Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (center); Sugar Ray Leonard (right); Danny J. Bakewell Sr. (left); and Buffalo Soldiers. Photo by Jason Lewis
(L to R) Councilman Bernard Parks, Mayor Villaraigosa, Councilman Herb Wesson and Danny J. Bakewell Sr. Photo by Jason Lewis As African American Heritage month begins, the city of Los Angeles opens its doors to kick off the celebration and to honor some who have paved the way for allBy Yussuf J. Simmonds Sentinel Managing EditorThe history of the Freedom Riders who traveled to the South during the 1960s to help rid the country of its darkest past, is a story that needs to be told over and over. In celebrating the beginning of African American Heritage month, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa honored legendary boxing icon, Sugar Ray Leonard, with the Hope of LA award; businessman, philanthropist, community activist and recent media mogul, Danny J. Bakewell Sr., with the Dream of LA award; and the men and women for whom we are forever in their debt, the Freedom Riders, with the Spirit of LA award. The theme of the celebration was appropriately coined: "Lest We Forget: from Civil War to Civil Rights." In addition to the honorees and the city council members, the council chambers were graced with the presence of the Buffalo Soldiers, who themselves have earned a place in American history. Councilman Bernard Parks let it be known, "In spite of the climate of violence, that the Freedom fighters faced, they did what they did for all of us and they did it in peace and with dignity." Furthermore he informed the gathering, "There were about 436 of them in 1961, 54 were from L.A.," he boasted proudly. "They rode buses to challenge segregation in the South."On presentation of the award, Dr. Robert Singleton, speaking for the group, said, "We saw the need to change America and we took that ride."The next award went to Bakewell, whom the Mayor recalled: "... changing the quality of life for Blacks in L.A. is in his DNA. Leading the Brotherhood Crusade, he provided over $60 million to the community. His work has borne fruit as he built Mothers In Action, Sabriya's Castle of Fun, National Black United Fund and Brotherhood Crusade. The Mayor also spoke of the little celebration that Bakewell spoke about that last time drew a crowd of 100,000 - A Taste of Soul.In responding, Bakewell thanked the Mayor, the council president and the entire city council for receiving the award "... not just for civil rights but just for rights," recalling past and present African American city council members who made that celebration possible. Bakewell named, "Bernard Parks, Herb Wesson, and Jan Perry" (current members of the city council members) and as the theme stated, lest we forget, he also recalled those of the past: "Gilbert Lindsay, Tom Bradley, Nate Holden, Dave Cunningham and Robert Farrell (who was present, as one of Freedom Riders, also).Sugar Ray Leonard was remembered for the numerous boxing titles he held and whom the Mayor said " ... was solely focused on winning, he was pound for pound the greatest boxer and a class act, who is now one of the most sought-after speakers of Fortune 500 companies."The former boxing champion thanked " ... the Mayor and all of you who honor me, but these (the Freedom Riders) are the real heroes." Herb Wesson spoke of his work in the 10th district and said, "In the 10th district, we vote for short people and for tall people," referring to himself (short) and Tom Bradley (tall) who previously held the 10th district seat as a councilman. Council president Eric Garcetti, who chimed in periodically as the moderator mentioned, "we're honoring a freedom rider, a freedom fighter and the freedom riders."The other city council members, the city attorney and the city controller, one by one took turns serenading the honorees. In thanking the city and the city council, Bakewell said, "It was very gratifying and humbling, particularly to share the honor with the Freedom Riders and to have the Buffalo Soldiers present. Their deeds withstood hostility in the face of violence and they did not blink.""I also want to thank the entire city council, the city attorney and the city controller for being gracious and forthcoming in acknowledging our work in making this city and this society a better place."