By Shirley Hawkins
The room was filled with excitement at the California Science Center Samuel Oschin Space Shuttle Endeavor Display Pavilion on Dec. 5th when the Los Angeles Opportunities Industrialization Center held its Breakfast of Champions 10th Anniversary celebration.
For the past five years, the LAOIC has provided computer literacy classes and computers to low income housing projects in Los Angeles in an effort to bridge the digital divide. LAOIC Executive Director Chris L. Floyd was especially gratified that the LAOIC anniversary celebration was held at the pavilion since the venue symbolized the embodiment of technological achievement.
“I want to thank the California Science Center for making special arrangements to accommodate our 10th Anniversary Breakfast of Champions,” Floyd acknowledged in front of the capacity audience.
Since 2004, the LAOIC, in partnership with various corporations, has donated 550 computers to underserved families. He added that the LAOIC’s Technology Bridge Partnership refurbishes and places fifty computers a week in homes that could not financially afford them. The skill training center’s goal is to train and provide 3,000 students with computers for the fiscal year.
Floyd hailed the 2013 “champions” who were chosen for making significant contributions to underserved communities in Los Angeles. This year’s honorees were Bishop Charles E. Blake of the West Angeles Church of God in Christ who received the Community Champion Award; Eric Garcetti, mayor of Los Angeles who received the Political Champion Award; and Noel Massie, president of the Southern California United Parcel Service, who received the Corporate Champion Award.
The honorees were presented with postage stamps embossed with their photos encased in handsomely designed plaques.
Actor and lively Master of Ceremonies Jesse Lewis IV led the crowd in the pledge of allegiance and then introduced Southern California Edison executive Ed Robinson, who delivered the invocation, and Susan Gillaspie, LAOIC chairwoman. Both attendees praised the LAOIC’s dedication in providing much needed technology and computer literacy in its efforts to eradicate poverty in underserved communities.
Massie, who videotaped his acceptance speech, was introduced by University of Southern California Vice Dean R. Paul Maiden, PhD. Massie said he was proud of LAOIC’s mission to help the underserved and added that he was honored to be cited by such a great organization. Lee Chew, district director for the Southern California United Parcel Service, accepted Massie’s award in his absence. According to Chew, the UPS has partnered with LAOIC to offer commercial driving classes to students.
Honorable former Congresswoman Diane Watson, who represented Garcetti at the breakfast, said the mayor fully supported LAOIC’s efforts. “His vision for the city is widespread. I know our mayor is intent on making sure that every single adult will have a salable skill to move onward and upward,” she said. “Mr. Garcetti has pledged to serve every section and every community in every way. He is not afraid of you to raise questions and be critical. Stay in touch with our mayor and he will stay in touch with you.”
Jim Castillo, president and founder of the J. C. Charitable Foundation introduced Bishop Blake, pastor of the 25,000 member West Angeles Church of God in Christ. Blake has long been in the forefront of helping not only the underserved communities in Los Angeles, but is founder and president of the Pan African Children’s Fund (PACF), established to help children in Africa who have become orphans due to the HIV/AIDS crisis. Save Africa’s Children, a program of PACF, has provided support to over 420 orphan care programs, 200,000 children and 24 nations throughout sub-Saharan Africa.
“I am honored by this significant award,” said Blake. “LAOIC is a great organization with a history of achievement. I want to commend Executive Director Chris Floyd who is doing good work in the lives of the people.
“All praise to God and my savior Jesus Christ,” Blake continued. “I am proud to be on the same list as the people honored this morning. I share this award with my wife, First Lady Mae; my children, my congregation and the West Los Angeles staff. It’s a wonderful award given in the presence of wonderful people. Thank You.”
Floyd said that he was proud that LAOIC had also partnered with the Los Angeles Public Library Systems to assist students enrolled in LAOIC’s Automotive, Call Center, Computer Literacy, Customer Service, Computer Repair and Commercial Drivers License classes. He thanked head of libraries John Sczabo for providing libraries for LAOIC’S training purposes.
Floyd also thanked several corporations for their generosity in donating computers, including the Ralph’s Grocery chain that donated 100 computers and the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Sidley Austin law firm that donated 200 computers each.
LAOIC is especially noted for launching Computers for Families, a “computer boot camp” where participants receive computer training. Graduates receive a computer after they complete the course.
Floyd noted that the Computers for Families program has had significant success in the Jordan Downs housing project in Watts where LAOIC has been able to touch and change hundreds of lives through computer literacy.
He added that providing computers and computer training to underserved communities was imperative since a potential job applicant must be computer literate to apply for positions. “When you go to a job fair, employers hand you a sheet of paper and ask you to fill out your application online,” he pointed out. “Even a person who wants to bag groceries at Ralph’s must go to their kiosk to fill out an application.”
At least a dozen grateful graduates of the LAOIC program assembled near the stage to share personal testimonies about how the LAOIC organization had positively affected their lives.
Former student Arabella Bowman said, “I do better Sunday school lessons because LAOIC provided me with a computer. I’m 70 years old, and I go to work every day.” She had sage advice for the audience. “Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t learn. Find something you enjoy and are passionate about doing. Learn something every day because it produces new brain cells.”
Computer graduate Jerome Clemons delivered an emotional testimony that touched the audience. “I used to sleep in a tent in downtown Los Angeles,” he revealed. “There are tears in my eyes this morning because I’m grateful to be here right now. Today, I have my own apartment and have a part-time job.”
Clemons said that he had spent the previous evening backing up files on the computer provided to him by the LAOIC. “I followed the LAOIC computer instruction manual and I was able to back up my files successfully,” he said with pride. “Knowledge is power. The mind is a terrible thing to waste.”
Pictures by Iann Foxx