CARSON — It was a day of enlightenment, inspiration and stimulating conversation at the third annual KJLH Men’s Empowerment Summit held Sept. 7 at Cal State Dominguez Hills where the topics ranged from relationships to police reform.
Sponsored by radio station KJLH and the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, the daylong event offered a wealth of information on such topics as politics, mental health, religion, technology, mentoring, health advice, entrepreneurship and building generational wealth.
Anthony Samad, a professor at Cal State Dominguez Hills, moderated the political panel discussion on “Stay Woke 2020” which featured state Sen. Steven Bradford, City Council President Herb Wesson and county Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.
Samad opened the discussion by asking, “How did so many black people wind up on the streets of L.A.? We passed two bond measures and homelessness has gone up.”
“These two guys [Bradford and Ridley-Thomas] spent $1.2 billion to build housing,” Wesson said. “Mark-Ridley Thomas put the ballot Measure H which gave us over $300 million a year to provide the services.”
“The city and the county worked like hell last year to put 20,000 people that were on the street in housing,” he added. “But the homeless numbers went up. We have to have resources in the beginning so that people don’t become homeless in the first place.”
“The reason why the numbers went up is because there is not a cap on rents,” Samad said. “Our people are being evicted in the streets through the absence of policies.”
“To have a 12% uptick in the city of Los Angeles and a 16% uptick in the county of Los Angeles, you just couldn’t convince me that such would be the case,” said Ridley-Thomas, who added that African Americans make up 9% of the population in L.A. County but 40% of the homeless population.
“It’s related to economic insecurity, financial stress, the rents and affordable housing and the lack thereof,” Ridley-Thomas said. “We are 516,000 units short of affordable housing in the county of L.A. due to price gouging. We need to stabilize rents and provide eviction protection.
“We are going to put forward a substantial amount of support in terms of the right to counsel,” he added. “If tenants have someone to represent them, landlords will not as easily evict them.”
“Racism is definitely a factor,” Bradford said. “We have a piece of legislation that is going through the Senate that caps rents at 5% a year. It will have a just cause for eviction section and it will be a safeguard for tenants.”
The Police Reform panel, moderated by KJLH radio personality Dominique DiPrima, featured Bradford, attorney Brian Dunn of the Cochran firm, Michael Brox, a retired LAPD detective, and Cheryl Dorsey, a retired LAPD sergeant.
Dunn, who said he has worked on police misconduct cases for 25 years, said that over the years his caseload has not declined.
“We have seen a dramatic increase in shootings statewide and nationwide,” he said. “It only takes 10 to 20 seconds to turn a casual encounter [with a citizen] into a deadly one.”
“Deadly force was instigated in 1872, a few years after African Americans were declared free,” Bradford said. “It was a way for police to kill people who looked like us. I think one of the biggest challenges between the police and the community is a lack of cultural understanding.
“We just passed AB 392 — the use of deadly force authorized by Dorsey and myself,” he said. “When it comes to communities of color, deadly force is [the police’s] first reaction when they deal with people who don’t look like them.”
“We have people in the LAPD who look forward to using deadly force,” Brox said. “At traffic stops, the first thing they do is put their hands on a firearm. Now that there are cell phones and the police have to wear body cameras, the police are more cautious of what they do.”
“But the law has not caught up with technology. Who gets to see the body camera footage?” said Dorsey, an LAPD employee for 20 years.
“Look at Rodney King,” Bradford said. “If it hadn’t been for a resident pulling out his video camera and recording the beating, the police would have said that King was resisting arrest.”
Dorsey said that when she was on the force, she witnessed police using deadly force as a first resort rather than a last resort.
She added that there are plenty of good officers, but there is no safe place for them to report abuse.
“Officers are afraid,” Brox said. “The moment you become a whistleblower, you are ostracized and moved from your department. I saw abuse and when I protested, I was asked, ‘Who’s team are you on?’”
“[Shooting] investigations should not be done by police officers at all,” DiPrima said.
“Southern California is the Indy 500 of officer-involved shootings, only surpassed by shootings in Kern County,” Dunn said.
Bradford said that increased training is not the issue in deadly force shootings.
“It’s not about training,” he said. “There is a bias and racism that is out there. The highest recruitment among police are white supremacists.”
He hoped that AB 392 will help to reduce the number of shootings.
“It’s not the perfect piece of legislation, but it’s a first step,” he said.
Dunn had advice for people in the audience.
“Whatever you do, do not run from police,” he said.
“Don’t reach for anything,” Brox added. “Keep your hands on the wheel. If they say, ‘Let me see your license,’ tell them you are reaching for your license.”
A third panel on mental health and wellness featured former NBA players Keyon Dooling, Mack Calvin, James Donaldson, and Dion Slider.
It was moderated by Loyola Marymount University professor William Parham, who said “a lot of men and women are exposed to trauma that totally pulls them apart and without professional help, that emotion is carried around with them all their lives.”
Calvin told how his father, who was an alcoholic, beat his mother and caused him to experience trauma.
“But my dad was my hero,” said Calvin, adding that he frequently accompany his father to the race track where he bet on horses.
As an adult, Calvin said that he continued playing the horses.
“I became a compulsive gambler,” he said.
But the pressure of being a high level athlete and experiencing his wife grappling with lupus and watching her undergo a kidney transplant spiraled him into depression.
“Mental illness traumatizes you and keeps you in a dark place. Publicly, I was a success, but privately, I was a failure,” he said.
Calvin said one thing that gave him comfort is that he had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
“I always had a strong spiritual foundation,” he said.
He now attends Gamblers Anonymous meetings twice a week. He also mentors young athletes where he talks about mental health.
“To any of you struggling, just keep moving forward,” he said. “Don’t look backwards. You don’t heal overnight. I learned how to look forward and to not look back.”
Dooling, who played 13 seasons with the Boston Celtics, said he spiraled out of control when a strange man grabbed his buttocks in a restaurant bathroom.
“What made you do that to me?” Dooling shouted.
Dooling recalls that the man hurriedly left.
“I see the guy in the parking lot and I start choking him,” Dooling said.
The incident had triggered a memory of when Dooling was a 7-year-old child and was molested by a teenager.
“I developed PTSD,” Dooling said. “I had no control over myself. I called the Boston Celtics and said, ‘I can’t play anymore.’ I checked myself into a mental health institution at Harvard. We think we can fight our way out of mental illness and trauma, but we need to go to a therapist if we need help.”
Donaldson said he had an aortic dissection.
“I fell out in my doctor’s waiting room,” he said. “I had surgery and was placed in a medically induced coma for two weeks.”
Donaldson recovered, but life dealt him a few more blows.
“In 2017, my business went belly up, after 28 years, my wife packed up and left and my mother passed away. I woke up at 1:30 a.m. in the morning and thought about exiting this world. I told the doctor that ‘everything is gone — I have no reason to live anymore.’ It was total darkness for eight months.
“He got a behavior counselor to work with me. It took me 12 months to work through my issues. I realized that I still have a reason to be here — to talk about mental health and suicide prevention. Surround yourself with people and medical professionals who really care about you,” Donaldson said.
Slider said he started smoking crack as a teenager.
“Both of my parents were addicts,” he said. “The crack epidemic was a nightmare in the ’80s. It was a zombie zone. I saw people become shells of who they were.
“I had to make a decision about what I wanted to do. Was I going to live or was I going to die? Fall in love with who you are and what you are,” Slider said. “I think being open and honest and having vulnerability is important.”