On Saturday, January 13, 2024, more than 300 community leaders, interested residents and citizens, business owners, faith-based leaders, elected officials and other stakeholders convened at Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science (CDU) for the 32nd Annual Empowerment Congress Summit.

The event kicked off with entertainment during event check-in from the Inner City Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles jazz ensemble. Empowerment Congress Co-chair Sonya Vasquez, MSW started the program with welcome remarks, followed by greetings brought by Dr. Deborah Prothrow-Stith, Dean and Professor of Medicine for the College of Medicine at CDU. Compton Mayor Emma Sharif, Chair of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, Lindsey Horvath, and California 37th District Representative Sydney Kamlager also invigorated the audience with their enthusiastic remarks, celebrating the Summit theme, “Pursuing Justice through Participatory Democracy.”

The event included a Los Angeles County District Attorney Candidate Forum, in which seven of the twelve candidates on the ballot participated, and which was broadcast live on KBLA Talk 1580 and later aired on Spectrum News 1 in Southern California. Moderated by KBLA Talk 1580 Chief Visionary Officer Tavis Smiley and Spectrum News 1 Anchor Giselle Fernandez, the forum covered a range of topics, including racial disparities in the application of justice, what they would do day 1 in office and more.

Following a brief break, many attendees stayed to participate in a teach-in on the U.S.A. vs. Mark Ridley-Thomas case, featuring a panel of legal experts and Empowerment Congress Project Director Vincent M. Harris. Areva Martin, Esq. served as moderator for the teach-in, which discussed an overview of the charges, the trial and the verdict, media coverage of the case, and the forthcoming appeal of the verdict. Harris and Martin were joined by Mansfield Collins, Esq., a criminal defense and civil attorney and Alyssa D. Bell, Esq., a member of the appellate team for Dr. Mark Ridley-Thomas.

Candidate Forum Moderators

Tavis Smiley, Talk Radio Host and Chief Visionary Officer, KBLA Talk 1580 | Full biography

Tavis Smiley is the host of “Tavis Smiley” on KBLA Talk 1580, the flagship radio station of SmileyAudioMedia, Inc. Smiley is a bestselling author, advocate, and philanthropist known and respected for his unapologetic progressivism. He is the recipient of nearly 20 honorary doctorate degrees, has been honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and recognized by TIME magazine as one of the world’s “100 Most Influential People.”

Giselle Fernandez, Anchor, Spectrum News 1 | Full biography

Since the start of her career as a journalist, Giselle Fernandez has been known for her cutting-edge reporting in hot spots throughout the world and for interviewing prominent global and local leaders. Today, this veteran anchor is on Your Morning on Spectrum News 1, helping Southern Californians get all the information they need to start their day, and on the Emmy Award-winning weekly series L.A. Stories with Giselle Fernandez, highlighting people who shape lives and create an impact throughout the community. She has also been deemed author, and philanthropist, as well as president, director, and producer of her own production company and strategic messaging company. She is a five-time Emmy Award winner and recipient of numerous honors and awards in the fields of journalism and philanthropy.

Los Angeles County District Attorney Candidates

The Empowerment Congress issued invitations to all declared candidates for the office of Los Angeles County District Attorney as of December 4, 2023 to participate in the 32nd Annual Empowerment Congress Los Angeles County District Attorney candidate forum. Those who responded timely appear on the Summit stage.

Debra Archuleta, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge | Candidate website

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Debra Archuleta is a veteran L.A. County prosecutor who ascended to the bench in 2016.  Judge Archuleta promises that “violent criminals will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law” if she is elected. She earned her JD from Western State University College of Law at night and on the weekends while working in the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office as a certified law clerk.

Jeff Chemerinsky, Former Assistant U.S.Attorney | Candidate website

Jeff Chemerinsky served as Chief of the Violent and Organized Crime section of the United States Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles until he stepped down to become a candidate. He’s never lost a case, having personally prosecuted cases involving murder, sex and firearms trafficking, corruption, and sex assault offenses. He’s led prosecutions involving organized retail theft cases and won gang member convictions, including the leader of MS-13 in L.A., and the leader of the East Coast Crips.

George Gascón, Los Angeles County District Attorney | Candidate website

George Gascón is a former LAPD patrol officer and Assistant Chief of Police, San Francisco Chief of Police and District Attorney, who was elected L.A. District Attorney in 2020. He says he is pursuing policies based on science, data, and research to change the criminal legal system and build a national model of criminal justice reform that supports and restores crime victims and survivors while addressing the hard truths of mass incarceration, racism, and social systemic inequities.

John McKinney, Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney | Candidate website

John McKinney is a seasoned prosecutor with a deep commitment to justice and equality. McKinney has been a deputy district attorney for Los Angeles County for 25 years. A UCLA law school graduate, he hails from a working-class background. He secured a first-degree murder conviction of Eric Holder Jr., who murdered Grammy award-winning rapper Nipsey Hussle, and is dedicated to a comprehensive and fair approach to law enforcement and community well-being in Los Angeles.

David S. Milton, Superior Court Judge (Retired) | Candidate website

Retired Judge David S. Milton served twenty-four years as a Los Angeles Superior Court Judge. Before his appointment, Milton spent twelve years working as a Criminal Prosecutor with nearly a decade as Deputy District Attorney for Los Angeles County. If elected, “Job one is to bring back law and order.” A lifelong Republican, Judge Milton was among the youngest judges in the State appointed by Governor George Deukmejian. He claims to be the only Republican in the field.

Maria Ramirez, Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney | Candidate website

Maria Ramirez joined the District Attorney’s Office in 1990 and is the first Latina to be promoted to Head Deputy and Bureau Director level.  For the past three decades, she has been a steadfast advocate for all victims of crimes with a focus on prosecuting gang violence and drug trafficking. As Director of Specialized Prosecutions, she oversaw operations for 7 divisions, including Major Crimes, Hardcore Gang,  Sex Crimes, and Family Violence. She brings courtroom and trial expertise with top management experience.

Eric Siddall, Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney | Candidate website

Eric Siddall is a Deputy District Attorney and violent crime prosecutor who has prosecuted some of the most complex and impactful cases in the most underserved communities in Los Angeles County. Most recently, Eric successfully convicted the killer of LAPD Officer Paul Verna. Eric served as Vice President of the Los Angeles Association of Deputy District Attorneys for nearly a decade and in his role with the union, he successfully sued L.A. District Attorney George Gascón.

Areva Martin, Esq., Legal Expert, Moderator

Areva Martin is America’s go-to expert, host, and commentator on compelling legal, political, women’s, children’s, and celebrity issues. She is a CNN contributor, award-winning civil rights attorney, civic leader, philanthropist, and talk show host. Areva is an audience favorite on networks and streaming sites and on a long list of shows from Dr. Phil to Good Morning America. Areva is the host of the KBLA daily prime-time news, politics, and social affairs show, Areva Martin in Real Time. Her web-based show, The Special Report with Areva Martin, is the winner of the 2023 Anthem Silver Award for highlighting racial disparities and social inequities in America. She has written hundreds of articles and op-ed pieces and is a USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestselling author.


Alyssa D. Bell, Esq. Appellate Lawyer, Cohen-Williams LLP

Alyssa Bell represents clients in high-stakes criminal and civil proceedings, appeals, and investigations. She is a noted appellate practitioner, frequently engaged by individuals and companies to pursue justice in state and federal courts of appeal. A thoughtful and determined advocate, Alyssa has achieved hard-won victories in criminal litigation involving extradition, financial fraud, RICO conspiracy, narcotics offenses, and Fourth and Fifth Amendment challenges to government overreach. On the civil side, she has handled post-trial motions and appeals for a variety of clients, including startups and financial entities. In addition to her criminal and civil work, Alyssa represents students implicated in Title IX and other disciplinary proceedings.Prior to joining Cohen Williams, Alyssa held two positions at the Office of the Federal Public Defender: first as a trial deputy, then in the Appellate Unit, where she appeared numerous times before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Mansfield Collins, Esq. Criminal Defense and Civil Lawyer

Vincent Harris, Project Director, Empowerment Congress

Vincent Harris Harris brings decades of political, campaign, voter empowerment, and public policy experience across a broad spectrum of issues at various levels of government. He served as chief of staff and policy advisor for the Honorable Mark Ridley-Thomas while in the State Assembly, State Senate, and Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors as well as the late Congresswoman Juanita Millender-McDonald. As Deputy Chief of Staff for former California Governor Gray Davis and Undersecretary for Cabinet Affairs, he was a liaison to various agencies and departments within the administration. Harris was Deputy State Director and Political Director for Barack Obama’s 2008 Democratic Presidential primary campaign in California.

Mary M. Lee, Esq., Consultant, practicing attorney, and community advocate

A practicing attorney for over 30 years, Mary has experience using civil rights, land use, and economic development strategies to revitalize neighborhoods and enhance public participation in the policy arena. She has focused on the legal rights of low-income people, particularly in the areas of affordable housing, job creation, and redevelopment law. Mary M. Lee consults with community-based organizations, public officials, government agencies and philanthropy to dismantle racially biased systems and structures and build just and equitable neighborhoods. Her expertise includes research, strategic planning, technical assistance, and training She has co-authored reports and journal articles on access to healthy food, the built environment, and the impact of place and race on health. She is a former Deputy Director of PolicyLink, a national advocacy organization working to advance racial equity and economic and social justice.

The Empowerment Congress (EC) is a distinctive and deliberate model of civic engagement built on the core principles of participatory democracy, reciprocal accountability, and intentional civility. For over 30 years, the Empowerment Congress has served as a dynamic collaboration among neighborhood groups, residents, nonprofit organizations, businesses, religious institutions, and community leaders within the diverse communities of Los Angeles County’s Second Supervisorial District.

We invite all Summit attendees to contribute $19.92 today to help us fulfill our mission and achieve our core goals of:

  • Realizing social, political, and economic equity.
  • Fostering and developing diverse community leaders and social advocates.
  • Cultivating strategic partnerships between diverse communities and elected officials for social and policy change.

In service of our mission to educate, engage and empower the community, the EC has held signature programming in the form of an Annual Summit and, more recently, a Juneteenth Dialogue and Celebration, as well as ongoing policy advocacy through our standing constituent-rich working groups (formerly called committees).

Your contribution to the EC will help us to continue this vitally important work of elevating community voices and promoting an enhanced quality of life for LA County constituents through consistent, meaningful engagement opportunities.

The Empowerment Congress is a fiscally sponsored project of Community Initiatives. Checks can be made payable to: Community Initiatives – Empowerment Congress 6462, 777 South Alameda, 2nd Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90021

Click the image to download the 32nd Annual Empowerment Congress Summit program booklet

Media Sponsors

Thank you to our candidate forum media sponsors, who broadcasted the Los Angeles County District Forum at the 32nd Annual Empowerment Congress Summit.

KBLA Talk 1580 LIVE Radio Broadcast

  • Saturday, January 13, 2024, 9am – 11am

Spectrum News 1 Broadcast Dates

  • Friday, January 19, 2024 | 8pm and 11pm PST
  • Saturday, January 20, 2024 | 2pm, 8pm and 11pm PST
  • Sunday, January 21, 2024 | 1pm and 8pm PST

Please note that the Spectrum News 1 broadcast will be edited to account for broadcast time specifications.

KBLA Talk 1580