By Dorany Pineda
INGLEWOOD — Mark Johnson organized what was called the Inner City Sports Festival and Health Fair back in 2004.
The event consisted of a 23-mile bike ride and health fair that attracted thousands of people from South Los Angeles and neighboring communities. Its success caught the eye of former Los Angeles City Councilman Bernard Parks, who told Johnson that more needed to be done to fix the community’s rampant obesity problem.
Johnson’s work caught also the attention of U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, who said to him: “We need more of what you’re doing.”
And so every year, Johnson has continued organizing and hosting what he now calls the Inner City Mini-Marathon & Health Festival, an annual event he puts together under the umbrella of the nonprofit he founded, City Lites Network Inc.
The nonprofit’s mission is to “promote health awareness, nutrition, physical fitness and education to all youth and adults, with an emphasis on those living with diagnosed challenges throughout the Greater Los Angeles area,” according to the organization’s website.
And the mini-marathon and health festival are the incarnation of that. But the marathon, Johnson said, isn’t a long-distance running race, as its name implies.
“It’s not a marathon that you run 26 miles,” Johnson said. “It’s a marathon that we’re running in our communities. … It’s the marathon that minorities, of course blacks, have been going through for years, like slavery and up to now where we get shot, we get killed, we get arrested for no reason.
“We’re still running a marathon. So until that ends, this is still going to be an inner city marathon.”
This year’s event, which will take place Sept. 29 at Jesse Owens Park, is expected to draw 5,000 people, Johnson said.
While the health festival serves as a health, education and physical fitness event, it also functions as an opportunity to help residents clear their records.
“This year, we added the expungement because we recognize that so much goes on in our community and a lot of folks in the community can’t get a job because of the records that they’ve gotten in the past,” he said.
Additionally, the annual festival does what Johnson calls community fund sharing, which has taught countless community members how to organize successful fundraisers.
By building teams that walk or cycle during the marathon, residents can get people to sign up for their teams through a website called CrowdRise, a social fundraising platform that City Lites Network has used to help build its brand. It allows people to walk for their own purpose and cause, be it to end homelessness, bring attention to mental health issues or shed light on police brutality.
“[The fundraising] teaches people how to take ownership … how to raise money together in the community … how to build relationships with one another … and how to brand their names so they can go after corporations in our communities that make lots of money from us,” Johnson said.
As for the future of City Lites Network, it will soon bring a Special Olympics program to South Los Angeles, Johnson said; a program that the community’s physically and mentally disabled youth and adults haven’t had in many years.
CEO: Mark Johnson
Years in operation: 14
Number of employees: NA
Annual budget: $50,000
Location: 5020 N. La Brea, Suite 109, Inglewood, 90302