Assemblymember Inspires Students of Color to Lead

by Rebekah Bruckner

As part of its effort to deepen and extend its relationships with elected officials, Azusa Pacific University invited California State Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer to campus to speak with a group of students and faculty members at a luncheon before the holidays. Representing the 59th district, comprised of South Los Angeles, Florence-Firestone, Walnut Park, and a portion of Huntington Park, Jones-Sawyer shared his inspirational life story, encouraging APU’s students of color to harness their own leadership potential and work to overcome obstacles that impede their progress.

“It was deeply rewarding for our students to interact with a sitting state assemblymember,” said Edgar Barron, Ed.D., chair and assistant professor in the Department of Leadership and Organizational Psychology. “Many of the students in attendance grew up in and around Asm. Jones-Sawyers’ district, so his visit was especially meaningful. Through this new friendship, we hope to explore ways our students can assist the assemblymember with his important work in the Los Angeles area,” Barron said.

A member of the Assembly for four years, Jones-Sawyer works to advance his community’s interests and spark change, particularly in the areas of education and prison reform. He is co-chair to the Select Committee on the Status of Boys and Men of color and chair of the Select Committee of Urban Planning and Land Use in Underserved Communities. He has initiated significant improvements in local schools and increased the accessibility and affordability of higher education through his position on the Higher Education Committee. His work to transform California’s criminal justice system introduced more than $300 million back into the budget and created legislation that gives re-entry assistance to people convicted of crimes they did not commit (AB 672).

Jones-Sawyer’s call to public service grew from the influence of his family members, past and present, who fought arduously for civil rights. Jefferson Thomas, his uncle, resisted mobs as one of the “Little Rock Nine”—a group of high school students, who in 1957, bravely attempted to integrate an all-white high school. Jones-Sawyer champions this rich legacy as former chair and current member the California Legislative Black Caucus. Under his leadership, the caucus expanded its annual programs, increased the number of college scholarships, and improved state funding for programs and institutions like the California African American Museum.

“Asm. Jones-Sawyer holds strong values and his leadership is an example to our students,” said Kevin Mannoia, Ph.D., university chaplain. “APU shares his passion for making a difference in the world, which paves the way for collaboration moving ahead.”

After attending the luncheon, a student, Veronica Verdugo said,“Asm. Jones-Sawyer’s visit to APU reminded me that no matter the color of my skin, my background, or my gender, I can achieve the unimaginable. Just as his family kept him motivated, my family is the reason I strive to achieve my dreams. He inspired me to succeed, no matter how impossible it seems.”

Rebekah Bruckner '18 is a public relations intern in the Office of University Relations. She is a English major and a graphic design minor.