2021 Unsung Hero Honorees

The Honorable Judge Kelvin D. Filer (SD 35 - Sen. Bradford)

 

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Kelvin D. Filer was born, raised, and educated in Compton, California. After graduating from Compton High School in 1973, he went to the University of California at Santa Cruz, and graduated with honors with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1977. He subsequently received his Juris Doctorate from the University of California Berkeley (Boalt Hall) in 1980. In 1980, Judge Filer started practicing law as a Deputy State Public Defender for two years.

During his time as a public defender, Judge Filer argued and won a landmark case before the California Supreme Court.  People v. Taylor (1982) 31 Cal.3d 488. In 1982, he opened a private law practice in his hometown of Compton, California, and maintained a general criminal/civil practice emphasizing criminal defense work.

In July 1993, Judge Filer was selected to the judicial bench as a commissioner for the Compton Municipal Court. He later served as a Superior Court Commissioner after the courts' unification in 2000. On August 8, 2002, Governor Gray Davis appointed him as a judge of the Superior Court in Los Angeles.  He currently presides over long cause felony trial court, where the time estimated for trial by all parties or the court is more than five hours.

 

Jasper James (AD 07 - Asm. McCarty)

 

A diversity subject matter expert who leads through service, Jasper James springboarded the contemporary Black Bill of Rights in collaboration with activists, lawyers, policymakers, and families across the nation who have lost loved ones at the hands of police across the nation, and it serves as a platform to integrate feedback and expertise while identifying legislation and community solutions to preserve constitutional rights and protection in all forms for people of color nationwide.

James is a Co-Founder of Activism Articulated, a public relations firm and the only communications firm run by queer, mixed-race women of color. This organization provides media training and crisis consulting for organizations nationwide. They founded an active Facebook group for Allies of Black Lives Matter with thousands of followers, which is dedicated to discussion and education centered on racial justice.

Having earned a degree in audio engineering and holistic theology, Jasper James is a talented digital campaign rapid response strategist who holds strong public relations and project management skills and has served as a diversity, equity, and inclusion advisor for national public service candidates as well as a member of the ACLU Sacramento Chapter, Sacramento Black Chamber of Commerce, and other civic and advocacy organizations.

 

Lorreen R. Pryor-Trowel (AD 09 - Asm. Cooper)

 

An Alumna of Sacramento State, Lorreen is a 15-year veteran Legislative staffer and the Servant Leader/President of Black Youth Leadership Project (BYLP). BYLP offers civic engagement training to youth by providing hands-on experience of the legislative process, and exposure to legislators, community leaders, and key staff.

With the rise of inequity in the Public Education System, Lorreen expanded BYLP's programming to include direct service advocacy to families. This expansion assists families experiencing racism, teacher targeting and disparate treatment to negotiate agreements in which children are restored mentally, physically, and emotionally.

Lorreen leads the team that puts on the Legislative Open House and Next Level Luncheon experience for more than 100 Black students annually; Summer Social Justice Bootcamp, established Sacramento’s first-ever Black High School Graduation in partnership with the Faith Based Community; created five Support Networks to help the community cope with recent uprisings; provided community movie nights, created an online documentary club; as well as works with families and local school districts to resolve issues stemming from racial targeting, teacher bias and disparate treatment to restore the child so they can thrive in a more supportive environment.

She has also co-written Board Policies and Administrative Regulations in Elk Grove Unified School District (EGUSD), as it relates to the delineation of responsibilities between administrators and school resource officers, and is currently in talks with other school districts to adopt the same policies. Lorreen also sits on the hiring committee for new School Resource Officers in EGUSD.

Additionally, Lorreen was honored with the California Association of Black Lawyers 2019 Civil Rights Activist Award for her “advocacy on behalf of our youth.”

Lorreen’s extensive rolodex of elected officials and community leaders, coupled with her more than 8000 members in the BYLP network, gives her the ability to communicate and provide outreach specifically to the Black community quickly.

 

Juanita De Vaughn (AD 41 - Asm. Holden)

 

Juanita De Vaughn was born in Boligee, Alabama, where she began her career as a lifelong educator and civil rights activist.  She taught at the Industrial School for Girls and Boys in Alabama, worked as a Dietician at Talladega College, and as a Nutritionist for the Headstart program in Birmingham.

Active with the civil rights movement in Alabama, Juanita attended meetings with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  After the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, she helped provide the funeral repast meal, secretly pulling from her large resources as a nutritionist for 47 schools in the Birmingham School District.  Chris McNair, the father of one of the young girls killed in the bombing, later painted a picture of Juanita’s and husband Paul’s son, Kelvin, who died as a toddler.

Juanita and her late husband, Paul De Vaughn, married in 1950 and moved to Altadena, CA in 1967. She continued her advocacy and commitment to education and civil rights. She taught at Charles Eliot Junior High School in Altadena and retired from a 30-year teaching career at Pasadena’s John Muir High School, where she was inducted into its Hall of Fame in 2018.

After retiring from teaching, Juanita continued to impact her community through her church, schools, and voter registration projects. She chaired and founded the annual John Muir High School campus beautification day and served on the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Committee.  She is an active member of Altadena Baptist Church, a Life Member of the NAACP; Chair of the NAACP ACT-SO program; and member of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance of Greater Pasadena.

In recognition of her outstanding service to the Altadena/Pasadena community, her awards have included: Delta Sigma Theta Mother of the Year; YWCA Century Volunteer of the Year; NAACP Pioneering Woman of Altadena; Grand Marshall of the Altadena/Pasadena Black History Parade; and the City of Pasadena’s Human Relations Commission’s Harry Sheldon award.

She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Home Economics from Alabama A&M and a Master of Arts degree from Azusa Pacific University. Children Paula and Robert, Daughter-In-Law, Connie, and her granddaughters Alena and Lauren all live in Assembly District 41.

 

Renae Williams Niles (AD 54 - Asm. Kamlager)

 

Renae Williams Niles has worked and volunteered in the nonprofit sector for over 25 years. She served as Company Manager for the Lula Washington Dance Theatre and as Director of Grant Programs for the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, where she crafted their first economic impact report. Renae was the first Associate Dean of Administration for the University of Southern California’s Kaufman School of Dance, authored their equity plan and co-led implementation. For three years, Renae was adjunct faculty for Claremont Graduate University’s Arts Management program. She is presently the Executive Director for the Culver City Education Foundation. For over 11 years, Renae worked for The Music Center eventually becoming Vice President of Programming. There she curated the presentation of over 50 internationally acclaimed ballet and contemporary companies, created lauded programs and unique partnerships.

Renae guest curates and worked with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, within Walt Disney Concert Hall and at the Hollywood Bowl. She will guest curate The Joyce Theater’s American Dance Platform for January 2022 in New York. She is also known for moderating conversations with renowned artists including the film La La Land’s creative team, award-winning choreographers Camille A. Brown and Sir Matthew Bourne, and the legendary Yo-Yo Ma to name a few.

Renae is a Los Angeles Institute for the Humanities fellow. She also frequently volunteers by serving on boards, as an advisor and as an anonymous nominator for national foundations. She has served as a grant panelist for the Entertainment Industry Foundation, James Irvine Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, among many others. Renae was board president of the Western Arts Alliance (WAA), on the board of trustees for Dance/USA and was an advisor for the New England Foundation for the Arts’ National Dance Project. Within greater Los Angeles, she has served on the Dance Resource Center board, as a founding member of the Culver City Cultural Affairs Foundation, Emerging Arts Leaders and USC Kaufman’s Board of Advisors. She is currently board chair of the national Association of Performing Arts Professionals and board member of American Dance Movement. In 2017, she received the WAA Service to the Field Award. 

 

Janet Denise Kelly   (AD 59 - Asm. Jones-Sawyer)

 

Janet Denise Kelly offers more than two decades of accomplishments in the housing and the nonprofit sector. Beginning her career in fair housing, Ms. Kelly developed a strong interest in housing issues. She parlayed this interest into addressing homelessness, implementing community and economic development initiatives, and building affordable housing opportunities.

Leveraging an impressive portfolio of experience in nonprofit management, operations, mergers, and strategic planning, Ms. Kelly has proven to be an adaptive and responsive leader in the community. She is the founder and Executive Director of the Sanctuary of Hope organization, which provides housing and education stabilization services for Transition Age Youth, ages 16 -25, who are foster care, homeless, or at-promise in South Los Angeles and South Bay. 

Prior to the Sanctuary of Hope, Ms. Kelly was Chief Operating Officer and Executive Director of People Assisting the Homeless (PATH), where she helped hundreds of homeless individuals and families become safely housed and developed the affordable housing arm of the organization, PATH Ventures.

Throughout her career, Ms. Kelly has fostered good relations with the community. She has won many community service awards.  She serves on youth service boards, is a member of local state and national housing organizations, and participates in economic revitalization activities. 

Ms. Kelly’s greatest passion is South Los Angeles’ youth.  She seeks to change the landscape of their future by bringing capital and social resources to help them become successful and thrive. In 2016, she received the Small Business of the Year Award from the Crenshaw Chamber of Commerce.

Ms. Kelly serves as an elected delegate to the California Democratic Party for Assembly District 59.  She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California Los Angeles, and a Master’s in Business Administration from the University of Phoenix, and is the loving mother of four children.

 

Sonya Young Aadam 2021 (AD 62 - Asm. Burke)

 

Sonya Young Aadam is a University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business graduate. She has nearly 20 years of comprehensive experience in strategic planning, financial analysis and management with corporations like Barclays Bank, The Walt Disney Company, and Viacom/MTV Networks. Sonya’s most important work in the past 8-years is supporting transformative intervention in underserved, urban communities - particularly in South Los Angeles, where she was born and raised.

In October 2014, Sonya Young Aadam joined the California Black Women’s Health Project (CABWHP) as Chief Executive Officer after serving as Director of Strategy & Development with the Los Angeles Urban League and Strategy & Community Relations Officer with BTL Health, Inc.  In addition to strong technical skills, Sonya’s deep passion for the overall health and uplifting of Black Women and families is driven by her rearing as a woman of faith, committed to education, and the heartfelt sentiment that “…we lift as we climb”.

Sonya is currently serving a second term on the LA County Community Prevention and Population Health Task Force and recently completed 6-months as a Blue Shield CA Foundation: Design Lab Fellow working on innovative strategies in domestic violence prevention.  Additionally, she serves on advisory boards and steering committees addressing African American maternal and infant mortality.

Sonya has developed comprehensive leadership skills and training through her participation in the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce Leadership Los Angeles in 2012, the National Urban League Emerging Leaders in 2011, and numerous trainings in management and planning.

Other experiences include: co-authoring the LA Urban Leagues State of Black Los Angeles Report; co-development/execution of large-scale community and faith-based convening’s; a certificate from the USC Ross Program in Real Estate Development 2011; certification as an Economic Development Finance Professional 2010; recognition as a 2012 Los Angeles Urban League Young Professionals “Woman of Power” honoree; and delegate to the 2014 World Alliance of Religions for Peace Summit in Seoul, Korea.

 

DeAnthony Langston (AD 64 - Asm. Gipson)

 

DeAnthony was born and raised in the Watts section of South Central Los Angeles. He attended 112th Elementary, Markham Jr. High and Verbum Dei High School. Langston earned a basketball scholarship to California State University, Long Beach. . In Langston's senior year in college, he was a preseason All-American and led his team to the National Invitation Tournament’s first round. Langston led the team in scoring and rebounding with 23 points and 12 rebounds versus Stanford. Upon graduating, Langston went overseas and had an illustrious professional basketball career for twelve years in Europe and Japan.

In 1998, Langston started the Nike Real Run in Carson, where he currently resides with his family. The Real Run was the most significant professional basketball league in the country at the time. Young NBA stars Baron Davis, Penny Hardaway, Paul Pierce, Andre Miller, and Gilbert Arenas were all regular participants. Langston went on to become the Verbum Dei Athletic Director and Head Basketball Coach. In his first year as coach, Verbum Dei won the California Interscholastic Federation and Southern Section State Championship. Langston became the Executive Director of Urban Compass, an after-school program serving the students at 112th Street Elementary. Subsequently, Langston joined the Verbum Dei's board, where he served for 5-years.

Langston's Real Run Foundation serves the Watts, Compton, Long Beach, South Central and Carson communities. During the pandemic, the Real Run Foundation was responsible for $155,000 worth of food coming to the communities. The Real Run program entails teaching the youth life skills and teamwork through basketball. While promoting tournaments, Real Run also encourages becoming good citizens, participating and giving back to the community. Langston also works at the Los Angeles Job Corps, serving as Manager of Recreation and Student Government.

 

Cecil H. Steppe (AD 79)

 

Since the 1980s, Cecil H. Steppe has implemented change by serving in various capacities throughout California. After receiving a degree in sociology from California Western University, Mr. Steppe spent most of his career working for the County of San Diego. During his 35-yeartenure at the County, Mr. Steppe was responsible for Project Heartbeat administration, the Commission on Children, Youth and Families, the Office of Violence and Injury Prevention, the Family Home Visiting Partnership, and the Faith Community Coordinator program. He also served as the Director of Community Initiatives at the San Diego Health and Human Services Agency.

As Director, he was responsible for administering the largest department in the County with a budget of more than $900 million and a staff of 3,800. His exceptional leadership skills demonstrated his ability to handle difficult situations.

Mr. Steppe's knack for building coalitions brought a calming influence and enabled the department to grow and flourish into the department that it is today. He is credited for bringing together County departments, schools, city agencies and private sector organizations to share in the responsibility of providing social and health services to families. His accolades include "San Diego Songs of My People: 100 African American Role Model award also San Diego Rotary Club's "Mr. San Diego, 2004".

In 2017, Mr. Steppe received an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters by the California State University San Marcos, Board of Trustees. The degree was in recognition of his outstanding accomplishments and dedication to creating environments where change can occur. Now a widower, Mr. and Mrs. Steppe were happily married for 65 years, they have five grown children, twelve grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren. His personal and professional legacy embodies his belief in the value of working to make things better and that "all things are possible."