Albion College Distinguished Alumni Award recipient, former Pleiad writer and “future president” (as English Professor Dr. Mary Collar professed) Amy Elaine Wakeland (‘91) revisited Albion last week to speak to Albion College students and faculty. Her return was filled to the brim with her alumni speech, Ford Institute meetings, awards ceremonies, the Elkin Isaac Student Research Symposium, and of course, meeting with students and faculty.
Wakeland, the First Lady of Los Angeles, received the Distinguished Alumni Award due to her great success in changing Los Angeles’s gender, homelessness and occupational inequities. Her successes are innumerable in count, but some include a 300 percent increase in female employment in the Information Technology Agency of Los Angeles; securing $10 million in donations from the Los Angeles Clippers for inclusion of Los Angeles sports programming for all genders, races and socioeconomic statuses; and equalizing the employment and wages of the Los Angeles Board of Commissions in terms of gender. But, before she was able to accomplish all of these amazing feats for our country, she had to learn the basics at Albion College.
Wakeland moved from Wanamaker, Indiana, to Albion when she graduated from high school. Even in her small high school, she began to advocate for women’s rights and equality, even though she didn’t yet claim herself as a feminist. Once she reached Albion, however, she began to establish herself as a woman of change. At Albion College, she finally began to feel confident in herself.
“I think the thing I’m most grateful for is the fact that I gained confidence in myself here, that there were people here who really believed in me,” said Wakeland.
The professors here believed in Wakeland and were able to push her in the direction that she needed to go. In order for her to be the most successful in changing the status quo for the better, she needed to have connections that truly believed in her and could do something about it. Because of this, she believes that what she has done since attending Albion College is an attempt to try to return the favor to the professors that gave her what she has now.
What she has now is the many projects that she has accomplished, and several projects she has planned that are altering the lives of Los Angeles citizens — in a good way. One of the main projects that she initiated in the Los Angeles government was what she called her “Super Secret Project.” Since 2013, Wakeland has ensured that women and girls are at the table for every conversation, and by table, she means the Board of Commissions table, the city hall table, the corporate table, the lab table and the dinner table. She promised herself and everyone else that she and others must always include women in the conversation.
“We put gender equity into the center of everything from 2013 on. It’s really not that hard to find incredible female leaders,” said Wakeland.
However, in order for Wakeland to successfully accomplish tasks such as these, there must be some personal passion or inspiration. When asked what her inspiration is, she simply replied that the people she meets and the connections she has with these people is her inspiration. These people are not limited to the academics, philanthropists or politicians that help her finance and plan out these tasks, but also include people like the women in the Los Angeles Women’s Center, which houses homeless women. With both of these interactions, Wakeland was able to help house over 30,000 homeless people in four years in Los Angeles. This feat was able to house more people than Los Angeles has ever housed in its history. Yet, there is still much more work to do for Wakeland and city of Los Angeles, considering that they still have the second highest number of homeless people for a major city due to the 2008 Recession. But with the support of innumerable L.A. citizens, U.S. politicians, philanthropists, the women in the Women’s Center and of course, Albion College, Wakeland will undoubtedly continue to change this country for the better.
Before flying back to Los Angeles, Wakeland left Albion with two encouragements. First, Wakeland gave praise to the diverse student body at Albion.
“I’m extraordinarily thrilled to see the diversification of the student body [at Albion College]. It’s very exciting to see that, and I don’t mean that as a simple social justice issue, even though it is that. I mean that the students that are here are going to be brighter, more well-informed, more familiar with what this world is about by virtue of actually going to school with people who look like the entirety of America,” said Wakeland.
Second, she gave students in the political environment that are worried about gender inequities a word of reassurance.
“The biggest march in L.A. history was the Women’s March that happened two years ago. The second biggest march was the Women’s March that happened this year. If you think about the number of marches in L.A., then it just speaks volumes that these women’s marches were the two largest marches in L.A. history. I don’t think we’ll have another moment like this in U.S. history for people to seize the moment and create change,” said Wakeland.
Now is the time for political upheaval, but more importantly political change, especially for gender and racial inequities. With powerful and resilient women like Amy Wakeland who speak their mind and act on it, the push for change will soon become the change.
Photo by Gabby Henriksen