Sydney Kamlager: Meet the new Los Angeles game-changer

LOS ANGELES, CA-Politics and social activism usually interlock with one another. You see it all the time. Moral Monday rallies in North Carolina, spearheaded by the Rev. William Barber II, is a good example of this practice. Los Angeles, particularly in the urban swath better known as South Los Angeles, has built up a groundswell of movement in this area. Former Los Angeles Police Chief Bernard Parks went on to have an afterlife in politics, serving as a Los Angeles City Councilman.

Marqueece Harris-Dawson (Eighth District) has elevated himself from a local community organizer (Community Coalition) to a prominent Los Angeles City Councilmember. Current Los Angeles County Board of Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas wields the power with his gavel authority. Then there’s Auntie. Congresswoman Maxine Waters has made it a career representing South Los Angeles and other Los Angeles County areas.

U.S. Representative Karen Bass (37th District) got her political roots going as the founder of the Community Coalition, a social justice organization. Los Angeles Community College Board of Trustees President Sydney Kamlager is now throwing her hat in the political arena. After winning a special election to replace Sebastian Ridley-Thomas as the 54th District representative until the end of the year, Kamlager is on California’s June primary ballot for a two-year spot in the state Assembly.

Kamlager, who views herself as a societal game-changer, is just the second black woman to ever hold the position of president of the LACCD in its 77-year history of existence.

Sydney Kamlager, in a roundtable discussion at the Los Angeles Black Worker Center, discusses hot button topics such as the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman

Making history is kind of old hat for Kamlager, who assisted her grandmother in helping Harold Washington become the first black mayor of Chicago. Along those lines, Kamlager now wants to carve out her own pathway in becoming a difference-maker in the South Los Angeles community.

Kamlager went to work for Rebuild LA after the Los Angeles riots rocked the nation in 1992. And for a while, Kamlager also serves as district director for Sen. Holly Mitchell. A longtime community advocate, Kamlager is now unleashing her political ambitions. Making inroads in the community by going through a tour of attending and speaking at local churches and other venues, Kamlager paid the Los Angeles Black Worker Center (LABWC), a social justice organization in South Los Angeles, a visit in March to share her views and thoughts on the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, women’s rights and on workplace discrimination.

Kamlager took part in a wide-ranging, roundtable conversation with LABWC members Terri Green and Divinity Wormsley that included addressing sexual harassment in the workplace and cheering on the contributions of black women in the labor force.

Jade Daniels, a coalition organizer with the LABWC, also participated. Dennis J. Freeman facilitated the engaging discussion with Kamlager. Daniels kicked off the discussion with a direct question posed to Kamlager.

Sydney Kamlager is a big proponent of fighting against workplace discrimination. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman

Jade Daniels: Ms. Kamlager, what are your thoughts on the contributions of working-class black women?
Sydney Kamlager: “It’s important as black women that we love ourselves, that we educate ourselves, and that we take care of ourselves. It’s also important that we understand what it means to be a working black woman, and that there is no greater or less judgment base on the kind of work that you do. We totally celebrate the millionaires and the billionaires and the sisters who are on top. But it is women like my mother and grandmother who are nurses, who are teachers, social workers, cleaners…who built lives for all of us here in some way. We have to talk about those black women.”

Terri Green: From the (LABWC) perspective, do you see a local enforcement ordinance as the way to go in hopes of effectively dealing with women being discriminated against as it relates to the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements?
Sydney Kamlager: “I think it’s a great time to have those conversations at the local level because you have all these investigations that are going on…#MeToo, with #TimesUp, I think with the Parkland shooting, it just seems like…Stephon Clark, all of this…we’re totally unsettled. So, I think the best times to about these issues are when folks aren’t feeling themselves. And you say, okay, let’s put this out here, too. And if we’re talking about what kind of sanctuary city we want to be, if we’re going to talk about how important it is not to discriminate, then I also think it’s important to boil…drill down and talk about what that means.”

Divinity Wormsley: Being part of a nonprofit and being head of a nonprofit, I understand once it comes from the federal and state levels, the responsibilities of organizations at the local level to actually administer the aid properly or do the services properly. That’s something that I’m hopeful for the future…for organizations like BWC (Black Worker Center), as well as myself, and other organizations that I am with that we are forerunners to really do this work, really getting involved in the conversation.
Sydney Kamlager: “One of the things I’ve done at the community college board is we’ve actually instituted more boot camps because there are so many small businesses trying to figure it out. It’s a $6 billion enterprise. We have tons of opportunities for small business interactions and partnerships, but people don’t know how to connect with us.”

Jade Daniels: What is your hope for the future?
Sydney Kamlager: “I hope that we can find our seatbelts and put them on and not throw other folks off the bus because we’re unsettled. I actually see that we’re headed someplace positive. Change is hard. People don’t want to change. We’re in this place where I don’t want to hit rock bottom, but we’re pretty close. And there’s nowhere we can go but up. And if folks see and believe that no one is trying to be adversarial, but we’re trying to figure out how to co-exist, then we can change the dynamics of the conversation.”

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