Reporter's Notebook

Early and Often

Bernie Sanders, among five presidential candidates to stump for votes in Pasadena, is out to win California

On May 31, Sen. Kamala Harris, Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Secretary Julián Castro and Gov. Jay Inslee participated in the first presidential forum focused on immigration at the Pasadena Hilton. Sanders also held a political rally Friday at the Pasadena Convention Center, drawing a crowd of about 2,000 people including Pasadena City Councilmembers Tyron Hampton and Steve Madison. And New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s event May 30 at the Women’s City Club of Pasadena was sponsored by Women in Leadership Vital Voices and Lena Kennedy, sister of Pasadena City Councilman John Kennedy.

Candidates are making sure to traverse California on their campaign trails because the state has moved its primary election date up from June to March 3, 2020. Conversely, during the 2016 campaign, when California’s June primary was one of the last, Sanders was the only presidential candidate to visit Pasadena.

“We are treating [California] like an early primary state,” Sanders’ campaign manager Faiz Shakir recently told NPR, “campaigning there early and often, and making a strong play to try and win that state.”

The primary election for the city of Pasadena will also be held March 3. The state essentially forced the city to hold its general election the same day as the presidential election on Nov. 3, 2020, in an effort to increase voter participation, which had fallen below 25 percent in Pasadena. The mayor and City Council districts 1, 2, 4 and 6 will be up for election. Several candidates have already declared their intention to run.

Feelin’ the Bern in Pasadena

Sanders’ visit to California followed his first trip to his home state of Vermont since he announced his candidacy, a series of ice cream socials in New Hampshire and a two-day swing through Nevada.

Sanders’ recently hired a fundraiser — a position that didn’t exist in his 2016 campaign — to oversee his new strategy of holding smaller, grassroots, in-person fundraising events for donors of all levels and the media.

Sanders was the first candidate to sign the grassroots, nonprofit Indivisible Project’s pledge calling on Democratic candidates to make the primary constructive, rally behind and immediately endorse the ultimate Democratic nominee no matter who it is and do everything in their power to make that nominee the next president.

Sanders’ wide-ranging speech at the Pasadena Convention Center touched on domestic policies such as income inequality, poverty, affordable housing, homelessness, jobs, voting rights, unions, legalized cannabis, women’s rights, abortion, education, child care, tuition-free college, criminal justice reform, immigration, health care, climate change and the Green New Deal. He also touched on foreign policy, including his opposition to war.

Sanders went after President Trump’s economic message, saying American workers have been ignored. And he pointed out that in 2016, the media and political establishment called his ideas too radical, but that a majority of Americans now support them.

“Four years ago, we began the political revolution; this campaign we finalize the political revolution,” he said.

Sanders said he is often asked by his critics how he plans to pay for all his proposals.

“Ten years ago, the American people bailed out the crooks on Wall Street to the tune of $1 trillion. Well, Wall Street can now help the working families of this country. We will impose a transaction tax on Wall Street speculation.”

Sanders condemned states like Georgia and Alabama for passing “draconian” anti-abortion legislation.

“A woman’s right to control her own body is a constitutional right and we will defend that right,” he said. “I will never nominate anyone to the Supreme Court who is not prepared to vigorously support Roe v. Wade. This is an issue for everyone. Men must stand with women.”

He called out National Security Advisor John Bolton for helping lead the United States into war in Iraq in 2003 and warned that Bolton is now leading the charge to drag the country into war with Iran.

“Iraq was a disaster,” he said. “War with Iran will be worse. It will lead to perpetual warfare. Our kids, our grandchildren: never ending war. We must do everything we can to stop international conflicts through diplomatic means, not war.”

He pledged to rally world leaders to cut military spending and use that money to combat climate change.

“Think about a world where instead of building more nuclear weapons, poison gas, tanks and guns,” he said, “China, Russia, India, Latin America, Africa and the United States are coming together to say, ‘We are going to save this planet for our children and our grandchildren.’”

Sanders attacked Trump and vowed to defeat the “most dangerous president in American history.”

A Focus on Immigration

After his Pasadena rally, Sanders and three other presidential candidates — Harris, Castro and Inslee — discussed their plans for immigration reform at the Unity + Freedom Forum at the Pasadena Hilton.

LA Mayor Eric Garcetti also spoke at the event, which was not open to the public, but more than 500 grassroots leaders and immigrant-rights advocates from across the nation were in attendance. About 7.1 million people watched Telemundo’s livestream of the event. Two moderators and several immigrants told their stories and asked questions of the candidates.

Harris claimed that there is bipartisan support for immigration reform on Capitol Hill and pledged to work on a bipartisan solution.

“Most Americans are acutely aware of the economic benefit to this country of having immigrants,” she said. “Farmers across the country, some of whom may have even voted for this president, understand that the strength of their farms and their continued success is in large part because of an immigrant workforce.”

Using executive orders, Harris said she would immediately reinstate Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), restore Temporary Protected Status protections and enact a moratorium on migrant detention facilities, as well as undo the Trump administration’s other “backward, hate-drive policies.” She said the administration’s child separation policy is not border security but rather a human rights abuse committed by the US government.

“Every day that we don’t resolve this issue there are real consequences to real human beings,” she said. “We need a president who understands the complexity of this issue.”

Castro described specific policy proposals he would enact if elected and said immigration has to be a top priority for the next president.

“On April 2, I released my very comprehensive and progressive ‘People First’ immigration plan, which includes decriminalizing border crossings and treating them as a civil offense, ending family detention, reuniting families, improving the legal immigration system, reinstating DACA and implementing a pathway to citizenship for DACA parents, increasing refugee admissions, eliminating for-profit migrant detention facilities, stopping the border wall, adding the number of visas to harness talent from around the world and getting rid of 287(g).”

Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act authorizes the Department of Homeland Security to deputize state and local law enforcement officers to enforce federal immigration law.

Sanders called Trump a racist and pledged to establish a pathway to citizenship for the millions of undocumented immigrants currently in the United States.


Presidential candidates Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Julián Castro, Jay Inslee and Kirsten Gillibrand campaign in Pasadena

Story by Justin Chapman | Photos by Mercedes Blackehart | LA Progressive | 6/6/2019

[A different version of this story was published in Pasadena Weekly.]

The 2020 hustings have officially arrived in Pasadena.

On Friday, Sen. Kamala Harris, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sec. Julián Castro and Gov. Jay Inslee participated in the first presidential forum focused on immigration at the Pasadena Hilton. All four are among the 23 Democrats – so far – running to replace Donald Trump as president next year.

Sanders also held a political rally Friday at the Pasadena Convention Center, drawing a crowd of about 2,000 people including Pasadena City Councilmembers Tyron Hampton and Steve Madison. And Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, also a presidential candidate, spoke at a private event on May 30 at the Women’s City Club of Pasadena.



Former Vice President Joe Biden and Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, both presidential candidates, are finalizing plans to stump in Pasadena soon, as well.

Part of the reason candidates are making sure to traverse California on their campaign trail is because the state has moved its primary election date up from June to March 3, 2020, also known as Super Tuesday. The earlier date – after only Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina – will ensure that California voters and the state’s nearly 500 delegates play a decisive role in determining the eventual nominee, who will be coronated at the Democratic National Convention in July 2020 in Milwaukee.

Conversely, during the 2016 campaign, when California’s June primary was one of the last, Sanders was the only presidential candidate to visit Pasadena.

“We are treating [California] like an early primary state,” Sanders’ campaign manager Faiz Shakir recently told NPR, “campaigning there early and often, and making a strong play to try and win that state.”

Out of 23 candidates, Sanders comes in second place in most polls, behind only Biden, though the difference is by double digits.

Feelin’ the Bern in Pasadena

Actor Danny DeVito and Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream co-founder Ben Cohen introduced Sanders at his rally at the Pasadena Convention Center. His wide-ranging speech touched on domestic policies such as income inequality, poverty, affordable housing, homelessness, jobs, voting rights, unions, legalized cannabis, women’s rights, abortion, education, child care, tuition-free college, criminal justice reform, immigration, health care, climate change and the Green New Deal. He also touched on foreign policy including his opposition to war.


“In 2016, we got more votes here in California than anywhere else in America,” said Sanders. “I don’t want to get my opponents nervous, but we’re going to win California and the Democratic nomination.”

Sanders went after Trump’s economic message, saying American workers have been ignored. And he pointed out that in 2016, the media and political establishment called his ideas too radical, but that a majority of Americans now support them.

“Four years ago, we began the political revolution; this campaign we finalize the political revolution,” he said. “We are taking on Wall Street and will break up the large financial institutions that have wreaked havoc on this economy. We’re taking on the drug companies and will cut the cost of prescription drugs by half. We’re taking on the insurance companies and we will – whether they like it or not – bring a Medicare-for-all, single-payer program to America.”


He said he is often asked by his critics how he plans to pay for all his proposals.

“I will tell you how,” he said. “Ten years ago, the American people bailed out the crooks on Wall Street to the tune of $1 trillion. Well, Wall Street can now help the working families of this country. We will impose a transaction tax on Wall Street speculation.”

He pledged to end gerrymandering and voter suppression that he accused Republicans of engineering across the country.

“In a democracy, we believe we should make it as easy as possible for people to participate, not harder,” he said. “We want America to have the highest voter turnout of any major country, not one of the lowest.”

He condemned states like Georgia and Alabama for passing “draconian” anti-abortion legislation.

“A woman’s right to control her own body is a constitutional right and we will defend that right,” he said. “I will never nominate anyone to the Supreme Court who is not prepared to vigorously support Roe v. Wade. This is an issue for everyone. Men must stand with women.”

He called out National Security Advisor John Bolton for helping lead the United States into war in Iraq in 2003 and warned that Bolton is now leading the charge to drag the country into war with Iran.

“Iraq was a disaster,” he said. “War with Iran will be worse. It will lead to perpetual warfare. Our kids, our grandchildren: never ending war. We must do everything we can to stop international conflicts through diplomatic means, not war.”

He pledged to rally world leaders to cut military spending and use that money to combat climate change.

“Think about a world where instead of building more nuclear weapons, poison gas, tanks and guns,” he said, “China, Russia, India, Latin America, Africa and the United States are coming together to say, ‘We are going to save this planet for our children and our grandchildren.’”


Sanders attacked Trump and vowed to defeat the “most dangerous president in American history.”

“The underlying principles of our government will not be greed, kleptocracy, hatred, lies, racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia or religious bigotry,” Sanders said. “We have news for Donald Trump: we are going to end those ugly practices when we are in the White House. The principles of our government will be economic justice, racial justice, social justice and environmental justice.”

Sanders changed his position on impeachment a day before his Pasadena rally, following Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s press conference last week in which he said Justice Department policy prohibited his investigation from considering charging the president with obstruction of justice but would have said Trump did not commit a crime if the evidence so established. Sanders now believes impeachment inquiries must begin, making him the 10th major Democratic presidential candidate to call for them.

A Focus on Immigration

One block away from the Convention Center, Rep. Judy Chu (D-27), whose district includes most of Pasadena, delivered introductory remarks at the immigration forum at the Pasadena Hilton. The event, titled the Unity + Freedom Forum, was hosted by FIRM Action, Community Change Action and CHIRLA Action Fund.

LA Mayor Eric Garcetti also spoke at the event, which was not open to the public, but more than 500 grassroots leaders and immigrant-rights advocates from across the nation were in attendance. About 7.1 million people watched Telemundo’s livestream of the event.


All four candidates who participated – Harris, Sanders, Castro and Inslee – pledged to enact comprehensive immigration reform and revoke Trump’s Muslim travel ban during their first 100 days in office, in addition to other progressive immigration policies.

Harris, who formerly served as California attorney general, said the fight for immigration reform will not be easy, but that it’s “a fight worth having, and I promise you we will win this fight.”


Using executive orders, Harris said she would immediately reinstate Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), restore Temporary Protected Status protections and enact a moratorium on migrant detention facilities, as well as undo the Trump administration’s other “backward, hate-drive policies.” She said the administration’s child separation policy is not border security but rather a human rights abuse committed by the U.S. government.

“Every day that we don’t resolve this issue, there are real consequences to real human beings,” she said. “We need a president who understands the complexity of this issue.”




Castro, who formerly served as Obama’s Housing and Urban Development Secretary, described specific policy proposals he would enact if elected president. His twin brother Joaquin, a congressional representative from Texas, was also in attendance.

“On April 2, I released my very comprehensive and progressive ‘People First’ immigration plan, which includes decriminalizing border crossings and treating them as a civil offense, ending family detention, reuniting families, improving the legal immigration system, reinstating DACA and implementing a pathway to citizenship for DACA parents, increasing refugee admissions, eliminating for-profit migrant detention facilities, stopping the border wall, adding the number of visas to harness talent from around the world and getting rid of 287(g).”


Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act authorizes the Department of Homeland Security to deputize state and local law enforcement officers to enforce federal immigration law.

Castro called for a “21st century Marshall Plan” for Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.

“We need a president who’s not going to look down on these countries but work as a peer in a mutually beneficial way to ensure that people can find safety and opportunity in their home country, instead of having to come here to the United States,” he said. “At the same time, the truth is we need a lot of the folks who are coming to the United States right now, because they add vitality to our country. It would be economic suicide not to have them, because we have a declining birth rate and an aging population. We need a young, vibrant workforce. We need immigrants.”


Sanders called Trump a racist and pledged to establish a pathway to citizenship for the millions of undocumented immigrants currently in the United States.



Inslee, governor of Washington state who is running as a climate change candidate, said he would increase foreign aid to Central American countries, end family separations at the border, give asylum seekers hearings in a reasonable time period and increase the number of refugees – including those displaced by climate change – accepted into the United States to 110,000 per year.



After Pasadena, Sanders, Harris, Castro, Inslee, Gillibrand and nine other candidates traveled to San Francisco for the California Democratic Party Convention, which was the largest gathering of 2020 presidential contenders thus far until the first official Democratic debate will be hosted by MSNBC on June 26-27 in Miami.

'Housing first'

Homelessness declines in Pasadena thanks to focus on providing short- and long-term housing

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 5/30/2019

The number of homeless individuals in Pasadena decreased by 20 percent this year compared to 2018, according to the 2019 Homeless Count Report released on May 20 by the city of Pasadena’s Housing Department, the Pasadena Partnership to End Homelessness and Urban Initiatives.

The annual count is a one-night snapshot of those living in unsheltered locations and temporary shelters. This year’s count was conducted on the evening of Jan. 22 into the early morning of Jan. 23, 2019, and tallied 542 people experiencing homelessness in Pasadena, compared to 677 in 2018. That makes 2019 the second lowest year since the count began in 1992, after only 2016, when 530 people were counted.

Homelessness in Pasadena has generally been on a decline since 2011, when 1,216 people were counted (except for an uptick the last two years). In 2011, the city and homeless services providers implemented a new approach: housing first, as opposed to clearing up personal issues and then being placed into a home. And city officials and homeless advocates say that approach is highly successful.

“Permanent supportive housing is the only thing that ends homelessness,” said William Huang, the city’s housing director, during a panel on homelessness at the West Pasadena Residents’ Association’s annual meeting on May 8.

Officer Donovan Jones of the Pasadena Police Department’s Homeless Outreach Psychiatric Evaluation (HOPE) team and Shawn Morrissey, Union Station Homeless Service’s director of advocacy and community engagement, also served on the panel.

The Solution

“It took us over 40 years to figure out that the solution for homelessness is an actual home, but we finally did and that’s where our effort is now: to get people into housing,” said Morrissey. “During the early periods of homeless services, all we had to offer people were shelters. We didn’t have housing solutions, just temporary solutions. We became dependent on the massive shelter system we built in LA.”

Morrissey, originally from Montreal, had been homeless himself for a long time starting in his late 30s when he “washed up in Pasadena” in 2002, as he put it. He was an opiate addict from age 12 to 40, but after he received support and housing from Union Station, he was able to turn his life around.

“I showed up with two black eyes, my head was split open, I had no underwear and I was wearing one contact and it wasn’t even mine,” said Morrissey. “You’d see me on the street, I’d be wild-eyed, wild-haired. My success is a result of these types of services and community that wrapped around me. As soon as people get into housing, they’re no longer homeless.”

He said that it’s very challenging to provide services for people while they’re living on the street, but getting a roof over their head and four walls around them has a stabilizing effect and allows them to attend to many of the issues that led to their homelessness to begin with.

“Not only is permanent supportive housing humane and the right thing to do, it has a huge cost savings and helps both the individual and the community,” Morrissey said. “It’s actually $15,000 to $20,000 cheaper to help someone get into permanent supportive housing than it is to walk by them on the street.”

The city’s strategies to address homelessness include funding and working with partners that provide basic homeless services, rapid rehousing, permanent supportive housing and targeted homeless prevention.

Rapid rehousing is short-term assistance for people who are not chronically homeless — those with a disabling condition who have been homeless for more than a year — but recently became homeless for economic reasons.

“We’re seeing people becoming homeless for the first time in their lives,” said Huang. “A lot of them are being priced out of their homes through raised rents, or low-income retired people.”

Permanent supportive housing is typically an apartment unit for those considered chronically homeless. Huang said there is a misperception among the public that the development of more permanent supportive housing in their neighborhood will cause crime rates to go up and property values to go down.

“The safety level is actually enhanced because the person who is housed and is now stable is far less likely to commit crimes,” he said. “Barbara King, a local realtor, looked at property values around the three permanent supportive housing developments we have in Pasadena and found that nobody’s property values went down because the supportive housing developments were well designed and well maintained.”

However, just because officials now know housing is the solution doesn’t mean they have enough housing available.

“There’s a real bottleneck to building more housing,” said Huang. “There’s also a disincentive for landlords even with rental vouchers, because it’s simpler and they get more money when they rent units out at market rate. We need to get more units, either by building them or through willing landlords. It’s a big ask, we realize that, so we do have financial incentives for them if they’re willing to do it.”

Huang said the good news is that the city will be receiving new homeless funding soon from the county and the state. They plan to use that money to get more rapid and supportive housing, hire more housing navigators and case managers, expand prevention efforts, enhance landlord incentives, distribute more motel vouchers and provide more job development.

Pay It Forward

In 2011, homeless advocates in Pasadena launched the inaugural “Housing First” initiative called Project House Pasadena, aimed at housing the 20 most vulnerable and severely chronically homeless individuals — those at risk of dying within a year if they stayed on the streets. One of those 20 people was Dorothy Edwards.

Edwards was born in Monrovia and grew up in Hacienda Heights. After moving from program to program trying to get off drugs, she became homeless in Pasadena, partly to escape a domestic violence situation. She lived with her dog Gunner on the embankment of the Foothill (210) Freeway behind Target in east Pasadena and on a sofa in the donations area of Goodwill on Altadena Drive and Foothill Boulevard, among other places.

Morrissey and others made several attempts to contact Edwards to give her a housing voucher but she hid from them. Seven years ago, Morrissey caught up with her, made a connection, built trust and convinced her to give supportive housing a try. After using cocaine, meth and heroin intravenously for 24 years, she has now been sober for several years and helps others in the position she used to be in. She said housing and employment were the turning point for her.

Edwards went through an advocacy training program at the Corporation for Supportive Housing (CSH), a community development financial institution that empowers those with lived experiences to speak about homelessness to policymakers. She now sits on CSH’s national board of directors and works at Housing Works as an enrichment services coordinator in a 54-unit supportive services and special needs building in Eagle Rock.

“When you’re homeless for a long time you feel like you’re less than and not enough, but Bill Huang and Shawn Morrissey always made me feel welcome,” said Edwards. “I’m really a stronger person today because of all the encouragement I had. It’s important what I’m doing, my voice is important and I know in my heart that I’ve found my passion. Now I want to pay it forward and help those who are still on the street.”

Morrissey said they’ve housed hundreds of people in the past few years with a 97 percent retention rate.

Work to Do

While the 2019 Homeless Count Report found that progress has been made among key subpopulations such as youth, veterans and families with children, it also found that more people are experiencing chronic homelessness, accounting for 50 percent of the total homeless population.

Additionally, 58 percent of those counted were Pasadena residents before they became homeless and only 5 percent first became homeless outside of LA County or out of state, “largely refuting the misconception that people experiencing homelessness travel from other areas and across the nation,” reads the report.

The homeless population is also aging. The data reveal that three in 10 people experiencing homelessness in Pasadena are aged 55 years or older. There were 23 families with children experiencing homelessness in Pasadena, but there were no unsheltered families with children on the night of the count, compared to eight families in 2018.

Huang identified several things anyone can do to help homeless individuals: refer them to services through websites like LA-HOP.org; get educated by reading the Homeless Count Report; donate to the nine orange parking meters around the city that are part of the Real Change Movement designed by ArtCenter College of Design; engage landlords to consider renting units to homeless individuals; and volunteer with organizations that serve the homeless such as Union Station, Friends in Deed, Foothill Unity Center and many others.

“We’re never going to end this problem, but Pasadena is uniquely positioned to ostensibly end this problem as it exists today with the political will, the infrastructure, and the robust services that we have,” said Morrissey. “What’s really going to turn the tide is getting the appropriate information out to the community in order to tear down some of these myths and stigmas and help people see there really is a solution here: developing or making housing available for people.” 

First Justice, Now Peace

Joan Williams, Miss Crown City 1958 who was denied a place in the Rose Parade due to her race, has died

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 2/28/2019

Joan Williams, whose story of racial reconciliation inspired the nation, passed away from ovarian cancer on Feb. 20 at her home near the Rose Bowl. She was 86.

More than a half-century after she was discriminated against by city officials in 1958 and denied a ride in the Rose Parade because she was African American, the Pasadena Weekly reported on her story and she finally rode in the parade in 2015.

Pasadena City Councilman John Kennedy invited Williams’ children Angela Williams, Robyn Wood and Robert “Chip” Williams to say a few words about their mother at Monday’s City Council meeting. The council adjourned the meeting in her honor.

“Joan Williams was a proud, resolute, kind, loving, contemplative person who did not seek attention, who let the story of her disrespect remain untold for many years because she was not seeking personal attention,” Kennedy told the Weekly. “However, for the greater good, and to help build ‘one Pasadena,’ she allowed [the Weekly] to bring a light to her story, part of the Pasadena story, part of the American story.”

“I am saddened to hear the news of her passing but feel relief that the city of Pasadena was able to right a past wrong and give her Roses while she was still alive,” said former Council member Jacque Robinson.

‘Righting that Wrong’

In 1958, then-26-year-old Williams was nominated by her co-workers at City Hall to represent Pasadena as Miss Crown City, which was a Rose Queen-esque honor at the time. She was also the first African American hired to work at City Hall, albeit inadvertently, in what was then known as the Municipal Light and Power Department.

Williams was “selected from a field of seven finalists by a committee of judges from newspapers and the Tournament of Roses Association,” according to an Aug. 3, 1958, article in the Independent Star News.

In her capacity as Miss Crown City 1958, she was scheduled to ride on the city’s float in the Jan. 1, 1959, Rose Parade, but was denied the honor after city officials discovered the light complexioned Williams was African American and canceled the float. Then-Pasadena Mayor Seth Miller, who had crowned Williams at a coronation ceremony, later refused to take a photo with her at the annual city employees’ picnic at Brookside Park, and she was also not allowed to cut the grand opening ribbons at Sears, J.W. Robinson and other businesses. Her City Hall coworkers and bosses ostracized her until she left the job.

Inr 2013, this reporter interviewed Williams about her experience for an article in the Pasadena Weekly, the first time her story was told. On April 5, 2014, the local nonprofit Men Educating Men About Health (MEMAH) honored Williams at a gala at the Western Justice Center. During that event, Congresswoman Judy Chu (D-Pasadena) presented an award to Williams. City Council members Steve Madison, Terry Tornek, Robinson and Kennedy were also in attendance, and they later directed city staff to investigate her story. Madison was the first city official to apologize for the 1958 incident “on behalf of my forebears,” he told her.

In May 2014, Robinson, who was vice mayor at the time, called on the city to officially apologize and offered Williams the opportunity to ride in the parade with her in a car. In October 2014, then-Mayor Bill Bogaard and then-Tournament of Roses Executive Director Bill Flinn took Williams to lunch and offered her a spot on a float in the upcoming parade.

“She had put the ugliness of [the 1958 incident] behind her, so when she was contacted to ride on a float in the 2015 parade she wasn’t sure she wanted to do it because it was like opening up a door that she had closed,” Williams’ son Chip told the Weekly. “But she realized that it meant a lot to the community and would allow for healing, so she felt it was important to ride on the float so that there would be reconciliation.”

Williams told the Weekly that before accepting the offer to ride on a float, she wanted to make sure it wasn’t sponsored by an organization that espoused homophobia in any way.

Pasadena Weekly again wrote about her story on Dec. 24, 2014, after which dozens of local, national and international media outlets picked it up.

On New Year’s Eve 2014, Bogaard delivered a formal letter of apology to Williams on behalf of the city written on the mayor’s official letterhead.

“I am truly pleased that you will be in the parade this year, and I am extremely sorry that this opportunity was not made available to you in 1958,” Bogaard wrote. “You have kindly said that the Tournament’s invitation to you represents a new commitment in Pasadena to our efforts to embrace differences and welcome all members of the community. I share that view with you. As Mayor, I hereby apologize to you for the experience you had as Miss Crown City in 1958 and I thank you for accepting this year’s invitation and for the friendship you have expressed for Pasadena.”

Just before riding in the parade, Williams told the Weekly that she was “delighted and really appreciate that the city recognized that they needed to make some kind of gesture towards righting that wrong. Pasadena has shown the community that they’re on the right path and that they’re recognizing these things and that it’s something they need to follow through on.”

On Jan. 1, 2015, nearly six decades after being discriminated against by Pasadena city officials for being black, Joan Williams finally got to ride in the 126th Rose Parade in the lead theme banner float. The apt theme that year was “Inspiring Stories.”

“To be on that float is especially important because it will point out that with people of good will working to correct these mistakes, change can come,” said Williams. “We hope it won’t take so long, but when you look at our history, none of it has happened overnight, none of it has happened without a fight. The fight goes on.”

Chip said she was “happy to represent the community and have that closure.”

‘To the Betterment of Pasadena’

After riding in the parade, Williams told the Weekly that the most important thing to her was the community showing her kindness and appreciation along the route. She heard from people all across the country who were excited to tune in and watch Miss Crown City finally riding in the parade. KTLA, however, did not mention her in their televised broadcast of the parade.

In the months that followed the parade, several organizations and local and state officials, such as then-LA County Supervisor Michael Antonovich and state Assembly member Chris Holden, honored Williams.

“Joan Williams was the model of poise and grace,” Holden wrote in a text message to the Weekly. “Several years ago, I honored her on the Assembly floor during Black History Month as an unsung hero in recognition of her contribution to the advancement of civil rights. As a result of her courage in calling out racial discrimination in the early years of the Tournament of Roses, her contributions to the betterment of Pasadena will not be forgotten.”

Jim Morris, executive director of MEMAH, the organization that originally honored her in 2014, said he is “saddened that Joan has left us but happy that she lived long enough to get the justice that was due to her.”

‘A Mother Figure in the Community’

Williams graduated from Los Angeles High School in 1950. She attended Wolfe’s School of Costume Design by day and took general studies courses at Los Angeles City College by night. She saw Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., deliver a sermon on February 28, 1960, at Friendship Baptist Church in Pasadena, in which he talked about the Montgomery bus boycott and the foundations of a meaningful life.

In 1952, she married Capt. Robert W. Williams, who was one of the original “Tuskegee Airmen” fighter pilots in World War II whose story helped inspire the movie of the same name starring Laurence Fishburne. Robert also co-wrote and co-executive produced the film, which was released by HBO in 1995 and won a Peabody Award and three Emmy Awards.

Joan and Robert were married for 45 years when he died from prostate cancer in 1997. They met when Robert returned home after the war and enrolled at UCLA. They enjoyed golfing at Brookside Park and dancing to jazz music. Her favorite was Ella Fitzgerald. She also designed her own clothing.

Williams said she and her husband encountered racism from realtors when they tried to purchase a home in the San Fernando Valley, so they built their own house in 1963 on Arroyo Boulevard overlooking the Rose Bowl in the Arroyo Seco using African American architects, designers and contractors. That year, she started working at Kaiser Permanente as a receptionist, where she worked for 32 years, including five years in a Medicare office in Kaiser’s regional office on Walnut Street.

“My mother was a graceful, elegant and caring woman,” said Chip. “My mother’s and father’s open arms and open hearts welcomed people from all over the world into their home. Many of my gay friends felt that where their parents didn’t accept them, they found a surrogate mother in my mother who did accept them. She was a mother figure to many people in our community.”

Chip added that his mother was very involved in her community, including by advocating for proper street lighting and equitable distribution of Rose Bowl event traffic. She served as treasurer and financial secretary of the Pasadena-Altadena chapter of an African American women’s service sorority called the Links. In that capacity, she also organized a Saturday school for students in the Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD) who needed support with reading and math, and served as the school’s director for two years.

After retiring in 1994 from Kaiser, she volunteered at the Pasadena AIDS Service Center, read to PUSD students and participated in Leadership Pasadena.

Joan Williams is survived by three children, four grandchildren and four great grandchildren. Her family is currently planning a memorial.

Outnumbered and irrelevant

Supporters of 2019 Rose Queen drown out Westboro Baptist Church picketers with messages of love

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 2/28/2019

Westboro Baptist Church protesters arrived in Pasadena with a whimper Monday morning. 

A half-dozen or so members of the anti-gay, anti-Semitic, Kansas-based church picketed on the sidewalk outside Pasadena’s Sequoyah High School, located on the Neighborhood Unitarian Universalist Church campus on Orange Grove Boulevard.

On its website, Westboro said they were targeting Sequoyah because the 2019 Rose Queen Louise Deser Siskel wrote a column in the Los Angeles Times on New Year’s Eve coming out as bisexual. The column also noted that she is Jewish and a senior at Sequoyah.

The Westboro picketers, including Shirley Phelps-Roper, daughter of the late church founder Fred Phelps, were outnumbered by dozens of counter-protesters in several clusters on and around the campus and in the Rose Bowl parking lot about a mile down the road.

“Today we met hate and venom with love and compassion,” Jessica Gable, communications coordinator at Neighborhood Church, told the Pasadena Weekly. “Members of our community, as well as the Pasadena community at large, surrounded the Sequoyah students with support and messages of kindness. We are thrilled at the triumph of inclusion that we witnessed today.”

Several Pasadena police officers and private security were on the scene, as was Siskel, who was surrounded by supporters. Westboro picketers held signs with offensive — and mostly irrelevant — slogans, such as “God sent the shooter” and “God hates Christ-rejecting, apostate Jews.”

Siskel’s supporters held up rainbow banners and signs with slogans such as “Love > Hate,” “I love my trans son,” “Love lives here,” “My God loves all and so do we” and “Blessed to be LGBT,” among many others.

On Sunday, Neighborhood Church Social Justice and Inclusion staff and LGBTQ community organizers hosted a peace training and poster-making workshop. The fruits of their labor were posted around the campus and written in chalk on the sidewalk, featuring messages of love and acceptance.

The protest lasted less than half an hour and ended without incident. Last week, Neighborhood Church officials said they were discouraging people from engaging with Westboro protesters.
'Rise Above'

Anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church plans to picket Monday at Pasadena school attended by LGBTQ Rose Queen

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 2/21/2019

Members of anti-gay and anti-Semitic Westboro Baptist Church have targeted openly bisexual 2019 Rose Queen Louise Deser Siskel and are expected to picket Monday morning at her high school.

According to the church’s website, godhatesfags.com, members of the Kansas-based congregation will picket from 7:45 to 8:15 a.m. at Sequoyah High School, located on the campus of Neighborhood Unitarian Universalist Church in west Pasadena. The Southern Poverty Law Center has described Westboro as “arguably the most obnoxious and rabid hate group in America.”

“That poor child has been so saturated in filthiness that she bragged about being a pervert of the deepest waters (‘the first LGBTQ queen’), honoring what God has called abominable. Uh-oh, that calls for preaching!” a press release on the church’s website states.

In a column published in the Los Angeles Times on New Year’s Eve, Siskel came out as bisexual and noted that she is Jewish.

“[I]n this new, very public position, I feel it’s important to present myself authentically, especially to those who look to the Royal Court as a representation of our community,” wrote Siskel, who could not be reached for comment. “While I am almost certainly not the first member of the LGBTQ community on the court, I hope that by saying so publicly, I might encourage others to be proud of who they are.”

Westboro followers are best known for demonstrating at funerals of gay people, service members and victims of national tragedies such as the Boston Marathon bombing and the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. Westboro’s website claims the church has picketed 63,534 times in 1,033 cities across the country. Church officials did not respond to requests for comment.

Westboro’s messages are “extremely offensive and inflammatory,” Neighborhood Church officials wrote on their Facebook page. “While Sequoyah has been advised not to engage with picketers, we are planning a peaceful response on our campus to counter their hateful rhetoric with a message of love, LGBTQ welcome and interfaith solidarity.”

The Rev. Lissa Anne Gundlach, senior minister at Neighborhood Church, wrote in a public Facebook group on Pasadena politics that she is calling on “our community [to] come together to rise above this hate group.”

Members of the public Facebook group also wrote that Pasadena police suggested that people refrain from counter-protesting Westboro because of the proximity of young children. The Fair Oaks Preschool is located on the same campus. They also wrote that police will be standing by and security will be present. Gundlach recommended that parents drop off their children earlier than 7:45 a.m. or later than 8:15 a.m. to avoid the Westboro picketers.

“Maintaining a safe, healthy environment for the students is our top priority. Therefore, we ask that
you refrain from demonstrating on Monday,” Gundlach wrote in a press release. “If you would like to participate as a peacekeeper in our nonviolent response, please join us on Sunday for a training and poster-making workshop conducted by the Neighborhood Church Social Justice and Inclusion staff and LGBTQ+ Community Organizers. The workshop will be a safe space for Neighborhood Church members, Sequoyah faculty and students, and the San Gabriel Valley community at large.”

A Peacekeeping Training and Poster Making Workshop will be from 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday on Neighborhood House Front Porch. Registration is requested: bit.ly/nuuclove. For more information, contact church Social Justice and Inclusion Coordinator Luis Sierra Campos at Lcampos@neighborhooduu.org or call (626) 449.3470 Ext. 18.

In an email exchange with a concerned resident, Pasadena Police Chief John Perez described Westboro as “peaceful and cooperative” based on previous encounters with the group. He wrote that they expect “a very loud group of 15 people or so — likely not much more.”

He added that police will “plan for contingencies and keep the view of the police to a minimum to avoid any issues. Our strategy is to get groups in and out and have PPD resources organized to quickly respond as needed.”

Westboro Baptist Church was founded in 1955 by pastor Fred Phelps as an offshoot of the East Side Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas.

Phelps, who died in 2014, attended and received an associate degree from Pasadena’s John Muir College in the late 1940s and early 50s before it merged with Pasadena Junior College to become what is now Pasadena City College.

A June 11, 1951, an article in TIME Magazine reported that 21-year-old Phelps preached to fellow students about their sins, including “promiscuous petting, evil language, profanity, cheating, teachers’ filthy jokes in classrooms and pandering to the lusts of the flesh.”

According to the LA Times, Phelps met his wife at the Arizona Bible Institute and they moved to Kansas in 1954. Westboro’s congregation is “heavily composed of his relatives, including many of his 13 children and 54 grandchildren.” It holds a hyper-Calvinist worldview, although it is not technically affiliated with a specific denomination of Christianity.

Phelps was born in Mississippi in 1929 and ordained as a Southern Baptist minister in 1947. He was also an attorney who argued civil rights cases but was disbarred in Kansas in 1979 for harassing a witness on the stand and calling her a “slut.”

Phelps and his congregants began their picketing campaigns in 1991. In 1998, they became infamous after they picketed at the funeral of 21-year-old Matthew Shepard, who was beaten and killed because he was gay.

In 2011, the US Supreme Court ruled that demonstrations such as Westboro’s picketing of the 2006 funeral of a Marine killed in Iraq, “no matter how odious, were legal as long as protesters obeyed state and local laws setting a minimum distance between themselves and mourners,” according to the Times.

Pasadena Police Lt. Jason Clawson, adjutant to Perez, wrote in an email to the Pasadena Weekly that Westboro does not need a permit to hold their protest because of their First Amendment rights.

“The city is aware of the protest as Westboro reached out to the PPD,” he wrote, adding that the department is not aware of plans for a counter protest.

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Pride USA's response: https://lgbt.10ztalk.com/2019/02/23/westboro-baptist-church-to-protest-high-school-attended-by-bisexual-rose-queen/

All Saints Church's response: https://allsaints-pas.org/when-hate-comes-to-town/