Byline: Rebecca Rona-Tuttle
Tonight’s Upton Sinclair Dinner at the Century Plaza Hotel was a vivid reminder that at its core Liberty Hill is about people power. Watch the video "Change. Made Possible by You. Powered by Liberty Hill."
Kafi D. Blumenfield, CEO and President, spoke eloquently, telling the dinner audience: “It’s time for us to really broaden our networks to include potential allies we may not have worked with before. We are in a new era that requires us to build power as only community organizing can do. Our time calls for organizing efforts that are not only smarter and sharper. But bigger and more ambitious.
“We must invest in people,” Kafi said, “training new leaders for new times, reaching out to new supporters and engaging new allies as never before.”
She gave the crowd welcome news that was met with applause: “Despite the economic downturn, we expect to maintain our grantmaking, investing $3 million at a time when L.A. organizers are bleeding for lack of financial support.”
Kafi spoke enthusiastically of the Wally Marks Leadership Institute for Change, launched a few months ago. “Eighty-five new leaders—and I wish you could meet them all. They’re so amazing!—these leaders are participating in intensive on-the-job training on nearly every important social justice issue facing Los Angeles.”
The evening was rich in honorees, with their insightful—at times downright funny—remarks. For me, and I’m biased, the most moving honorees were the men and women we’ve “anointed” as Liberty Hill's Grassroots Leaders To Watch in 2010—Hamid Khan of South Asian Network, Rev. Eric Lee of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Amy Schur, formerly of California ACORN, now of ACCE; Sentayehu Silassie of Los Angeles Taxi Workers Alliance, Chris Gabriele of POWER and Maria Brenes of InnerCity Struggle. (View Maria’s video.)
Maria—the magnificently pregnant executive director of InnerCity Struggle–accepted the Wally Marks Changemaker Award on behalf of ICS, which was honored tonight for its successes in organizing young people, their families, and local community members around improving Eastside Los Angeles schools. She referred to Liberty Hill’s decade-long support and expressed her gratitude: “Thank you to Liberty Hill for investing in our vision, our commitment and energy—which has resulted in concrete changes for thousands in our community.”
Click here for immediate responses to the event from honorees, presenters, 2010 Grassroots Leaders, and others recorded by Liberty Hill's Vincent Jones during the dessert reception after the dinner.
Late in the evening, Kafi reported to crowd of Liberty Hill friends that $350,000 had already been raised, and the counting wasn’t over. Precious dollars that Liberty Hill will invest in people power in Los Angeles.
And the star of the show? The acclaimed novelist Walter Mosley. As he drove an icepick into the heart of charity, I agonized over his words, wondering what he’d say next. Our honoree dissing Liberty Hill? Check back. We're working with his people to post the text of his remarks next Monday and the video of his presentation later in the week.