By Kaye Dietel
LOS ANGELES — The city of Los Angeles declared September as embRACE LA Month last week on the steps of City Hall. The month-long initiative will engage community members through more than 150 citywide conversations about race and racism that is aimed to unify and empower Angelenos.
The 2019 embRACE LA initiative, developed by City Council President Herb J. Wesson Jr. and Councilman Mitch O’Farrell in collaboration with Community Coalition, will provide a space for conversations to ignite change through community engagement.
The goal of this year’s initiative is to establish a new Office of Racial Equity in Los Angeles to strengthen inclusion for Los Angeles’ most marginalized communities.
“Today we are living in the divided states of America with a president determined to pit us against each other by either our political affiliations or often simply by the color of our skin,” Wesson said. “These divisions have been exacerbated by Trump but did not start with him. Enough is enough. We must once and for all address the systemic racism in our country and face it head on. The hill is big but step by step we can reach the top.”
“The powers that be want us divided and isolated from one another instead of coming together to talk and recognize our shared experiences and values,” said Alberto Retana, president and CEO of Community Coalition. “EmbRACE LA is the antithesis to those calls for division. We can’t address the deep-rooted racism in this country if we’re not prepared to discuss it in meaningful ways.”
Organizers encouraged community members to join the movement by visiting the website, where people can access a downloadable toolkit, which includes resources and guides on hosting conversations about race. The website also features a survey for residents to offer input and share their viewpoint on the state of equity in Los Angeles.
“Nearly three years ago, we launched a pilot program called ‘embRACE LA’ and asked Angelenos to weigh in on issues of race, ethnicity and diversity,” O’Farrell said. “Today, the program continues as we break bread with our neighbors and counterbalance the daily onslaught of vitriol, hate and willful ignorance coming out of the White House. This next phase will help us fine tune the goals of the program so we can grow stronger as a community, defend the values we hold dear in our city and identify opportunities for neighborhoods that have been historically overlooked.”
Community Coalition member and South L.A. resident Rachel Day shared a story about racism in which her 20-year-old son was falsely accused of shoplifting while checking out of a grocery store with her on Mother’s Day. Police threatened to Tase him and handcuffed him.
“All I could think is how could this happen,” Day said. “Yet inequities like this happen all the time. This is why talking about race and racism is so important. This is why being an active member of your community is vital. embRACE LA and Community Coalition are so inspiring to me — it’s a way to reconnect with people and the community.”
EmbRACE LA gives Angelenos the opportunity to sit down — whether it’s with complete strangers or colleagues — and have meaningful in-person conversations about one of America’s defining struggles. Participants can expand their points of view by interacting with people who have diverse backgrounds, learning about different life experiences or breaking bread with neighbors where there is much in common but little to no previous interaction.
The gatherings will consist of about 10 to 12 participants who live, work or go to school in L.A. A host will guide each conversation, generally lasting two to three hours. Conversations will occur across the city at different times throughout the day. Some will have light refreshments or a meal.
Community Coalition has also enlisted support from experts in different Los Angeles industries, including the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art and Bad Robot co-CEOs J.J. Abrams and Katie McGrath, to host gatherings.
In utilizing community engagement and conversation as a strategy to ignite sustainable policy change, embRACE LA and the city of Los Angeles will serve as a leading voice and case study for other major cities in the U.S. to address racial equity.
Los Angeles is one of the most diverse cities in the U.S. The majority of L.A.’s 3.8 million residents are black, indigenous or other people of color, making L.A. a “majority-minority” city.
Officials said there is a need for an Office of Racial Equity to help close racial disparities and strengthen inclusion for L.A.’s most marginalized communities.
“We hope that by creating an Office of Racial Equity in Los Angeles, we can create a city dialogue and implement policy to create a more equitable city,” Wesson said. “We must be honest with ourselves and our role in shaping these systemic inequities, and once we recognize that, we need to put our head down and work on fixing it.”
To learn more, to host a conversation or to offer input on the Office of Racial Equity, visit embRACELA.org.
This article originally appeared in the Wave Newspapers.