Leadership L.A. 2010 Graduation Speech

The following remarks were written and delivered by Carlos Illingworth,Vons, a Safeway Company, and Graduate, Leadership L.A. 2010 on Nov. 17, 2010 at the LLA Graduation & Class Report. He was selected by his peers to summarize the LLA experience over the past year.


We came, we saw, we conquered – rock on, Leadership L.A.!

Okay, okay…Kevin just pulled me aside and reminded me that we have prospective fellows and sponsors here tonight, so I suppose I can do better than that. All kidding aside, let’s give a big Leadership L.A. round of applause for Kevin and the entire Southern California Leadership Network (SCLN) team.

If Leadership L.A. Fellows are the conduits of change in our city, the SCLN team is surely the electricity! All I gotta say is – look out DWP, there’s a new utility in town!

Secondly, I’d like to acknowledge the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce for supporting SCLN. Isn’t it great to live and work in a city where business has a conscience? It’s no coincidence, folks – it starts at the top. So, thank you Gary Toebben.

I’ve said it before and I’m going to say it again – considering the caliber of people in our class, this is a tremendous honor. Nine months ago, I met 37 Angelenos that were all unique in their own special way, but it didn’t take long for me to figure out that we had one very important thing in common. We are all really good at following directions.

I think it was day two of our orientation, when Jeremy asked us to sit in our seats, take deep breaths and focus on our feet…the back of our knees…our seat, then our head – in that specific order. For a moment, I thought, is this some advance version of “Simon Says?” Of course not! Leave it to Jeremy – he was showing us how to physiologically manage our emotions. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve used that exercise at home. Just kidding, honey.

Then, in April, it was on to Arts & Culture. We discussed the importance of the creative economy to Los Angeles with Jack Kyser and spoke with arts leaders about how the arts are intertwined in business and education…in building communities and bringing about social change. Our classmate, Danielle Brazelle with Arts for LA, inspired all of us to be stronger advocates for a greater investment in the arts throughout Los Angeles County.

And we got to see a few examples of such investment when we visited the Music Center, Japanese American National Museum and Inner City Arts – an artistic oasis for underserved children in the heart of Skid Row, which really struck a cord with our classmate, Mario Fedelin of City Year. I remember Mario “reporting back” for his group and you could just sense that this guy was all about the youth, community and empowerment. He was passionate.

Speaking of passion – how about that conversation we observed between LAUSD Board Member Yolie Flores and UTLA’s Joel Jordan about teacher effectiveness? Wow. I don’t think any of us expected a “showdown” like that, except maybe our classmate Ani Okkasian with LAUSD. After all, she did jump off her Mexican cruise to join us – bronze tan and all. And I’m glad she did because she was able to provide us with an inside perspective on the immense challenges facing our nation’s second largest school district. If that’s not leadership, I don’t know what is! Gracias, Ani.

Then, in the afternoon, we ventured out to the “land of acronyms” – to spend time with the students at ALC and the other SLCs at MCLC…the Miguel Contreras Learning Complex, that is. After spending the morning discussing the alarming state of education, it was certainly refreshing to visit this innovative model of learning and to see strong instructional leaders in action, spearheading change in a community one generation at a time.

In fact, one of our classmates, Glenn Barney with Comm Dev USA, was so inspired by the work they are doing at the Academic Leadership Community small learning community that he launched a “Career Journey” speaker series and recruited me and some of our classmates like Tricia Landry with Wells Fargo, Jamie Keyser with Disney and Alonzo Hill with the FBI to speak to the students on Friday mornings. Glenn, I know you’re here tonight and I hope you’re making your rounds because I see a lot of prospective guest speakers in the room.

Session 4 in June covered healthcare in Los Angeles, with a focus on what non-healthcare leaders need to know about public, private and clinic healthcare delivery systems. We heard from a panel of industry leaders about how national health care reform is impacting local practices and policies…and we visited County USC, University Hospital and Clinica Romero – a private, nonprofit, federally subsidized community health center.

Then, in July, came one of my favorite sessions – Media, Entertainment & Technology. If it sounds kinda sexy…it was. Our classmate, Andrew Lachman with the California State Senate, welcomed us to the site of his former employer – Paramount Studios – and we spent the morning talking (and “tweeting”) about how technology has affected film, news, music and video games. All I gotta say is, enjoy your “free online content” while you can!

Then, after taking a behind-the-scenes tour of the studio lot, we delved into a lively afternoon discussion on the changing demands of leadership in the entertainment industry with Nelson Gayton of the UCLA Anderson School of Management…and we were inspired by Meredith Blake – the Founder & CEO of Cause & Effect – and how she has used entertainment as a catalyst for positive social change. It was truly a fascinating day. If you would like to see some of the highlights or photos from that session, check out the Facebook page of our classmate, Mandy Denaux with the LA Chamber.

In August we had probably one of the most unique sessions offered through the program. Our Law & Society session began with Long Beach Police Chief (and Leadership L.A. alumnus) Jim Mc Donnell, who provided us with an overview of law enforcement today. Then we listened to a broad base panel of experts talk about issues like recidivism, drug legalization, mental health and homelessness. After lunch and a candid conversation with Sheriff Lee Baca about the public safety challenges facing Los Angeles, we headed over to Men’s Central Jail for a first hand look at the largest jail in the world.

Sure, it was overcrowded and unsanitary enough for most of us, but we did see some glimmers of hope when we walked into a classroom full of inmates as they were working together, supporting each other – attempting to complete a lesson aimed at helping them cope with the consequences of their decisions. As I walked thru the halls and made eye contact with some of the inmates – and, at times, even small talk – I could not help but feel partly responsible, as a society, for letting them down somehow along the way. This was an eye opening experience for all of us, except for our classmate Lt. Joe Dulla, a twenty year veteran of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, who has dedicated his career to public safety and who I expect to continue to rise up the ranks. We ended the day with a memorable talk with Father Greg Boyle of Homeboy Industries about gang prevention and how to build sustainable communities. It can be summed up in one word: jobs – and no one is better at creating them, then Father Greg.

In September, we headed south on the 710 freeway towards “the other city” for what I’m sure was the favorite session of our classmate, Jerry Caligiuri with the City of Long Beach – simply because of the short drive. Session 7 exposed us to the critical infrastructure of the Port of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles International Airport. We heard from the port and airport police chiefs about what they do, day in and day out – about how they are collaborating to align technology systems and procedures – all in an effort to protect us and our nation’s good movement.

So, next time you’re at LAX and you’re feeling a bit frustrated with the security procedures, I hope you remember this session – as did our classmate, Tom Fessenden with ADP, on his recent business trip to Florida.

In October, the SCLN team challenged us to look at neighborhood development through a case study of Pacoima, a San Fernando Valley community that has undergone major revitalization and that most of us had never been to…

Well, except for our classmate, Patty Salazar with the California Credit Union League, who grew up there…and did a great job representing her hometown and welcoming us.

We started off the morning talking economics with the President of the Valley Economic Development Center, then took a bus tour thru the community and visited sites like the Pacoima Wash with Pacoima Beautiful Executive Director and LAUSD Board Member, Nury Martinez – a true community leader who is equally passionate about environmental justice and land use advocacy, as she is about public education.

In the afternoon, we headed to MEND – the largest poverty-relief organization in the San Fernando Valley – and were schooled on “Valley Politics” by VICA President Stuart Waldman.

After going out in small groups to delve deeper into community projects aimed at improving the quality of life in Pacoima, I was introduced to Mi Pueblito Mexican Restaurant – which may very well serve the best corn tortilla quesadilla in Los Angeles.

And finally, just last week – we had our very last session on Water & Environment at the Southern California Edison facility in Irwindale.

The morning panel, which consisted of the CEO of Heal the Bay, a former General Manager of the Metropolitan Water District, an urban redeveloper and a member of the Los Angeles City Council was largely about water – Grant Burton’s favorite topic and our most precious natural resource – but also covered plastic bags…an issue I know way too much about.

We spent the second half of the day revisiting our Personal Mission Statement and Leadership Portfolio, a time and effort intensive process we began at the start of the program…that we would not have been able to complete without Jeremy and Margie.

For me, next to meeting some incredible people and making 37 new friends that are complete “rock stars” by any account, it was this exercise of putting my goals, dreams and aspirations on paper that brought it all together.

Leadership L.A. was sort of like our Google Maps for the past nine months. It gave us the big picture and allowed us to zoom in when we saw something that sparked an interest.

Now, with our Leadership Portfolio and Mission Statement in hand, we all have our own personal road maps that will not only guide us, but – collectively – will also guide our city for years to come.

It has been an honor to speak on behalf of the Leadership L.A. Class of 2010.

Thank you.