For his role in “reinvigorating” California State University, Dominguez Hills’ (CSUDH) mission for the students and communities it serves, President Willie J. Hagan was honored on Feb. 3 with the City of Los Angeles’s Hall of Fame award for “Outstanding Achievement in Education” at its kick off of African American Heritage month in the city.
Four-time Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Lionel Richie was also honored during the celebration with the “Living Legend Award.” Other inductees into the Hall of Fame were California Board of Equalization Chairman and CSUDH alumnus Jerome Horton (’79, B.S., business administration), and California Court of Appeal Justice Audrey Collins.
L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, who provided opening remarks for the ceremony that took place in council chambers, said the celebration not only recognizes the countless contributions of the awardees and all African Americans in the city, but the “collective history” of all Angelinos.
“We are honoring a musician, a philanthropist, a leader in education, a brilliant legal mind, and an outstanding official. And every single one of them is an Angelino,” said Garcetti. “These people represent the best of who we are. They are angels here in the city, visionaries who follow their own paths, but are devoted to a common goal.”
Councilman Curren D. Price, who represents L.A.’s 9th District, presented Hagan his award and said his tenure has “successfully raised the bar for achieving academic excellence by reinvigorating Cal State Dominguez Hills’ mission to increase access to education.” He also praised Hagan for his work in helping the CSUDH become one of the nation’s leading urban universities.
During his remarks, Hagan discussed the importance of CSUDH’s move from Palos Verdes to the City of Carson to serve communities in crisis after the Watts Rebellion, and many of the campus’s recognitions and accomplishments, as well as what it takes to be a successful and thriving university.
“This is the kind of award that you don’t receive because of your actions alone. To receive an award honoring the achievement of a university, it really requires three things: a dedicated faculty and staff— and we have one of the best in the state of California—a group of supporters in our city and throughout the state, and hard-working students who want to transform their lives,” said Hagan. “And I think there is a fourth thing that you need to be successful, and that’s a very clear mission that you are dedicated to accomplishing. … We were told to make a difference [when moved to Carson], and we’ve done just that.”
Garcetti, who introduced Richie, not only praised him as a distinguished musician, but as a philanthropist who is low-key about his giving, which is often done “when no one’s around, and no one’s looking.”
Cal State Dominguez Hills has been such a great partner in my district. -Joe Buscaino
Richie, who has sold over 100 million albums worldwide, joined the Commodores in 1968, which became one of Motown’s most successful groups. He launched his solo career in 1981 and wrote some of the most “beloved” songs in the world, such as “All Night Long,” “Hello,” and “Endless Love,” a ballad he wrote and sang with Diana Ross.
“Who knew the power of how far one Afro can go,” Richie joked. “There was one great point of view that was prominent [throughout my college career], and that was that failure is not an option. … I was raised by a fabulous village, and one thing that I have carried throughout my life is that we have to give back. Around the world I tell kids, gang members—you name it—that parenting is probably one of the hardest jobs in the world. And if you don’t have a full set of parents, find someone who you can fall in love with and mirror.”
Horton was honored with the Hall of Fame award for “Outstanding Achievement in Government.” He was introduced by Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawsoon, District 8, who said that Horton is the first African American and “perhaps the most experienced and qualified person ever” to serve on the Board of Equalization (BOE) since its inception in 1879.
“I have a tremendous debt of gratitude for the courage, conviction, as well as the sacrifice of so many individuals who have come before me [who led the BOE],” said Horton, who is a stanch supporter of CSUDH and has partnered with the university on many events, such as the 2015 Connecting Women to Power Business Conference. “When the children in Flint Michigan, where my dad lives, continue to fight just for fresh water—something that we take for granted—when mothers of young men go to sleep and pray not to find their sons killed on the side of the road, I realize that the fight continues. …The old Negro anthem that says, ‘Someday we shall overcome;’ I’ve come to realize that someday is not on the calendar. We must begin today, and every day, to do the best that we can to make a difference in our society.”
After the award presentations, additional councilmembers provided remarks about the Hall of Fame inductees, including alumnus Joe Buscaino (‘00, B.A., communications), who remains well-connected to CSUDH. Last year he served as a “Professor for a Day,” and partnered with the university during the 2015 Day of Service in Watts.
“We continue to strive for a better future for our communities, but we can’t discount the inequality that continues to exist today,” said Buscaino. “I want to recognize our honorees today, who remind us that everyone has a role in continuing to break down barriers that keep the status quo in place… I look at Dr. Hagan. I am one of those proud alums that he referenced. Cal State Dominguez Hills has been such a great partner in my district. … We thank you for opening your campus to all parts of the city.”