Companies & Industries
This Sunday will mark the 20th anniversary of the Los Angeles riots. As with all such dates, it will be a moment to reflect on the state of race relations and opportunity. On one level, there isn’t much cause for celebration. Rodney King, the man whose beating by police prompted the riots when the officers were acquitted, has since been arrested a dozen more times, spent his $3.8 million settlement, and appeared on Celebrity Rehab. The 11.8 percent unemployment rate in Los Angeles County last month is higher than it was in 1992, while the earning power of many residents has dropped. Meanwhile, dropout rates are so dire that the Los Angeles Unified School District would like to let kids graduate with 25 percent fewer credits and let them pass college-prep classes with a D grade.
But that doesn’t capture the hope now felt in Los Angeles—the hope that comes from reduced violence, a greater sense of community, and access to more tools to change your life. The most visible symbol of that hope this week was the sight of 10 buses touring through the neighborhoods where more than $1 billion of property was damaged and 54 people were killed. The Operation HOPE bus tour on April 24 was less about the economic issues weighing down L.A. (and the rest of the country) than the power of what’s happening at the community level.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank was there. As an academic and a policy maker, she knows all too well the challenges facing low-income families. She also understands the power that such groups as Operation HOPE have brought to these communities. “I wouldn’t confuse the macro picture with the micro picture,” Blank said. “We’ve been through the biggest housing bust since the Depression. What you have to look at is the power that individuals can have when they become financially literate.”