News And Politics

South LA conference will focus on area's 'health and human rights crisis'

Dec. 6, 2012, 11:30 a.m.

St. John's Well Child and Family Center is one of the major driving forces behind and founders of the South Los Angeles Health & Human Rights Conference. (José Martinez/OnCentral)

South L.A. activists, residents and organizations will gather at an all-day conference on Friday to address what one local leader calls a health and human rights crisis in the community.

The third annual South Los Angeles Health & Human Rights Conference kicks off at 8 a.m. at St. John's Well Child and Family Center, and will feature all four L.A. mayoral candidates, as well as representatives from Montreal, El Salvador and Mexico City.

Jim Mangia is the president and CEO of St. John's, one of the major driving forces behind and founders of the conference. He says the conference is held in South L.A. because "it's the largest area of continuous poverty in the United States of America."

"And it's an area that has been neglected for so long and so deeply that we have to make our voice heard," he added.

Mangia used the language of crisis, explaining the dire situation in South L.A.

"I think it's a crisis when 28 percent of the population has diabetes," he said. "When 16 percent of the children have asthma and other environmentally-caused diseases. You're talking about the level of poverty, joblessness, the lack of physical development in South L.A. You're talking about the fact that it's a food desert.

"All of the social determinants, all of the things the directly affect our health are completely lacking," he added.

Mangia attributed that to a historical lack of investment on the part of the city, which in turn "created generations of this lack of investment."

That's where the conference comes in. Mangia called it a "check-in" of sorts, to see the progress local constituents are making in meeting the goals of the South Los Angeles Declaration of Health and Human Rights.

"[The conference] is both policy advocacy but also service," explained Mangia, "so that you are incorporating the health and human rights framework into your service provision, and you're also advocating for the kinds of things this community needs in order to address the health and human rights crisis."

A few issues in particular would be at the forefront of this year's conference, said Mangia – first, the Affordable Care Act, and what it means for disparities in health care access in South L.A. The global context of the southside's struggle will also take center stage – hence the representatives from Mexico, El Salvador and Canada.

"We have a lot to learn from them, and them from us – and we need to connect it to the international struggle," said Mangia.

Attendees will also focus on "what it means to build an urban land reform movement," as well as how to engage government and policy to advance their cause.

"We've got to really take this bull by the horns and bring attention to the fact that there are large, significant pockets of our population in the United States of America who don't have access to basic health care and human rights situations," said Mangia. "So that's what the Health & Human Rights Conference is doing, it's bringing attention to that."

Registration for the event closes today. It's taking place at the clinic's Rev. Warner Traynham Auditorium (808 West 58th Street); doors open at 8 a.m. and it's officially set to begin at 9 a.m. The theme of this year's conference is "From action to change"; sessions will include the international panel, which starts at 11:05 a.m. and the mayoral forum, which begins at 2:45 a.m.

Free valet parking will be available for all registered conference attendees on the west side of Hoover Street, between 57th and 58th streets, between 7:30 a.m. and 6 p.m.

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