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Commentary: To honor LaMotte, empower her community

Guest contributor | December 13, 2013

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voting boothBy Karen Bass, Mark Ridley-Thomas, Herb Wesson and John W. Mack

The LA Times remembered Marguerite LaMotte last week as an unbowed and outspoken voice for our community and its students. She was all those things and more. To understand the depth of her conviction and the wellspring of her courage, one need only read the seemingly innocuous lines of her LAUSD biography.

Ms. LaMotte grew up in the segregated South, in a time before the Civil Rights Act and Brown vs. Board of Education. Yet she overcame the status quo at every stage of her life. Where her biography reads, “…at age 18, she was appointed Director of Spaulding Business College in Baton Rouge…” or “…the first African American woman to serve as visiting professor in the undergraduate school of education,” we see someone whose skills and determination shown so brightly that her ascent could not be slowed by ageism, sexism, or racism.

Generations of students were fortunate that Ms. LaMotte chose to make Los Angeles her home. In the classroom and as an administrator, she did not tolerate the low expectations many had for low-income students of color. But her dedication knew no bounds. As principal of Washington Prep High School, she broke up an off-campus brawl of nearly 100 people, showing each potential combatant what real courage was. Even if it meant risking her personal safety, she did what was right for students.

As we remember and celebrate Ms. LaMotte’s life, we would be remiss to not mention how her legacy influences the future. The school board needs a powerful voice who prioritizes student interests. The school board needs a courageous figure unafraid to challenge the status quo. The school board needs someone whose background and life experience can translate the realities of life in LAUSD’s District 1 into sound educational policy.

Now, the LAUSD school board has a decision to make about how to carry on Ms. LaMotte’s legacy. It can appoint a successor through closed-session dealings because the cost of a special election is deemed to outweigh the right of South Los Angeles families to be heard. Or it can keep with the time-honored practice of empowering residents to find, support and elect their own chosen representative as soon as possible. We believe the choice is clear.

Karen Bass is a 
United States Representative from Los Angeles

Mark Ridley-Thomas is a 
Los Angeles County Supervisor

Herb Wesson is president of the Los Angeles City Council

John W. Mack is 
Los Angeles City Planning Commissioner


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