What was fascinating about USC’s From the Ashes conference was the youth of most of the participants. Twenty years after the 1992 riot, a new generation is taking over the never-ending job of bringing prosperity and racial peace to Los Angeles.
More than 400 crowded into the Embassy Room auditorium of the Davidson Conference Center and several smaller meeting rooms for the daylong meeting organized by USC’s Program for Environmental and Regional Equity. There were panel discussions throughout day, featuring organizers of various community organizations dedicated, in the words of the organizers, to “remake Los Angeles from the ground up” in the next 20 years.
Having observed the difficulties of doing that in the past 20 years, I was a bit skeptical. But Bobbi Murray, handling the media for the conference, had assured me it would be a great event. Murray, who I had met when she was a community organizer in South Central Los Angeles around the time of the riots, remains as much a battler for social justice as she was then. So I figured I should follow her advice.
I found a seat in the back of the auditorium for the morning session. I looked around me, talking note of large numbers of young people. Many of them knew each other, as I could see from the many friendly greetings and hugs.
In the afternoon, I dropped in on a panel on “Sustaining Movements: Strategies for Today and for the Future.” It dealt with the post-riot phenomenon of do-good organizations popping up and then fading away without tangible results. The goal of the panelists and others at the conference was to build organizations that will last at least 20 years.
A young panelist was Nancy Meza, an intern at the UCLA Labor Center, working on communicating with the media and the community. In high school, she helped organize a movement for another high school in East Los Angeles. She took the historic route of many East L.A. students—East Los Angeles College to UCLA, taking the 720 bus for the long ride from the Eastside to Westwood. She told how she and her colleagues have learned to shape messages in a compelling manner. Tell stories, she said, talk about people and their problems whether you are on NPR or posting on Facebook.
I met others like her, each with their own interesting story. The USC conference brought them together in a way that could have a strong impact in the next decades on Los Angeles’ race relations, economic growth and cultural life. Congratulations to Manuel Pastor, who heads the USC Program for Environmental and Regional Equity, and his colleagues for convening this important meeting.