The collection of talent at the Mayme Clayton Library and Museum on Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019 was world class, and yet it was just a sample of the African-American leadership in (and for) Culver City. State Senator Holly Mitchell, Assembly member Sydney Kamlager, CCUSD School Superintendent Leslie Lockhart, Culver City Education Foundation Executive Director Melanie Mack, School Board member Summer McBride, CC Chamber of Commerce President Colin Diaz and CCHS Associated Student Body President Falon Legaux all graced the stage with CC Council member Daniel Lee, the organizer of the event.
Lee offered brief opening remarks about the not-historically-welcoming city that has undergone major changes, saying “Culver City used to be known as a sundowner town,” referring to the old unwritten code of racists; don’t let the sun set on you here (people of color) or we will not be responsible for you seeing the sun rise. “The police department was famous for its treatment of black people, and not in a good way.”
Noting that Culver City’s congressional representative is also a woman of color – Congresswoman Karen Bass – Lee asked the panel to offer a story about their own background as a path to leadership, and the answers were as interesting, complex and intelligent as the panel.
CCHS ASB President Legaux, by far the youngest, noted her political leadership and activism went back to grade school. School Board member McBride also spoke of becoming active in school by creating a black student group at Beverly Hills High School, where she was bused from her home in Watts. Assembly member Kamlager told of the many trials her parents went through as an interracial couple, and C of C President Diaz reflected that his Italian/Czech stepmother was often viewed quizzically by people who didn’t quite get that she was a member of his family.
Powerful ideas were sown by watching family members respond to indignity with dignity.
Asking about how they were drawn into leadership, almost everyone cited family as the example and the inspiration. Senator Mitchell was explicit about the need for representation, noting that not everyone is lucky enough to have a family that inspires them, and community needs to fill that space. “It matters that women are leaders, it matters that people of color are in these government and business positions. Representation is critical for many reasons, but most critical in reflecting to the young people looking for their own future. When they see us, they can truly see themselves moving forward, reaching for those goals, they see it can happen.”
Both Supervisor Lockhart and McBride were passionate about the need for equity in education. Lockhart told of beginning her teaching career in East Los Angeles, and being faced with the reality of students in poverty whose families struggled with the basics of daily life. McBride pushed for the recognition of Culver City students who were struggling, and how critical it was to keep reaching for those who needed the hand up.
CCEF leader Mack offered her experience in the entertainment industry as a model of how persistence was the key, and offered her many successes, including an Emmy award, as leadership that reached into many lives. “Telling these stories, it makes the difference.”
After the initial panel discussion, questions from the audience covered broad territory from the new corporate neighbors moving in to the city, to the pressure of property taxes on seniors.
Throughout the afternoon, the current challenge facing the Mayme Clayton surfaced repeatedly. Still in limbo with an eviction notice from the office of Mark-Ridley Thomas casting a shadow on the future of the unique cultural collection, the crowd offered concern and support.
The afternoon was expertly paced and thoughtfully curated by Council member Lee, who mused about making it an annual event.
Photo – Panel from left – Colin Diaz, Summer McBride, Melanie Mack ( with microphone), Leslie Lockhart, Sydney Kamlager, and Holly Mitchell ( Falon Legaux not pictured)
Photo Credit – Karim Sahli