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One generation honors another at state Black Caucus anniversary


The California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC) celebrated recently its 50th Anniversary with “The Legacy Continues” black tie gala at Universal Studios Hollywood’s Globe Theatre.

Nearly 500 people gathered to honor 50 years of advocacy by former CLBC leaders, including the Founder’s Award recipients, Hon. Willie L. Brown, Jr. and the Hon. Yvonne Brathwaite-Burke; the Chairman’s Award recipient, Hon. Nate Holden; and the Vanguard Award recipient, Hon. Mark Ridley-Thomas.

“The California Legislative Black Caucus began with the belief that by speaking with a single voice, we could be a force on issues affecting education, justice, and civil rights.” said CLBC Chair, Assemblymember Chris Holden. “The gala’s honorees are visionaries who successfully passed policies on these issues and are responsible for making California the leader it is today.”

“[The California] Legislative Black Caucus became a reality because [Mervyn Dymally] came to us and said let’s do something together,” said former Assembly Speaker Willie L. Brown during his acceptance speech. “And the votes that we put together from that moment on became part of the public policy consideration for the state of California.”

The gala, attended by members of the California Legislature, congress, state government and community leaders, was emceed by Margaret Shug Avery who was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role in the film “The Color Purple.” The event concluded with a musical performance by Aloe Blacc.

“With each new generation comes a renewed commitment to the future, and as valuable as it is that we look back and honor these milestones, we always have to keep looking forward, keep moving forward. We will continue to fight for equality, for criminal justice reform, for environmental justice, and for ensuring greater access to education and enterprise for African Americans,” said Holden.

During the evening, Rep. Karen Bass (CA-37) presented the second CLBC Founder’s Award to Willie Lewis Brown, Jr. Brown was the fourth African American to serve in the 80-member Assembly when he was elected in 1964.  He was the first African American and longest serving (16 years) Speaker of the Assembly. During his tenure in Sacramento, Brown led efforts to divest state university holdings in South Africa during that nation’s apartheid era, and was a strong advocate for increased funds for AIDS research. After retiring from state office in 1995, Brown was elected mayor of San Francisco and served through 2004. In 2013, legislation was passed to rename the western span of the Bay Bridge to the Willie L. Brown, Jr., Bridge.

Assemblymember Autumn Burke (62nd District) presented the CLBC Founder’s Award to her mother, Yvonne Brathwaite-Burke. Brathwaite-Burke in 1966 became the first African-American woman elected to the California State Assembly. While there, she focused early on civil rights and juvenile issues. In 1973 she became California’s first Black woman to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives and broke new ground as the first woman to give birth and secure maternity leave while serving on Capitol Hill. As well, Braithwaite-Burke in 1978 became the first African-American member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, a position she held on and off since 1978.  She retired from politics in 2008.

Assemblymember Chris Holden (41st District) presented the CLBC Chairman’s Award to his father, Nate Holden. Holden in 1974 began his career in state and local politics upon election to the California State Senate. The next year, he passed legislation to require public schools and educational institutions to commemorate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for his contributions to the U.S. civil rights movement. He also passed legislation to provide health care for sickle cell anemia patients. In 1987, he was elected to Los Angeles City Council and stayed in office until 2002.

Assemblymember Sebastian Ridley-Thomas (54th District) presented the CLBC Vanguard Award to his father, Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. Ridley-Thomas through the years has served in the State Assembly (2002), State Senate (2006) and has always pursued a legislative agenda focused on job development, public safety, education, economic development, healthcare access and community empowerment. He served two terms on the Los Angeles City Council, and is a former chair of the CLBC.