Every January for 28 years, Mark Ridley-Thomas has invited friends and family, community leaders and colleagues to welcome the new year with the African American tradition of sharing a meal of black eyed peas and greens (and macaroni and cheese, cornbread and chicken) to make the new year a prosperous one.
And 2020 was no different — except that it was.
The annual luncheon, held this year at MRT’s City Council campaign headquarters on Crenshaw Boulevard, was fueled less by the culinary tradition regarding personal prosperity, and more by a sense of urgency for the communal wellbeing of the 10th Council District and the entire City of Los Angeles.
To that end, also on the menu were conversations about housing the unsheltered, providing high-paying jobs for workers, building economic bridges between Hollywood studios and foster youth ready for work, managing climate change and other serious matters of the day.
And yet, the mood was optimistic.
“We can turn things around, but that it’s going to take is leadership,” said Taylor Mayfield, CEO at Tax Ease Plus Accounting Services. “I’m not just here to have a great meal; I’m here to support Mark and see that he gets back to the City Council where we need him. Now is not the time for someone who’s untested, untried, inexperienced and has never delivered results.”
Some say the tradition of eating black-eyed peas may have started before the Civil War, during the time between Christmas and New Year’s Day, when enslaved Africans were given fewer duties: harvest was over, planting yet to begin, and fields were fallow.
But with eight weeks to the March 3rd City Council primary, MRT told the crowd that no, the harvest is not in yet, and now is certainly not the time to rest. “This is our time to push,” he said. Then thanked the microcosm of the 10th district that filled the rooms. “We have the Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters, UNITE HERE Local 11 and we have block clubs and neighborhood associations. We even have philanthropy in the house!”
“Let me tell you, I am not taking anything for granted. I am going to continue to give this my all.”
“So thank you again for coming, and Happy New Year to you all. But now, it’s time for us to work even harder than we have so together we can go to the City Council and make a difference.”
As for the legend surrounding the traditional meal, perhaps eating black-eyed peas for the New Year does bring good luck. Perhaps it does not. Or, perhaps the good fortune comes when like-minded people stop to share their ideas about how to improve their community, promise to work together, and fuel up to take on the challenges of the new year.