The stories of three prominent women making a big impact in the City of Angels.
By Emily Faith Grodin, Staff Writer
A Los Angeles native, Nichelle Henderson is the second vice president of the LACCD board of trustees. She is also an educator, an advocate and an active leader in her community.
Henderson began as a K-12 classroom teacher but eventually realized that “[her] passion was to be a great teacher, [her] aspiration was to build great teachers.”
She subsequently found her dream job as a faculty advisor and clinical field supervisor with a credentialing program at California State, Los Angeles.
The Chapman University alumna brings to the table a parent's perspective, an “unapologetic Black woman,” as she puts it, and a member and leader of several organizations throughout the city. She has worked with the Los Angeles chapter of the California Faculty Association and the Los Angeles African American Women's Political Action Committee, where she facilitated candidate endorsement interviews to provide support to progressive-minded Black candidates fighting for issues impacting Black women.
Henderson's father and his journey to receiving a higher education serve as a reminder to represent the under-represented and empower the powerless in her decision-making.
“Having been born and raised in Los Angeles,” said Henderson, “I have seen first-hand the tremendous academic, economic and social needs that the community colleges meet.”
On June 7, primary elections will be held to determine which top two candidates will advance to the general election to potentially become the new mayor of Los Angeles. One name to appear on the ballot is Rep. Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles), who is serving her sixth term representing the 37th Congressional District. This district covers the Fairfax and Venice neighborhoods, where Bass grew up watching the civil rights movement unfold with her father.
The Los Angeles native began her career as a physician's assistant and clinical instructor at the USC Keck School of Medicine. During this time, she witnessed first-hand the effects of drugs and violence on the public. Bass then went on to found Community Coalition, an organization whose purpose is to improve the social and economic state of neighborhoods in South Los Angeles where crime, violence, poverty and addiction are rampant. These events helped launch her work in community activism.
“Stopping crime before it happens will liberate countless Angelenos from terrible suffering, loss and anguish,” said Bass.
Today the mayoral candidate serves on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs as the chair of the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Global Human Rights. In 2019 and 2020, she served as the Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. In the coming months, she will continue her campaign with plans of increasing police officers on the force, in an attempt to prevent violent crimes before they happen and house 15,000 homeless individuals by the end of year one. If elected, she would become the first woman to be mayor of Los Angeles.
“Los Angeles is a city where anything is possible,” said the lifelong Angeleno, “I believe that we have the resources, the knowledge, the skills to solve any problem we face — we just have to come together.”
A 2020 report from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority revealed that 66,436 people in LA county were experiencing homelessness, a 16.1 percent increase from the year before. As a result, efforts have ramped up in the San Fernando Valley to find solutions to the crisis at hand. At the forefront of that effort is Laurie Craft of Hope of the Valley, a non-profit organization whose mission is to find long-term solutions to homelessness, hunger and poverty. Craft serves as the Chief Programs Officer alongside her husband, Ken Craft, who serves as CEO.
“Homelessness is not a failure of the individual, but the system,” said Craft. “When we blame the individual, we prohibit progress and perpetuate stigma and bias.”
The humanitarian says that in her 12 years in the field, she has never met an individual experiencing homelessness who did not have profound trauma or suffer from a mental health disorder, substance use, physical illness or all three.
Craft became involved in homeless services during a difficult season in her own life; she was desperately trying to come to terms with an insidious addiction to alcohol and going through a painful divorce. When overwhelmed or tempted to give up, she thinks about all the individuals she has seen stabilize, recover and turn their lives around. Despite the challenging nature of the work, she stays in the field because of the great need she sees.
“Sometimes, it is by helping others that we help ourselves,” said Craft.