New wellness center opens in Watts-Willowbrook

By Shirley Hawkins

Contributing Writer

WILLOWBROOK — It was a celebratory affair on Sept. 16 when L. A. City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas and his wife Avis were honored for their years of public service during the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Avis and Mark Ridley-Thomas Wellness Center on the Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science campus.

The new 10,000-square-foot facility includes both a student health and wellness clinic as well as the APLA Primary Care Clinic that will provide urgent care, mental health counseling and wellness programs to students and employees. It also will serve approximately 5,000 residents in the Watts/Willowbrook community.

Ridley-Thomas beamed with pride at the event.

“We had no idea when we began building this campus that we would have the opportunity to serve people in this way,” he said. “But when you get started and you empower people and give them a sense of hope and destiny, tremendous things can happen.

“It’s a wonderful feeling and I’m very grateful,” Ridley-Thomas added. “I’m humbled by the fact that both my wife and I are being honored with the naming of this wellness center.”

“This is an idea sparked by Council member Ridley-Thomas that is emblematic of his dedication to all of his constituents,” said Charles R. Drew University CEO David M. Carlisle. “The council member and Mrs. Ridley-Thomas — together with Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science — have been change agents for Willowbrook and surrounding communities for decades. So, it is very fitting that a building on our campus dedicated to improving health outcomes for students in underserved populations for decades to come will bear the Ridley-Thomas name.”

Besides the opening of the wellness center, the event marked 30 years of public service for Ridley-Thomas, who began his year of public service with his election to the City Council representing the 8th District in 1991. He represented the 8th District on the council until 2002, when he was elected to the state Assembly from the 48th Assembly District.

In 2006 he moved up to the state Senate, but left that post in 2008 when he was elected to the county Board of Supervisors. After three terms on the Board of Supervisors, he was termed out lasy year and returned to the City Council, this time from the 10th District.

Ridley-Thomas grew up in South L.A., graduating from Manual Arts High School. He earned a bachelor’s degree in social relations and a master’s degree in religious studies from Immaculate Heart College and a Ph.D in social ethics and policy analysis from USC.

His wife, Avis, has served for 25 years as the director of the city’s Dispute Resolution Center and since 2011 has served as the co-director and founder of the Institute of Non-Violence in Los Angeles.

As part of the event, the Ridley-Thomases took part in a dialogue with U.S. Rep. Karen Bass and professor and philosopher Cornel West.

Marc Brown, a news anchor for ABC& Eyewitness News, served as moderator.

Bass, who first met Ridley-Thomas in 1978 when they worked on issues surrounding policing, expressed her awe at the many projects Ridley-Thomas had been involved in and assisted in completing over the years.

“The thing that is really amazing is that you can drive around town and if you want to ask what he has done, just drive around town and look and see,” she said. “That’s an amazing contribution.”

West, a longtime friend, said, “It has been 42 magnificent years that I have been graced by the presence and the witness of my dear sister Avis and Mark. When I met them they were on fire for public service.

“When I met them, I said ‘These are my kind of people.’ Ain’t nothing phony or fake about them.”

Referring to Ridley-Thomas’ lifelong passion for service, West added, “When you really love the folks, you can’t stand the fact that they are being treated unjustly. ‘They don’t have health care? I ain’t just gonna talk about it, I gotta do something about it. Homelessness? I just can’t talk about it, I gotta do something about it.’”

Soeaking to Ridley-Thomas, Brown said: “You’re celebrating 30 years in office, your name is going up on a building and it has a tone that we’ve come to a valedictory end. But I get the sense that this is not the end for you. Can you speak to that?”

Ridley-Thomas paused and then boldly broke into singing an old gospel song.

“I ain’t no ways tired, I come too far from where he brought me from,” he crooned as the audience applauded.

“There is a fourth quarter and I fully intend to embrace it with all the gusto that is resident in my being,” Ridley-Thomas said.

Shirley Hawkins is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers. She can be reached at