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Ridley-Thomas hosts annual Empowerment Congress Summit

WILLOWBROOK — How civic engagement can transform communities was on display Jan. 19 at the 27th annual Empowerment Congress Summit on Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend.

About 1,200 people attended the summit at the Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science. 

The summit featured speeches from county Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, founder of the Empowerment Congress; as well as U.S. Rep. Karen Bass, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus; U.S. Rep. Nanette Barragan, whose congressional district includes Willowbrook; and Humboldt County Supervisor Virginia Bass, president of the California State Association of Counties.

“Dr. King stands as a global giant, one who stirred our souls and sparked our conscience to not only dream big for ourselves but to act boldly to ensure a better tomorrow,” Ridley-Thomas said. “By continuing to be steadfast in our efforts to spur not just change but transformative change, we will succeed in building communities of opportunity for all Angelenos.”

“The beauty of the Empowerment Congress is that it is a vehicle from which people can directly and consistently participate in their government,” Bass added. “For years, members of the Empowerment Congress have stuck with the hard work of representing the conflicting interests in our community and working together to help our community. If this body existed around the nation, Americans everywhere would understand their responsibility to participate beyond the voting booth. I’m honored to be a part of this.”

“To produce lasting positive change in a community, its residents must first recognize their strength and power,” Rep. Barragan said. “Thanks to the grassroots leadership of the Empowerment Congress and Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, more families in the Watts-Willowbrook area are being empowered to develop solutions to our most pressing issues and leading change through action. I am glad to see this year’s Empowerment Congress convening hosted in my congressional district and look forward to the positive results it produces.”

The theme of the Summit was Transforming Communities, and the plenary session showcased how the Empowerment Congress has supported community transformation over the years, including advocating for the rebirth of the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital, ramping up innovative solutions to homelessness, promoting workforce development in the bioscience industry and calling for more diversity in the creative economy.

The summit also featured five interactive workshops and a bus tour of Willowbrook, a community that once reeled from civil unrest but has since been transformed in recent years by unprecedented development that includes the sprawling Martin Luther King, Jr. Medical Campus, the Rosa Parks Transit Station, Magic Johnson Park, and Drew University.

Drew University President and CEO Dr. David Carlisle said, “As a community-founded educational institution located in an under-resourced area, we recognize the importance of formally organized civic engagement as a means of effective positive change.  It was a similar dynamic that led to the creation of CDU in the wake of the Watts Revolt over five decades ago. We look forward to working with Empowerment Congress leadership and all participants to transform South LA and communities like it.”

Wave Staff Report