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Local Civil Rights Leaders realize a dream

Civil Rights Institute of Inland Southern California celebrates everyday people who fought to thrive in the face of fierce adversity and systemic racism

Brenda Flowers

A dream delayed is so sweet when it is fulfilled … even 15 years later. Lalit Acharya and Rose Mayes dreamed of a Riverside center for the discussion of civil rights issues. This past weekend, the Civil Rights Institute opened to the public.

Acharya, who led a campaign to create a statue of Gandhi in downtown, and Mayes, who was instrumental in the development of the Martin Luther King statue on the Main Street Mall, pursued their shared dream through the building of partnerships with the community, funders, and other organizations to bring the vision to reality, from the ground up.

Credit: Brenda Flowers

Several hundred people walked through the Civil Rights Institute Inland Southern California (CRIISC), located in the new Mission Heritage Plaza in Downtown Riverside, to view the inaugural exhibit, Still I Rise: The Black IE Fight for Justice, showcasing images, historical archives and personal stories from the Inland Region.

“The exhibition is a testament to the bold and business-minded Blacks — the Black press, the Black church, Black leaders — and everyday people, who fought to thrive in the face of fierce adversity and systemic racism,” said Mayes, vice president of the CRIISC Board of Directors and executive director of the Fair Housing Council of Riverside County. The exhibit was curated by Vince Moses, retired Riverside Museum director, in conjunction with the Riverside African American Historical Society.

“The Civil Rights Institute is designed to be the civil rights voice for all in Inland Southern California—from African Americans and Jewish Americans to Native Americans and Latinos,” Acharya said during opening ceremonies. “You will be part of a legacy that seeks to preserve the civil rights milestones of the past so that current and future generations understand the challenges and struggles that people went through for the priceless freedoms that most of us take for granted.”

Credit: Brenda Flowers

Among those who participated in the ceremonies was Assemblymember Jose Medina, who championed the effort to create the Mission Heritage Plaza, new home to the Fair Housing Council of Riverside County, the Civil Rights Institute and a 72-unit affordable workforce housing complex. His leadership and collaboration with other local policy-makers led to a $3.5 million grant from the State of California for the CRIISC. Other partners for this $47 million development include the City and County of Riverside, and Wakeland Housing Development Corporation.

Other presenters included Tommie Smith, Olympian, activist and author of Victory! Stand. Raising my Fist for Justice; Ronald O. Loveridge, former Mayor of Riverside and CRIISC Board President; and a wealth of local arts and culture organizations.