca.” “My goal is to help people find hope in the face of despair.”
Parham said celebrating Black History Month should be done every day and every year.
“Those of us who occupy the adult corridor have to remind ourselves about our heroes and heroines who came before us,” he said. “We owe them. How dare us not celebrate the legacy. We have to fulfill the legacy they left us.”
Manly, the cousin of slain 1960s civil rights activist Medgar Evers, said she was “humbled” by the recognition.
“I stand before you with Jesus joy,” she said. “Black history happens every day. Don’t take this month for granted. My goal is to get out of the way so that the next generation can show us the way. I love L.A. I love everything about it, the good, the bad and the great people of this city.”
Local Urban League President Lawson said it was hard to say what the award means. He acknowledged Mattie Lawson, his wife of 40 years, as being the “wind beneath my wings.”
An ambassador during the Obama administration, Lawson, who was born in Arkansas, said he and his siblings were told by their parents from the very beginning that they could do anything and that they had an obligation to give back.
“The key to all of this is putting in the work,” he said. “We have to do the work. We have to say, ‘yes’ because we stand on the shoulders of our parents and their contemporaries.”
Mayor Eric Garcetti said it was not only an African American celebration it was “an American and Los Angeles celebration.”
“This is an important month not to only mark, but to make history,” said Garcetti, who celebrated his birthday Feb. 4 and noted it was the same day as civil rights activist Rosa Parks.
While the event was a time for celebration, it was also an opportunity for city officials to stress the importance of voting and taking part in the upcoming 2020 census.
Garcetti said he didn’t want to “tell” anyone who to vote for, but he did want to stress that doing so was “important.”
“I can’t stress how important it is for everyone to vote and for everyone to take part in the census,” said Councilman Price. “We have to do everything we can to be actively involved.”
“The theme of Black Heritage Month is voting,” City Attorney Mike Feuer said.
City Controller Ron Galperin said while the day was to “celebrate a long and amazing history of accomplishments and leadership,” there was still a “long way to go.”
“We still have a disproportionate rate of incarceration and homelessness,” Galperin said. “We need to get civically engaged.”
During the celebration, a moment of silence was held for Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and the seven others who were killed in a helicopter crash Jan. 26.
At the end of the presentation, the 2020 African American Heritage Month Calendar and Cultural Guide, presented by the city of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs was unveiled.
Following the City Council presentation, an opening ceremony was hosted by Garcetti and Our Authors Study Club on the South Lawn of City Hall. It was hosted by KABC News Anchor Leslie Sykes and catered by Chef Marilyn.
Others in attendance for the African American Heritage Month celebration included former U.S. Rep. Diane Watson, LAPD Chief Michel Moore, Los Angeles school board member George McKenna, comedians Michael Colyar and Joe Torry, and Ayuko Babu, founder of the Pan African Film Festival.