FOUNDERS

"People will forget what you said.  People will forget what you did.  But People will not forget how you made them feel."  ~Maya Angelou

BRENDA MARSH-MITCHELL

Brenda Marsh-Mitchell was a pioneer and loved the Los Angeles community.  She has been called a stalwart for the underdog.  

Marsh-Mitchell was the co-founder with her dear friend Lillian Mobley of Mothers in Action (MIA), where she served as the organization’s president and CEO.  She truly believed in community service and in giving back. 

Marsh-Mitchell planned and organized numerous events throughout the year including feeding seniors on Thanksgiving at the Ward Villa Senior Apartment Complex.  She spearheaded back-to-school health-fairs and Christmas toy giveaways.

She worked for over 40 years with community leaders, community activists, and Sentinel Executive Publisher, Danny J. Bakewell, Sr. Together they tackled the hard hitting issues that plagued the Black community and were relentless in providing a voice for the voiceless. 

On October 16, 2014, local officials, clergy, family and community members gathered together to support the dedication of the Brenda Marsh-Mitchell Square at the corner of Coliseum and Crenshaw. The bittersweet occasion paid homage to a woman who wasn’t afraid to raise her voice for Los Angeles, a community that she loved and loved her in return.


DANNY BAKEWELL, SR.

Danny J. Bakewell, Sr. is the Chairman of Bakewell Media, with growing media holdings that include WBOK Radio station in New Orleans, Louisiana, the Los Angeles Sentinel and the L.A. Watts Times Newspapers.  The Los Angeles Sentinel is the oldest and the largest Black-owned newspaper on the West Coast and it was recently named the nation’s Number One Black Newspaper.  Of the acquisitions in radio and print media, Bakewell said, “We consider it an honor, privilege and awesome responsibility to be in the position of influencing Black thought and reporting the news affecting Black people accurately.”  In 2009, Bakewell was elected as chairman of the National Newspapers Publishers Association (NNPA) and has since been named Chairman Emeritus of the prestigious Association, which consists of over 200 Black newspapers throughout the country.

Under the Bakewell Media Brand, in 2006 Bakewell founded and Created “Taste of Soul”, one of the largest street festivals in Los Angeles, which reached an attendance level of over 350,000 in 2013. 

DEVELOPER & BUSINESSMAN

As chairman of the Bakewell Company, Danny J. Bakewell, Sr., built 380 luxury upscale homes in the City of Seaside, California on the Monterey Peninsula.  This was the first major private development on the former Fort Ord Army base since it’s closing.

As a businessman, financier and developer, Bakewell has breathed economic life into downtown Compton, California when no one else was able to.  Compton Towne Center and Compton Renaissance Plaza stand on both sides of Compton Boulevard and stand as testaments to Bakewell’s extraordinary ability to develop in an urban, underserved community.  Both projects are a clear demonstration that he was able to hit a target that no one else was able to see as doable.   That was how it seemed when Bakewell’s company got the exclusive right to develop the Compton Town Center, which was Compton’s first major commercial development in 20 years.  His success was then duplicated with the Compton Renaissance Plaza, which captured the attention of the architectural community for its contemporary mixture of African American and Spanish Styles.  The 14-acre shopping center contains a 40,000 square foot Superior Grocery Store and an 86,000 square-foot Burlington Coat Factory as anchor stores.  In addition, there are 11 permanent structures, 21 locally owned and six national chain restaurants and stores that provide a variety of shopping and dining experiences.      

The Crenshaw/Slauson Shopping Center, which was destroyed during the 1992 civil unrest, was also “touched” and revitalized by Bakewell and now serves as a thriving hub for local, community shoppers.

As Chairman of the Bakewell Company, one of the largest African-American owned development companies in the United States, Bakewell owns other shopping centers and leads multi-million dollar revitalization efforts in the cities of Los Angeles, Compton, Pasadena and other California communities.  Bakewell’s signature on a project provides a majority African American workforce, and a working model of inclusion and financial success in areas often considered by others as unprofitable and impossible to find African American talent.

Bakewell also partnered with Ralph’s Grocery Food Stores and developed the Adams/Vermont Shopping Center, which opened in 1997.

Next in the line of his milestone achievements is the Fair Oaks Renaissance Plaza in Pasadena, California, which opened in June 1998.  It consists of a 50,000 square-foot Vons Grocery Store, a national clothing store, a Starbucks and a variety of other retail stores that had long been sought by local Pasadena residents.  Located on North Fair Oaks, it was developed after repeated attempts by the City of Pasadena had failed.   

In 1986 Bakewell was appointed President and Chief Operating Officer of Cranston Securities Company, a majority owned, national Wall Street investment-banking firm.  His position with Cranston Securities (at the time) made him the highest- ranking African- American in the banking industry in the country with offices in New York, Washington, DC and Los Angeles, California.  As a senior partner, he had a major ownership interest in the firm.

Politicians seek Bakewell’s advice because of his expertise and influence with both business and community groups.  He played a significant role as an advisor to Mayor Tom Bradley and Mayor James Hahn of Los Angeles, as well as former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.  He also served as State Co-Chairperson of the Finance Committee to elect Tom Bradley as Governor of California.  He also has served as State Chairperson of the Finance Committee to elect Reverend Jesse Jackson as President of the United States.  He assisted Gray Davis in becoming the California’s first Democratic Governor in 16 years and was also an advisor to the governor.  Bakewell played a significant role in helping now President Barack Obama win election in 2008.        

HUMANITARIAN

Danny J. Bakewell, Sr. is the Chairman of the Los Angeles Brotherhood Crusade, an organization he co-founded in 1968 and where he spent over 35 years building into one of the largest non-profit organizations in Southern California.  The Brotherhood Crusade has given over $35,000,000 in grants and technical support to small local non-profits in the African American community of South Los Angeles. 

Bakewell founded Sabriya’s Castle of Fun Foundation in 1993 in memory of his youngest daughter, Sabriya Ishan Bakewell, who lost her life to leukemia in early 1992.  Out of this tragic loss, the Bakewell family developed a revolutionary program to assist hospitalized children, throughout the country during their treatments associated with leukemia and other life-threatening diseases. This cutting-edge program, known as “Fun Therapy” has provided countless children with the universal medicine of love, comfort, happiness, and laughter.

Bakewell also founded Brotherhood Business Development & Capital Fund, which offers loans to small businesses and the African American Unity Center, known to provide an array of specialized programs to the South Los Angeles Community. 

In mid 1998, Bakewell, through his company Hawthorne Renaissance Plaza, donated one million dollars to three community organizations in Hawthorne and Los Angeles and in 2004 Seaside Highlands (Bakewell’s Housing Development) donated over a half million dollars to 12 community based organizations in the city of Seaside including The Boys and Girls Club of Monterey, Seaside Rotary Club, Seaside Kiwanis Club, Seaside Lions Club, LULAC, The Monterey Peninsula Branch of the NAACP, Minority AIDS Project Monterey, Seaside Little League, Seaside Jr. All American Football, Monterey Pan Hellenic Council, Seaside High School Alumni Association, Community Partnership for Youth, MBBF Blues in the Schools Program and the Seaside Fire Department.

Bakewell has been featured in the national media on 20/20, B.E.T., in EBONY, JET, and many other national media programs and publications.  His works have been written about and highlighted in BLACK PHILANTHROPY AND SELF-HELP IN AMERICA, THE BLACK SCHOLAR, and BLUEPRINT FOR BLACK POWER.  Berry Gordy, Jr., the Motown genius, Quincy Jones, the musical genius, and Johnnie Cochran, the legal genius, all made honorable mention of Bakewell in their autobiographies.

Danny J. Bakewell, Sr. is 66 years old and currently resides in Bradbury, California, with his wife, Aline Bakewell, Esq. He is the father of three children: Danny Jr., Brandi, and Sabriya (Deceased).  He has four grand children.

When Bakewell is not championing the causes of his community and of his people, he is an avid family man.  He enjoys spending many quiet hours of leisure and recreational activities with his wife and grandchildren.  Bakewell says that the true source of the energy and motivation that sustain his endless hours of hard work and dedication is the closeness and support of his family.

 

LILLIAN HARKLESS MOBLEY

Lillian Harkless Mobley was born in Macon, Georgia on March 29, 1930 to Charlie Harkless and Corene Basley Harkless. She graduated from Hudson High in 1948 and married James Otis Mobley that same year. Together they have four children: Phillip, Charles, Kenneth and Corene who preceded her in death.

Lillian Mobley was a community activist. She was affectionately known as the “Community Mother”. She was founder of the South Central Multi-Purpose Senior Citizen’s Center (now the Lillian Mobley Multipurpose Center) on Central Avenue in Los Angeles which services people in the community of all ages. Mrs. Mobley also began a chapter of the Birthing Project USA which is the Grandma’s Hands Los Angeles Birthing Project.  It is a volunteer effort put forth to encourage better birth outcomes by providing practical support to women during and after pregnancy. The ‘Community Mother’ worked tirelessly to bring equality, justice, and resources to the South Central and Watts neighborhoods of Los Angeles.

            Mrs. Mobley served on several boards of directors, councils and committees. She was a current board member of Brotherhood Crusade, Congress of Racial Equality, Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Watts Labor Community Action Committee, and Tessie Cleveland Community Services Corporation. She was the co-founder of Mothers in Action. Mrs. Mobley was the chairperson of the Watts Towers Community Action Council and the Black Women’s Forum Health Task Force. Mrs. Mobley was also a member of the Black Community Health Task Force and the Black Education Task Force. Mrs. Mobley received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science in 2007.

            Each day presented itself with a new challenge for the 81 year old great-great grandmother, yet she continued to do as much as she could.  Even with the challenge of having dialysis three times a week, Mrs. Mobley mustered up the energy to go in to the office, attend meetings and many community events.

Sadly, Mrs. Mobley passed away Monday, July 18, 2011 at 7:00pm with family and friends by her side. She will be sorely missed by all who knew and loved her.

 

JOHNNIE TILLMON

CO-FOUNDER

Tillmon, Johnnie (10 Apr. 1926-22 Nov. 1995), welfare rights leader and community activist, was born Johnnie Lee Percy in Scott, Arkansas, the eldest child of John Percy, a sharecropper, and Gussie Danforth, a field hand. When Johnnie was five years old, her mother died during childbirth, and her father remarried a family friend who helped raise her and her two younger brothers. Like many black families in the pre-civil rights South, hers was poor. They moved to several towns in rural Arkansas as her father pursued more profitable sharecropping arrangements. At the age of seven, she began picking cotton to earn extra money.

In 1944 Johnnie Percy moved to live with her aunt in Little Rock, Arkansas. She initially attended high school and supported herself by working summers and evenings at several jobs, including a World War II-era defense plant. Once the war ended, Percy left school for a day job in laundry services, one of the few reliable peacetime occupations accessible to poor black women. While in the coming decades many southern blacks would join the civil rights movement, Percy's first organizing experience occurred at her laundry job when she led coworkers in demanding a raise.

Percy left her aunt's home and married James Tillmon in 1948. The marriage produced three children and lasted only until 1952. After divorcing, Johnnie Tillmon had two more children, relying on her cousin and a neighborhood friend to babysit while she worked. In 1960 Tillmon's father passed away, and she relocated to Los Angeles, California, where one of her brothers already lived. At the time she was pregnant with her sixth child.

Despite being pregnant, Tillmon started another laundry job less than a week after arriving in Los Angeles. This new job was both unionized and higher paying than those she held in Arkansas. Resuming her role as an advocate, she became the shop steward for the union local at her laundry plant. Outside of work she joined the Nickerson Gardens Planning Organization (NGPA), a community association in the housing project where she and her children moved in 1962, located in the predominantly black Watts neighborhood. Additionally, she worked on campaigns for local politicians, including Augustus Hawkins, California's first black member of Congress.

A turning point that initiated Tillmon's rise as a national advocate for poor women occurred in 1963. In January she developed acute tonsillitis and began missing work. The president and secretary of NGPA discovered Tillmon's illness and instructed her to enroll in Aid to Needy Children (ANC), California's welfare program for poor single mothers. Tillmon protested at first but complied when it was revealed that her oldest daughter had been skipping school while she worked. Enrolling in the ANC program would allow her to remain at home and more closely supervise her children.

Once on welfare, Tillmon directly encountered negative stereotypes about recipients, especially the idea that they are lazy "brood mares," and experienced different forms of degradation, such as having her food purchases questioned by caseworkers. She also witnessed harassment, including "midnight raids" in which caseworkers checked recipients' homes for male companions (ANC eligibility required single status). One Sunday, after overhearing a neighborhood churchgoer disparage the ANC recipients in her housing project, she decided to take action.

Within a month Tillmon and small group of allies had interviewed more than three hundred welfare recipients in Nickerson Gardens and started an organization, ANC Mothers Anonymous--anonymous, according to Tillmon, both because people treated them as if they were nameless and because they wished to remain unknown to hostile caseworkers (they eventually went public and dropped the "Anonymous"). Several recipients initially suspected Tillmon and ANC Mothers of conducting investigations for the welfare department. By the end of 1964, however, the organization had established a record of helping recipients throughout Watts and demanding respect from caseworkers. Under Tillmon's leadership, ANC Mothers also engaged in policy battles to, for example, expand child care services. Fearing a loss of political independence, the group refused to accept organizational resources from the federal government's new war on poverty and relied instead on supportive neighborhood leaders and institutions.

Less than two years after starting ANC Mothers, Tillmon began receiving media attention and, in turn, requests to participate in larger welfare rights federations. In 1965 she publicized ANC Mothers' efforts on a popular Los Angeles-area television show hosted by Louis Lomax, America's first black television journalist. She subsequently accepted invitations to organize Los Angeles County and California welfare rights organizations and was elected president of the latter. Most fortuitously, in April 1966, she accepted an invitation to speak at a Washington, D.C., conference organized by the Citizens Crusade Against Poverty (CCAP), a national coalition. During her speech, Tillmon strongly criticized the war on poverty and its administrative leader, Sargent Shriver, who also spoke at the conference, for not doing enough to improve poor people's lives. "When all the [war on poverty] money is spent," she professed, "the rich will get richer and I will still be receiving a welfare check" (Kotz and Kotz, p. 185).

Tillmon's performance impressed George Wiley, the national action coordinator for CCAP and former associate director of the Congress of Racial Equality, a well-known civil rights organization. Just four months later she joined Wiley at a Chicago meeting where they and several other welfare recipients and organizers decided to form the National Welfare Rights Organization (NWRO), a national advocacy group for the poor.

Within a year Tillmon was elected chair of NWRO's national coordinating committee. As chair, she pushed for welfare recipients to lead the organization and retain political independence from its professional staff and middle-class funders. In practice, both Tillmon and Wiley, who was executive director of NWRO's staff, led the organization in a historic effort to enact federal legislation for a guaranteed adequate income. Although NWRO never reached this goal, the group achieved many other victories while trying: expanding several assistance programs, challenging stigmatizing depictions of the poor, and catalyzing a welfare rights movement based primarily in the experiences and demands of poor black women. Tillmon replaced Wiley as executive director in 1972, when he resigned because of welfare recipients' demands for more representation on the NWRO staff.

During her NWRO years, Tillmon actively defended welfare's importance to the broader antipoverty, civil rights, and women's movements. Before endorsing the 1968 Poor People's Campaign, a national effort led by the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., Tillmon and other NWRO leaders insisted on schooling King and his colleagues in person about welfare legislation and the rights of poor women. When King could not answer their questions, Tillmon forced him to admit that "we don't know about welfare and we have come to learn" (Nadasen, p. 72).

Tillmon most publicly made the case that "Welfare Is a Women's Issue" in the spring 1972 issue of Ms. magazine. She argued that women's liberation could not occur without improving the welfare system, a source of survival for many poor women. At the 1977 National Women's Conference in Houston, Texas--attended by leading feminists such as Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan--Tillmon put this argument in practice, ushering the passage of a resolution in support of expanding welfare assistance.

While organizing with NWRO, Tillmon spent most of her time away from California, coordinating actions and meeting recipient groups. Her oldest children and sister-in-law cared for her family in her absence. Tillmon returned to Los Angeles when NWRO closed its national headquarters in 1975. An increasingly antiwelfare political climate had, in combination with internal conflicts and declining membership, decimated the organization's resources and influence. Some observers cast NWRO's fall as the end of the welfare rights movement, but Tillmon disagreed, declaring that the "movement is different but still alive" (West, p. x).

Back in Los Angeles, Tillmon resumed her work with ANC Mothers, assisting welfare recipients and serving on the Los Angeles County Welfare Advisory Committee. She also continued to participate in politics, working, for example, as a legislative aide to the Los Angeles city councilman Robert Farrell. In 1979 she married Harvey Blackston, a local blues musician better known as Harmonica Fats. Her advocacy efforts finally halted in the 1990s because of complications stemming from diabetes. She died at a hospital in Pasadena, California.

Throughout her adult life, Johnnie Tillmon Blackston (sometimes reported as Tillmon-Blackston) organized to empower and improve the living standards of poor women. Under her tutelage, the welfare rights movement made great strides in expanding democratic participation and challenging attitudes and policies that marginalize recipients. Even after her death, she continued to inspire and influence poor people's activism.

  

FOUNDER MARY B. HENRY