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News From the Frontlines

An Update from Liberty Hill CEO Kafi D. Blumenfield

Byline: Kafi D. Blumenfield

Sorrow. Pain. Dismay. Discouragement. Anger. That describes the tone of conversations in our office this week about the not guilty verdict in the murder trial of George Zimmerman. The trial illustrates the depths of racial tensions in America and how profoundly they affect us all.

I wanted to take this opportunity to update our supporters on Liberty Hill's recent work, including our Brothers, Sons, Selves initiative. We launched this initiative because there are thousands of boys in Los Angeles just like Trayvon Martin and their lives deserve love and justice.

Please read on for an update on our campaigns, programs and staff changes.

july 18 2013-1In April, community and youth leaders launched the first campaign of Liberty Hill’s Brothers, Sons, Selves initiative. Under the leadership of Liberty Hill staffer Tonna Onyendu, students asked the L.A. Unified School District to adopt common sense discipline policies in L.A. schools and ban suspensions for a poorly defined catch-all category known as “willful defiance.” Research has demonstrated that even a single suspension vastly increases the likelihood that a student will drop out of school. This approach to discipline doesn’t make our schools safer, and it unfairly targets boys and young men of color. On May 14, 2013 after intensive organizing and meetings the LAUSD voted to adopt our resolution 5-2. We won—and LAUSD became the first school district in the  nation to restrict the over-reliance on suspension in schools! The story was  covered in the Wall Street Journal, the L.A. Times and on National Public Radio.

It was an amazing victory for our first Brothers, Sons, Selves campaign. Now, our focus will turn to the very serious work of implementation. Far too often in the past, resolutions are adopted but fail because of inadequate implementation. We want to be sure that doesn’t occur in this case. The future of too many of California’s young people is at stake.

Liberty Hill’s other campaign, Clean Up Green Up, took a major step forward last month. Thanks in part to the moxie and expertise of Liberty Hill’s longtime staffer Michele Prichard, the Clean Up Green Up campaign is advancing through the city’s legislative process. In June, the City Council voted 12-0 to move forward with a proposal that would ensure that local businesses receive targeted financial and technical assistance to modernize and reduce toxic impacts, and that new and expanding industries would be required to meet stronger health-protective standards. We think of it as helping to transform L.A.’s toxic hotspots into green zones.

As you’re probably aware, while all Southern Californians live with pollution, residents in Boyle Heights, Pacoima and Wilmington are at much higher risk for pollution-related illness—asthma, heart disease, respiratory distress, cancer and premature death—than the general population, due to an over-concentration of toxic hazards in close proximity to homes and schools. The Clean Up Green Up plan, another first-in-the-nation policy initiative, would help reduce pollution-related illness in those communities and surrounding areas.

NEW PROGRAM DEVELOPMENTS

Our campaigns are an outgrowth of our grantmaking and the Wally Marks Leadership Institute which trains grassroots leaders to advance movements for change. Last year, Liberty Hill grantmaking supported more than 32,000 leaders in low-income communities and our Institute assisted organizations in recruiting or t raining 470 new community members for leadership roles!

july 18 2013We are expanding the Leadership Institute with a new Commissioner Training program. In the years to come, our incoming mayor Eric Garcetti will appoint 300 people to oversee key city agencies and advise the mayor on core policies and programs. Decisions made by these agencies have a major impact on policies and projects throughout Los Angeles. Liberty Hill will help the new mayor identify strong appointees and ensure Los Angeles has strong civic leaders that make good decisions for all communities.

I am very satisfied at the growing impact we are having on Los Angeles and I hope you share the pride I feel about the tremendous progress that is being made. To give you a taste of how all of this work translates into real policy change and lives bettered, take a look at this list of wins from the last year. Liberty Hill grantees led campaigns that resulted in:

  • New state initiatives to protect California homeowners at risk of foreclosure
  • President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals for undocumented immigrant students
  • The shutdown of a hazardous polluter located next to a 743-student elementary school
  • Change of an LAPD and LA School Police “tardy student” policy that targeted low income students of color
  • Five new pieces of state legislation that promote commonsense discipline policies in schools
  • Expansion of anti-bullying programs to include protections for gender expression
  • A state ban on BPA, a toxic chemical, in babies’ bottles and sippy cups
  • $20 million for affordable housing and other community benefits from USC as part of the university’s expansion plan
  • A commitment from the L.A. Times to improve its coverage of the transgender community, hold staff trainings on transgender issues and review terminology guidelines

Awesome, don’t you think?

LIBERTY HILL'S INCOMING CEO AND PRESIDENT

Finally, I want to share some personal news in case you haven’t heard already. After six years at the helm of Liberty Hill I will be stepping down this fall. I am immensely proud of the work I have done here: strengthening the strategic focus of Liberty Hill's grantmaking, launching the highly regarded Wally Marks Leadership Institute for Change, and establishing several initiatives to diversify Liberty Hill's donor base and bring new communities into philanthropy and social justice.

I’m thrilled that our current Executive Director Shane Goldsmith has been named President and CEO at Liberty Hill beginning December 1st. Shane has proved to be an exceptional leader as Vice President and Director of Programs where she was responsible for the day-to-day oversight of the Wally Marks Leadership Institute for Change, the Fund for Change (Liberty Hill’s grantmaking fund), and Liberty Hill’s Common Agenda campaigns.

Shane has experience as a nonprofit executive, staff member to elected officials and a community organizer. She came to the Liberty Hill from PATH Ventures, an affordable housing development agency, where she was the executive director. Previously, she served on Eric Garcetti’s City Council staff for four years overseeing a variety of field and legislative projects including housing, economic development, the city budget, public safety, and LGBTQ issues. She also ran the Council District 13 Leadership Institute. I feel very fortunate to be leaving the organization in such capable hands.

Thank you for the extraordinary trust, generosity and friendship you have shown me as President and CEO at Liberty Hill. I will be forever grateful for it!

Liberty Hill is looking out on a great future with growing impact. Our Brothers, Sons, Selves initiative has just begun to improve the lives of low income and young men of color. Our Clean Up Green Up campaign promises to clean up L.A.’s most polluted communities. The Wally Marks Leadership Institute will help secure more social justice wins over the next four years. And it’s all because of your generosity and investment.

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