Many moons ago, Mark Thomas married Avis Ridley. Their marriage wasn’t a surprise to friends who had known them since they were high school student leaders, but what did raise eyebrows was that not only did Avis take her husband’s last name, he also took hers.
“I caught a lot of flak when I added my wife’s name to mine,” MRT recalls, “but I did it to show the world that my wife is my equal and a real partner in what I do. We are both Ridley-Thomas.”
That insistence on the rightful equality of women is more than symbolic; it has created a consistent through-line on MRT’s policy stands and work as well.
In the 1980’s, the couple launched the Rosa Parks Sexual Assault Crisis Center, which offered counseling and clinical services to treat victims of rape in South Los Angeles, bringing it under the auspices of the Martin Luther King Legacy Association, where he was executive vice president. Today the crisis center is a project of the YWCA. Later, while on the City Council, MRT led the effort to double the number of domestic violence beds in Los Angeles.
“When we talk about healthcare and other public services, we often are talking about the plight and needs of women. When we talk about public safety and transportation, we know that is an important conversation from a uniquely female perspective,” he said.
Sex trafficking, an under-reported problem in our County, affects our girls, and in the national debate over women’s reproductive rights, he never loses sight of the fact that we are having the kind of conversation that is never, ever had about restricting men’s reproductive rights.
“When I was an undergraduate student at Immaculate Heart College, I studied both the feminization of poverty and the intellectual history of feminist thought,” he said, “and those powerful areas of study have stayed with me.”
Being an African American male, MRT believes, gives him a greater responsibility to be the voice for minority and marginalized communities. And many have come to know they can count on him to represent their interests.
“Sometimes I am the voice in government speaking up for AAPI and Latinos; I rep for the LGBTQ community, Muslims and Jews, and Little Ethiopia as well as Leimert Park. And I push public policy that continually moves the ball in the direction of full equality for women.”
It is this consistency throughout his professional life that has earned him the support of prominent women’s organizations such as the National Organization for Women, Planned Parenthood, United Nurses Assn. of California, SEIU 2015 California’s long-term caregivers, and the Los Angeles African American Women Political Action Committee, as well as the state’s most progressive and empowered women. These include: Senator Dianne Feinstein, Congresswoman Karen Bass, State Controller Betty Yee, State Treasurer Fiona Ma, Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, Supervisor Janice Hahn, State Senator Maria Elena Durazo, L.A. City Council President Nury Martinez and L.A. City Controller Wendy Greuel (retired).
Notably, MRT is also honored with the support of Democratic Vice-Presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris.
He is running for City Council for many reasons – to continue the work that needs to be done on homelessness, to help guide our economic recovery from COVID-19, and to bring an anti-racist agenda to the City.
But always there is something more. In addition to those priorities is a parallel equal rights agenda for women that is as ever present as the Ridley part of his last name.