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Inspiration for Change with L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti

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On Friday, September 7th, when  attended a forum that featured remarks by Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles, California. We were pleased to also meet Mr. Shammas Malik, an Assistant Director of Law for the City of Akron, who was one of the panelists for a program that we attended at the Akron Art Museum on Thursday.

As his bio in the program notes states, Mayor Garcetti is Los Angeles' 42nd Mayor which makes him "the chief executive of a municipal government comprising dozens of city departments serving 4 million people and overseas the nation's largest public utility, the nation's largest sea port, and the nation's busiest arrival and destination airport." It sure is no small responsibility!

His biography goes on to read that "Los Angeles has created a record number of jobs under his watch, with Mayor Garcetti creating immediate and future opportunity by implementing a program that will raise the minimum wage to $15 by 2020, cutting the city business tax, making two years of community college free, launching the nation's largest anti-homeless and affordable housing initiatives and spearheading the passage of the nation's largest infrastructure plan, the $120 billion Measure M."

On this day, Mayor Garcetti's message was that it has been his experience that cities/localities/municipalities have proven to be a "laboratory" for testing new ideas and plans that can work to make our nation better and in many cases they have done just that. Therefore, genuine reform must come from the local level and that Washington, DC should act as coordinator in order that these ideas/plans can be shared. In short, change must start from the bottom and move upward instead of from the top moving downward.

Along these lines, Mayor Garcetti, along with Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, who was also present, is on the Advisory Council for Accelerator For America whose focus is "to provide strategic support to the best local initiatives to strengthen people's economic security, specifically those initiatives that connect people with existing jobs, create new opportunities and foster infrastructure development. The initiatives we will support are the ones with the potential to be replicated or scaled nationwide, city by city, community by community, focusing on benefiting disadvantaged communities."
(see http://www.acceleratorforamerica.com/about)

On a personal note, Mayor Garcetti spoke of how being a foster parent has changed his life because the experience taught him to be more open and aware of the social conditions going on around him particularly those concerning the vulnerability of children and families. He shared with us that his foster son was not doing well academically when he first came to live with Mayor Garcetti and his wife but over time he has excelled in his studies and his foster dad (i.e. the Mayor) believes that working with him and growing with him has been an outstanding experience.

Mayor Garcetti impressed us as being a person of compassion and integrity; a viewpoint that was echoed by our friend Mr. Patrick Kearns of Refugee Response who told us that  he escorted Mayor Garcetti on a tour of Ohio City Farms the previous evening where he was quite moved by the accomplishments of the refugees.

In fact, during the Q&A, when Mayor Garcetti was queried about what a young person could do to affect change other than voting he referred to a meeting that he had the previous evening with a refugee from Burma who recently became a citizen and couldn't wait to exercise his right to vote in the upcoming elections this Fall. Mayor Garcetti said that it was great that this person was eager to vote but he certainly had already contributed a lot to his community through his endeavors at the Ohio City Farm. He thus urged the young person asking the question to make use of the refugee's example and look around, listen to people and see what he/she could do to make a difference while also highlighting the importance of voting.

We ourselves asked Mayor Garcetti if he believed that his job would be easier if Washington, DC had passed comprehensive immigration reform in 2012-2013 and he replied that indeed it would and we need a policy that does not involve the splitting of families and putting local law enforcement in a position where it cannot establish trust with the people it is trying to serve.  What's more, we need a policy that encourages people to come out of the shadows and realize their potential.

To be sure, what the Mayor is advocating is ambitious but he urged us all to not be afraid of reaching beyond our grasp because by doing so great things can be achieved. Mayor Garcetti recalled that his grandmother immigrated to the United States from Russia all alone when she was only 17 years old (she did have a relative in Dayton where she initially settled) but learned a trade, met a good man, and raised a family of which he is proud to be a member. He readily acknowledged that if his grandmother had not reached beyond her grasp, he would not be here.

Justin Faulhaber