By Matthew Kredell
As the keynote speaker at the fifth annual Students of Color and Allies Policy Forum, Charles H.F. Davis III implored USC students interested in social justice to fight for a cause bigger than their own identity politics.
“So what side are you on, my people?” asked the assistant professor from the USC Rossier School of Education.
“Freedom side,” answered the collective students, many wearing black T-shirts with the phrase “Rooted in Resistance.”
The interconnectedness of identity issues and their collective power was a recurring message for this year’s forum, which took place April 7 at the California African American Museum. The theme for the 2018 SCAPF event was “Reclaiming our Roots: Identity and Resistance in Trump’s America.”
“If we’re on the freedom side, then we have to say something, have to do something, have to be something that intercedes and intervenes,” Davis said. “People who are taking advantage of this opportunity at USC, we have to stand for something greater than our own representation in this space. Are we going to stay on that [freedom] side, not on a singular issue but all issues? We can’t stand for an individual person if we aren’t standing for all [oppressed] people.”
In a panel discussion, three practitioners working to advance social justice in Los Angeles described how they’ve approached the challenges of racial injustice and spatial inequalities, and how they work alongside communities in resistance efforts.
The power of civic, community engagement
One of the panelists, Nina Idemudia, AICP, co-founded SCAPF as a Price Master of Planning student in 2014. Now, she is a City Planning Associate for the City of Los Angeles Department of City Planning.
“I never saw myself working for the government, being on that side,” Idemudia said, “…because I grew up to distrust local government. I think it has been powerful being on this side of the fight, because if I wasn’t at the table, then in most cases, there would be no person of color at the table, there would be no woman at the table, there would be no black woman at the table.”
During her remarks, Idemudia spoke about the award-winning programs that she designed to engage youth in the planning process in Los Angeles, discussed similar programs she created in Compton and Huntington Park, and emphasized the importance of encouraging community engagement.
“We, as city planners, can create fantastic plans, but once it gets into the politician’s hands there’s nothing we can do,” Idemudia said. “They can change and mold a plan however they would like. So I think if we are able to empower people with the knowledge of how to say something, when to say something, when this public hearing is held, when is the comment period or committee meeting, it empowers people and leaves it in their hands so I can do better work on my side.”
Facilitating meaningful dialogue
Also on the panel were Kian Goh, an assistant professor of urban planning at UCLA, and Mary Lee, deputy director for PolicyLink. The panel was moderated by another USC Price graduate school alumna, Anisha Hingorani, who is a policy analyst at Advancement Project California.
Goh questioned whether people felt things were worse now than they were two years ago, before President Trump took office. A stumped audience concluded that it feels worse.
“In the things I study and find myself involved in – the modes of urban development that continue to organize in very oppressive ways – that has been ongoing, and probably Trump was more part of that before he was President than he is now,” Goh said.
As someone whose job is to link people in the affected community to policy change, Lee advised the students, “no matter what you do to get paid for your 9-5, do this forever.”
In addition, the day-long forum offered workshops on cultivating food justice in communities of color, queer places and urban spaces, and digital activism in the undocumented community.
“In order for us to be inclusive, we need to really highlight that representation matters and include as many people, organizations, thought processes and concerns that people may have,” said Malaika Merid, a second-year Master of Public Policy Student at USC Price who was one of the event organizers. “This is a gathering space of real diverse thought, and I think that the best way for us to move forward with that is to keep creating ways to find more diversity of thought to be included within the forum.”