Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson spoke to South Area students in the Marks Hall lounge Tuesday.
Wesson talked to freshmen about his journey in college and how he came to be a politician.
The president had no plans to attend college, instead planning to work as an assemblyman for Chevrolet where his father worked. When his family relocated to Montclair, N.J., he found himself in a completely different environment. His peers planned to go to college and followed a different lifestyle than what Wesson had envisioned for himself.
“Because of the peer pressure, I had to go to college,” he said.
Wesson went on to attend Lincoln University, the first historically African American university in the United States. He was the first to go to college in his family, and was completely unaware of what college would be like.
“I’ll be totally honest with you. What I majored in was girls and cheap wine,” Wesson said.
There was a turning point, however, when he met Ron Dellums, a former mayor of Oakland. Dellums was a guest speaker at Wesson’s fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha, and the future city council president was responsible for giving him a tour around campus as part of the escort committee.
Wesson describes Dellums as the first speaker to send chills down his arms as he talked about important social issues, such as civil rights. Talking to Dellums more and more, Wesson soon abandoned his previous view of politicians as a class separate from regular citizens.
“As we spent the day, I kept saying to myself, ‘This guy is normal,’” Wesson said.
Inspired by Dellums’ speech, Wesson told his fraternity brothers that he hoped to emulate Dellums’ success one day.
From that point on, he had the vision of becoming a public servant, and put great effort into achieving his goal by getting better grades and focusing.
His hard work paid off when he was unanimously voted to become the Speaker of the California State Assembly in 2002. Wesson recalls that Dellums came to his swearing-in ceremony and cried.
The city council president emphasized the importance of political leaders to those in attendance.
“I don’t know who here wants to be involved in politics, but trust me, someone has to be.”
Wesson also stressed the necessity for students to get out and vote. That’s the only way to make sure that the right people get elected into office, he suggested. Many people lost elections that they should have won because of the low voting turnout, Wessen said.
“This country will be so much better if you guys engage,” he said.
Attending students seemed highly interested in Wesson’s story and level of passion.
“I liked that he was very conversational and he was passionate, which is important if you want to be successful in anything,” said Shanelle Sua, a freshman majoring in international relations global business.
Wesson’s discussion of the Los Angeles 10th district opened students’ eyes to the reality of their surroundings as well.
“What he said helped us realize what community we’re actually living in,” said Alice Kim, an undeclared freshman.
Tim Biblarz, an associate professor of sociology and a south area faculty member, contacted Wesson about speaking to USC students. He has been an admirer of Wesson’s work in the 10th district.
As a homeowner in the area, Biblarz had the opportunity to see changes implemented by Wesson as they were happening. He saw the roads get repaved, multiple Starbucks get built, the old Magic Johnson theater change to state-of-the-art movie theaters, and now Baldwin Hills mall is getting reshaped.
“All of this I witnessed as a homeowner and neighbor under Herb Wesson’s watch, and so I started admiring him from that perspective,” Biblarz said.
Wesson successfully carried out multiple projects, including the economic development on Wilshire and Westward as well as Wilshire and Vermont. He has further plans to fix the poor infrastructure in the area.