Jonathan Wilson, 44, became the first chairperson of West Hollywood’s new Social Justice Task Force this week. The native Angelino spoke to WEHOville about growing up Black in predominately white neighborhoods, witnessing the LA riots and what his goals are as leader of West Hollywood’s social justice initiative.
How does it feel to be chosen as chairperson of this brand new task force?
I’m so excited. I actually feel pretty grateful I didn’t expect to be nominated. I was wondering, how is this going to happen? How’s it going to go down? there was definitely some confidence I think when they voted and I appreciated that. I think a lot of it is because in our meetings previously I’ve been bringing a lot of my business knowledge and I think there’s some element of that that I think translated well for this particular committee. At the same time I think there’s areas where the rest of the team probably might be stronger. and you definitely have to leverage the strength of the team. I love it and actually do this stuff for a living.
Tell us about you background.
I am a native Los Angelino and I grew up in LA all the way through high school. I graduated from Palisades High School. I went to UC San Diego for undergrad and then eventually moved back. I worked for Accenture premier primarily in financial services then went over to become the VP of strategic planning and intelligence at Countrywide Financial. I ended up then moving into Bank of America. I found my way throughout the company working on various initiatives and then ended up going to work for Deloitte. While I was working at Deloitte I ended up focusing on marketing and strategy for three and a half years. I eventually ended up working for Grant Thornton doing much of the same, strategy performance improvement. Then I started my own company about four years ago and after a year of starting it in New York I decided to move back to LA to address some kind of personal stuff and in the process I fell back in love with LA.
What do you love about LA?
I think West Hollywood is actually the best city in LA right now. I love the fact that I can do the beaches. I love the fact that I have friends here that I’ve known for a very long time. I love the fact that I can choose my own adventure. I’ve actually made West Hollywood kind of a mini Manhattan for me. So all the things I liked about Manhattan I actually brought with me here. I don’t have a car. I actually live only a few blocks from where I work. I feel like I’ve made LA what I wanted it to be.
Some say LA is still a very segregated area. Do you believe that?
I think it’s much better than when I grew up. I grew up in the Palisades and in Beverly Hills and I was one of three black families in the Palisades when I was growing up. Then when I was in Beverly Hills I was one of three black kids in my grade in elementary school, so diversity isn’t something that I’ve always seen. But I’ve always recognized that I was Black. I was called the N word when I was in second grade and I was called the N word again when I went to Beverly Vista in Beverly Hills. And those are shocking moments, right? So you’re reminded that you’re Black. And once I got to junior high and high school, when I moved back to the Palisades with my dad, I used to get followed by the security that used to drive around the Palisades. There were magazine drives. I remember as a kid I would go door to door and knock on my neighbor’s doors and ask about magazines. And I was told by a security guard that was driving around, ‘oh there’s no soliciting in this neighborhood’ and I’m like ‘but I live here.’ Then he just followed me all the way back to my dad’s house. I’ve constantly dealt with race relations of my own right. Whether you live in the Palisades or whether you live in South Central you’re still dealing with a lot of biases that you have to work through.
What impression did the LA riots in 1992 leave on you?
One of the big things that I remember is the walkouts that we did to protest. I remember going home and my dad actually at the time had a commercial building that was in South Central and we were just watching the news to see if it was going to go up in flames. It was just a really disturbing scene just across la and I think even though, again even in the Palisades we were seeing smoke right and it was just a very interesting time to be in Los Angeles. You could not not be disturbed.
What’s your take on the lasting effects of last year’s Black Lives Matter protests.
It’s so interesting because between the riots and Black Lives Matter there’ve been so many moments where you were just hoping for change. I would protest, I would be angry, I would want change and nothing would happen, or there would be a small bill passed. But I think because everybody was home and they were not able to deny what they visually saw, they had to acknowledge that there is a discrepancy between how black people are treated and that’s the case all throughout the country. And I think people are trying to dive into the why a little bit. But I have to say when the process happened I was so tired of all the different protests I have done. I was like, ‘I’m going to leave it to my non-black people to march for me.’ So I went and I watched some of the marches and I took pictures, I cheered, but I was like, ‘It’s time for someone else to take the wheel.’
What is the state of social justice in West Hollywood right now?
There’s a lot to do. there’s just a lot to do. There’s a different set of priorities for BIPOC people for the city of West Hollywood than there are for the non-BIPOC people, which may and may not be reflected in a lot of the ways that we’re operating as a city. so there comes a time when you just really need to lean and say, ‘what are those differences?’ I mean I’m looking at the past 10 years’ worth of data around what BIPOC services are being used by BIPOC people versus what’s being used by non-BIPOC people and they’re just a different priority. Homelessness doesn’t even make the top five for non-BIPOC people. If you look at demand for services based on the studies, for BIPOC people it’s number two. it doesn’t make the top five for the overarching group but it’s top two for BIPOC people. It’s crazy. That’s an example of one thing that needs to change. I think the other piece too is we need more BIPOC businesses in the area. I happen to be a business owner and I want more of me to be in the area. I also think we need to have more BIPOC people in managerial positions. As an LGBTQ person I will sometimes go to a bar like the Abbey or other bars and I notice there’s not Black bartenders but there are Black people who are security guards or there are BIPOC people who are bussing the tables and that’s something we gotta address. Because that is ultimately where the disparity of wealth lies. If you aren’t getting people in positions where they’re able to earn a decent income, they’re gonna keep relying on others. And we need to enable a flourishing BIPOC community in West Hollywood.
How do you think the task force can help the city get there?
I think we need to have more incubators within West Hollywood. So I think BIPOC incubators could be a really good thing to help start the idea of having BIPOC businesses here. I think we definitely want to have more BIPOC managerial positions by maybe incentivizing some of the businesses that are around here to have BIPOC managers of their restaurants, of their stores. Visibility makes a difference. I think there’s a lot of room for that. I think we need to find out some of the barriers to entry for rent from a residential standpoint. I’d love to explore that a little bit more. How do we address that? And then I think the other way too is we need to make sure that we are putting more capital towards the services that are most in demand for those that are BIPOC.
What’s something you’ve learned that has surprised you since you became a part of the task force?
The rigor in which our city operates. I think we have a lot of really well-meaning people and I honestly haven’t always recognized that. So that was something that really humbled me. So it’s just a matter of making sure that the private sector is partnering effectively with the city of west hollywood because I think there’s a lot of things that the private sector can do to better enable a flourishing BIPOC community. For example I think the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce could do a survey of businesses in West Hollywood and get a breakdown of BIPOC versus non-BIPOC people that exist in those businesses. That could be the data that we need to help us move the needle not only from a private sector standpoint but for the city of west hollywood. That survey can be used for the Chamber of Commerce to realize, ‘oh what are we doing to really better enable the city or better enable these businesses that are part of our organization?’ At the same time the city can say, ‘how do we bring in more businesses?’ I haven’t seen significant data around the business breakdown in the city of west hollywood. we’re trying to find out if it exists or not.
What are your overall goals or aspirations as leader of the taks force?
We have a lot of great passionate people and our mission is really focused on enabling — making sure that we’re addressing some of the biggest BIPOC issues. I want to make sure that I leverage everybody’s skill set. I have to make sure that I’m listening to everybody and I want to make sure that it’s truly a partnership — that they don’t see me as just a chair, but they see me as a partner within the overarching team. My aspirations hopefully are the same aspirations as those of the full team. If you were to ask each one of them what their aspirations are, those are my aspirations too.
Wilson is the host of the Redefining Family podcast, which spotlights stories of resilience as his guests share how they have redefined their definition of who they consider to be their real family. Listen to the first episode in the links below.
Out of control gentrification, greed and “luxury developement” has resulted in far fewer Weho BIPOC residents than there were even ten years ago. The honest-to-goodness social justice train left the West Hollywood station, and most of Southern California a long time ago, and it’s NOT coming back.
Why is Jonathan arguing with people in the comments?
Anyone passionate sharing their thoughts is pulled into conversations online nowadays. And sometimes they feel compelled to discuss what other people say.
That may be true however, one with Mr. Wilson’s experience would presumably know how to handle this. Take the time to review the Linkedin profile which lists Education, Employment and so forth including Volunteer Experience noting the recent entry of Social Justice Task Force since March 2021 and as Board Member of various associations. The point is what has Mr. Wilson accomplished as a private individual not in search of a title, to foster human values and ethical behavior the broad swath of society.
You have misread…but that’s modern day politics. Nothing will come of this committee.
The interview is like reading a high school newspaper. Not for the questions, but for the replies.
Thank you, this was not misread. The task force is in reality, another exercise in futility, sponsored by the city after initiation by Sepi Shyne. Look Good Politics for Personal Gain. Could we have a task force to look into that?
I must admit that reading this chain, I noticed multiple examples of bigotry and sexism. Apparently, there is more work to do than I realized. Rather than hiding behind comments on an article, please join the next Social Justice Task Force meeting on September 28th. Look forward to partnering with even those that may disagree with us.
If you choose to be in public service in any capacity, you should avoid the tendency to condescend and insult legitimate debate. I see no examples of either bigotry or sexism in the comments, and it is intellectually lazy to rush to such easy and unsubstantiated allegations. This forum has long been polluted by anonymity which I find toxic, but I put my name on my comments and stand behind them. I celebrate social justice, I just think that criticism of places like The Abbey are a) not grounded in fact, and b) unworthy of serious space on a task… Read more »
Just reread all the comments and found only one commenter that gave the examples you mentioned. Although you personally may have noble goals, the concept of this task force reintroduces the concept of hammers looking for nails. Better to offer a course of The Tao Te Ching which would be useful to everyone.
Better yet, one can get their own copy of The Tao Te Ching, translation by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English. Easy to read but will take some time to inculcate. It touches on everything we do and touch.
You’ve had your say in the article. Best to move on and not engage in the comments.
Great job Jonathan start off by labeling and name calling. Sexit bigot and you forgot the big one…..racist. Way to win friends and influence people.
Oh you poor baby! Will you be okay??? Boo hoo. Where’s the Social Justice for the #1 discriminated against class of people?? (Guess who)
The answer is Conservatives
Congratulations Mr Wilson. But always remember that the SHE group is using you. They have no interest in any individuals except themselves.
The SHE group is about one thing. Grandstanding to gain some political office. On a higher level.
Just look at Horvath. Go to her website for her bid for LA County Supervisor. She lists no career in her bio. Just a long list of all the groups and meetings and gadfly things she runs to.
Horvath reminds me of a middle-aged version of the character Tracy Flick in the film Election.
The Social Justice Task Force should be renamed The Self Reflection Task Force.
The Abbey’s owner must be saying, WTF! How did I get thrown into this?!
Because The Abbey and David Cooley have long been convenient bogeymen for those who want to paint WeHo with a broad brushstroke of intolerance. Truth and reality matter little to those with a performative woke agenda. We are watching that crowd write the epitaph of a West Hollywood that started as a noble idea for a scrappy plot of 1.9 square miles in the center of this great metropolis.
Out of curiosity, can you illustrate “scrappy plot” and by metropolis, do you mean Los Angeles? Was this figurative or literal?
I’d be happy to engage in civilized discourse with anyone who writes with the courage of attaching their name to their comments.
BIPOC, just what is that? I looked it up and saw indigenous, but no reference to indigenous in the interview except an ‘I’. We do not see anything in West Hollywood that is accommodating to indigenous persons, or even LGBT indigenous persons. Church references abound in names of businesses in West Hollywood, but churches destroyed indigenous people’s way of life throughout the history in the Americas.
Just as a long term gay couple, we were never welcomed to the city of West Hollywood except in 1985 when we registered as domestic partners.
It would be wonderful to have you help us identify opportunities to address Indigenous people. Please join one of our forums on the fourth Tuesday of every month.
Mr. Wilson – please contact me through email as I’d love to have a conversation with you – as one with a long memory to one with a mission. Carl. Cronin – firstname.lastname@example.org
There is power in victimhood. And as long as that is the case victimhood will be perpetuated.
Yes there is power in victimhood. This is why The Republican Party claims victimhood every chance they get. They are the most coddled group in Western Civilization, and yet still claim their are being trampled on. Don’t believe me? Watch Fox News in the evening to see how badly we should feel for the GOP and their donors.
Why are you turning this into a political issue Tom?
Because victimhood has been hijacked as a political weapon, and as a powerful way to shut down a conversation. In this case let’s not simply say these topics are coming up due to a sense of victimhood.
This is just another display of the ego maniacal Woke driven Sepi Shyne. Bring back John Duran and John Heilman Men are the majority populion.
It’s Boys Town, not Woke town. Clean streets, city services, that’s what the city council should be worried about. Not all this feminist claptrap that is meaningless in a small town like this.
Cuz most people are concerned about their safety. And why wasn’t John Erickson made the next mayor after Meister? Instead of three women in a row.
New bad blood!
We are in need of a transfusion.
I am beyond thrilled to read that social justice can be achieved by merely having quotas for bar and restaurant managers in our 1.9 square mile hamlet of 35,000 residents, and BIPOC bartenders at The Abbey. This interview makes a mockery of true social justice.
This Social Justice Taskforce is the latest ploy of artifice or window-dressing for the “wokers” Shyne, Erickson and Horvath to make them appear newsworthy and exceptional. Hard to get headlines when you are doing a diligent job handling the municipal responsibilities of an elected official, albeit part time.
I have no issue with a social justice task force, but there appears to be no intelligible mission other than to make sure we are served our tasty adult beverages in a private business by a diverse group of bartenders. It’s a solution in search of a problem. The SHE group (Shyne Horvath Erickson) are all about creating problems and divisions that don’t exist. In place of sound municipal governance focusing on real quality of life issues for residents, they are burnishing their resumes in their fealty to the party bosses and incestuous political clubs. Where is the SHE group… Read more »
We are saying the same thing. I was a bit brief about the ambitions of the SHE group…..that’s a good term completely on point. When did anyone ever need a terminology Rolodex to learn how to address people and their made up splinter groups of perceived victims. Hammers need nails and there are plenty of them in West Hollywood.
BRAVO, Mr. Strasburg.
The city just needs to perfect the basics. Keep the city clean and safe. This is just a waste of people’s hard earned tax dollars.
Safe is the key word. What may be safe for you may different to others? We are working to allow BIPOC people a safe space to live, a safe space to thrive, and a safe space to enjoy. Please validate that we aren’t wasting tax dollars by being part of the solution. We meet every 4th Tuesday of the month.
what is a BIPOC person? people are people. are aren’t buying this nonsense.
It’s not enough to know ones world geography now we need dictionaries or Rolodexes for all this terminology. BTW one of the Social Justice Task Forcers claims Afghanistan is in the Middle East and has been there several times. LOL but it’s really not close to funny.😪😵🙄
Hi Me Myself and I. On behalf of everyone who doesn’t fit into a 1950’s category of “guy” or “girl” we apologize you have to adapt to learning a few new words and acronyms. Please feel free to continue watching Bill Maher so you can laugh along as he tries to keep up as well. Honestly though, just spend 10min learning a few new words to help others feel included. It’s not that hard.
Hi Tom, some folks regard their fellow humans as whole people devoid of labels particularly self imposed labels which often serve to divide rather than unite. If one is unable to conduct themselves in a respectable fashion amongst their or the broader community, a label will not help. It more often identifies them as a perceived victim in need of special treatment.
Why not listen to a label so you have some understanding of a person’s background, their feelings, their thoughts, etc. If someone says to me they are Christian, Native American, a former drug abuser they usually want to convey some information about themselves in a very quick way. I don’t make this judgement myself, but if they want me to know how they label themselves I will listen.
Not very perceptive or evolved thinking. People reveal themselves sometimes for better or worse and it’s not necessary to make judgements or hear their editorialized comments about themselves. Seems you are very caught up and may not have the best instincts but hopefully you can locate the chip on your shoulder soon.
So the “no labels” crowd is back to embracing labels? Tom, do you not see that things like this change every other day? Yet the vast majority are criticized for not changing on a dime every time a minuscule group of self-proclaimed victims demands that we just spend a few minutes each day in order to validate their self-worth.
Google.com is a useful website.
Hi Ham. Based on your comment can I safely assume you are a white person who gets treated nicely everywhere you go? Very easy for people in bubbles to feel everyone is just as entitled as they are. Not saying this is the case with you. But your comment leans in that direction. My advice is spend some time with people who get treated differently and listen to their challenges.