Institute for Arts and Media

Willis Edwards: A Legacy of Service

Stevie Wonder and Willis Edwards at the Black Family Reunion Exposition, Los Angeles, 1989.

In the spring of 2018, the Tom & Ethel Bradley Center asked Dr. Jessica Kim's students enrolled in her course History 596RM: Introduction to Public History to research, write, and produce a short documentary pitch video and interactive timeline on activist Willis Edwards (1946–2012). Edwards is not a household name; most Angelenos have no idea who he was. He was not a politician, entertainer, or athletic star.  However, behind the scenes in the African American and Civil Rights communities, Edwards had a knack for making things happen and for speaking truth to power.  Although he had very little money or institutional support, Edwards’ life and work intersected with and shaped the administration of Mayor Tom Bradley, the Civil Rights movement, the life and legacy of Rosa Parks, the reach and influence of the NAACP, and the international HIV/AIDS movement.  

Edwards's life and work is documented, in part, in the African American photo collections of the Tom and Ethel Bradley Center.  In partnership with this class and professor Ben Davis, a faculty member in the Department of Journalism, the Center is planning to develop a full-length documentary on the life and legacy of Edwards. Students in Dr. Kim's class created two important first steps towards that goal—a timeline that covers important events in the life of Willis Edwards and a short video piece that will help the Center look for financial support to carry out this project. Below are the two products created by the students: video and timeline. Student researchers and creators: Daniel Aburto, Yana Butterfield, Glenn A. Flood, Lorena Gauthier, Monica d. Gottschalk, John B. Grilli, Guillermo Marquez, Eduardo Medrano, Miguel Montanez, Jennifer L. Nash, Lucas H. Pastis, Michael A. Perez, Janelle C. Piva, Christopher W. Pound, Dat T. Tran, Susana Willeford. Additional video editing by CTVA student Michael Beu.