In between work on Sunday I was able to attend the swearing-in ceremony of freshman Congresswoman Karen Bass at Robert F. Kennedy Community School in Wilshire Center. Attended by over 600 dignitaries, community activists, friends and constituents alike, it was a massive outpouring of love and a celebration of one woman with a long-standing track record of community involvement, now entering the next phase in her career: U.S. Congress.
Though she is not my congressmember (that would be Xavier Becerra), she does represent the northern portion of East Hollywood, and the Mid-City community where I attend church. I’ve also met her on many occasions, and of course, my band was chosen to play for her Election Night Victory Party and also at a fundraising event last year for the primary election.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who worked with her in the California State Assembly, spoke, as well as her predecessor, Diane Watson. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was also there to swear her in, accompanied by Karen’s stepdaughter. Many of the speeches lauded Bass and her over three decades of community and public service, from working in the health care field, to starting the nonprofit Community Coalition, to her service in the Assembly. Pelosi said of Bass, “When she first arrived in Washington, many in Congress knew they were looking at someone special.”
Bass also got to speak after her public inauguration (she was already sworn-in in Washington) and spoke about her district’s unique cultural diversity and the power struggles on Capitol Hill, especially with regards to the health care issue. She also mentioned her recent membership in the House’s Budget and Foreign Affairs committees. She also intends to duplicate her “People’s Council” that she started in her Assembly District to her Congressional work.
Afterward there was a reception in the center courtyard of the immensely-sized school campus, where constituents, community leaders and public officials chatted and ate amongst each other. It was a great opportunity for Bass’ successor in the State Assembly – Holly Mitchell – to outreach to constituents on an upcoming state budget meeting. It was also the perfect opportunity to peruse the $578 million campus – the most expensive school campus in the country.
The auditorium, which was undersized for such a large campus, contained decor inspired by the Ambassador Hotel’s legendary Cocoanut Grove, which stood on the site. In fact, the original doors of the Coacoanut Grove formed the portals to the auditorium. There was also a multimedia, interactive historical display of Los Angeles history, including videos and mementos from the old hotel, also famous for being the place where the school’s namesake was assassinated.
I couldn’t help but wonder about that — since the LAUSD lacks any sort of local history curriculum, whether that was the only local history lesson these kids would ever get. Not to mention the fact that the hotel itself was closed years before any of them were even born. I wonder if any of the historical value of the site is lost among most of the students there, much more for any future students who will attend there.