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SCLC luncheon highlights service, sacrifice and empowerment

Faith leaders, (seated from left) Pastors Printice Lewis; J.W. Brown; L.A. Kessee; and John Berry, enjoyed the recent Baptist Ministers Conference luncheon with (standing from left) Mark Ridley-Thomas, Professor Cornel West, Pastor Thembekila Smart; Southern Christian Leadership Conference-Southern California president, Pastor William D. Smart, Jr.; and Pastor Wayne Hopkins.

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California’s (SCLC-SC) “Day of Sacrifice” April 23 luncheon in memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. attracted an audience of over 200 to the organization’s first in-person gathering since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The community-labor was attended by representatives from five union locals including SEIU Locals 721 and 2015; UNITE-HERE; the United Food and Commercial Workers Union; and USWW.

Members of the Baptist Ministers Conference of Los Angeles and Southern California and the Empowerment Congress were also represented at tables sponsored by the organizations.

“We’ve waited two years to be together to acknowledge the sacrifice made by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. in April 1968,” said Pastor William D. Smart, Jr., president of SCLC-SC.  “The response was overwhelming.”

During the event, SCLC-SC recognized “LA Focus on the Word” publisher Lisa Collins as the MLK Community Service Award recipient. She regaled the audience with her reflections as a little girl in personally meeting Rev. King when her father hosted his numerous visits to Los Angeles to raise funds for the national organization.

Photographer Ian Foxx, recipient of the Gordon Parks Award for Arts and Culture,  thanked the audience, many of whom were his photographic subjects, for the inspiration and opportunities his witness and documentation of their work and life provided him.

MLK Community Justice Awardee, Jim Mangia, president and CEO of St. John’s Community Health, discussed the role his organization is playing in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, by having administered over 400,000 vaccinations to underserved Black and Brown communities in South Los Angeles.

By receiving the MLK Union Justice Award, labor activists from UNITE-HERE were recognized for their steadfast battle against Chateau Marmont for its labor practices. To quote Dr. King, “All labor has dignity.”

“The workers of UNITE-HERE are the contemporary face of the labor movement in its push for livable wages and dignified working conditions,” Smart said.  “We could not find a better group of awardees to reflect the challenges of the past year.”

Pastor and professor J.M. Lawson introduced the occasion’s keynote speaker Dr. Cornel West, as a colleague of many years and a friend of justice. “Cornel West is a critically important voice for these times and one of the world’s leading public intellectuals,” Lawson continued.

“Lord, I’m just glad I’m here…I got a calling, I got something to do before my passing,” West said as he delivered a rousing 35 minute speech to the packed room. “While I’m here, I’ll be swinging like Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald ‘because it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing’.”

He reminded the audience, particularly the youth, with their preoccupation with building and protecting a brand that, “The Kingdom of God ain’t no brand. The Freedom movement ain’t no brand. Democracy, equality, decency and honesty ain’t no brand.  That’s a cause!  A brand is something you sell. A cause is something you die for.”

West made it clear that we are “love warriors” and “justice seekers.”

“We are who we are because somebody loved us,” he said. “Yes, that’s the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King in the form of SCLC –  still fighting for voting rights and due process right here in Los Angeles.”

To see excerpts of the event, visit