UCLA Celebrates Homecoming of State Senator Lola Smallwood-Cuevas
On March 10, the UCLA Labor Center and UCLA Center for the Advancement of Racial Equity at Work (CARE at Work) hosted a homecoming celebration for state senator Lola Smallwood-Cuevas, who was recently elected to represent California’s 28th Senate District.
The only Black woman in the California State Senate, Smallwood-Cuevas previously worked at the UCLA Labor Center as the director of CARE at Work, a project that engages Black workers and economic justice advocates to facilitate innovative solutions that address the needs of Black working-class people. While there, she also co-founded the Los Angeles Black Worker Center, the country’s first Black worker center.
Nearly 100 people attended the gathering, housed in the UCLA James West Alumni Center. Remarks from UCLA Labor Center director Kent Wong and interim dean of social sciences Abel Valenzuela Jr. commended Sen. Smallwood-Cuevas’ advocacy for economic and racial justice.
“She made extraordinary contributions for the 15 years she was at the UCLA Labor Center. We are celebrating not only the amazing work she has done, but what she will do in the years to come to advance economic and racial justice that will benefit millions of people in the state of California,” said Wong. “The best is yet to come.”
In her remarks, Sen. Smallwood-Cuevas thanked her current and former colleagues, crediting them with providing invaluable support and guidance.
“I’m here to recognize and uplift where I come from: this community, and the thousands of folks who are outside this building, who every day, taught me that we can change things from the way they are to the way they need to be for our communities, “ said Smallwood-Cuevas. “I’ve seen, with my own eyes, that when people come together — see the problem, develop the strategy, bring along their allies, stand together, fight hard, endure losses and victories — they win.”
Attendees also heard remarks from CARE at Work’s public program analyst Semi Cole and program manager Déjà Thomas, both of whom worked closely alongside Smallwood-Cuevas to advance research and programming with more than 32 unions and community organizations across Southern California.
“I remember first meeting Lola in my early days living in Los Angeles, when I was looking for a way to do more, an opportunity to create change. She told me about a movement that, unconsciously, I’d recognized my entire life but never had words for: the concept of black worker justice, the issue of the black jobs crisis,” said Cole. “Lola has this energy, this magnificent spirit, that makes you realize there is an opportunity that emerges from coming together as a community. She’s built a magnificent community here, and in Southern California.”
In addition to spoken remarks, the event featured Sugi Dakks, who performed poetry and music about his experience as a Japanese and African American artist. Later in the program, Smallwood-Cuevas joined UCLA professor Robin D. G. Kelley, a Gary B. Nash Endowed Chair in U.S. History., for a sit-down interview.