Lark Galloway-Gilliam, a longtime community advocate who waged successful campaigns to improve health and environmental quality in South Los Angeles by taking on big oil companies, preserving trees and expanding dining options, has died. She was 61.
Galloway-Gilliam died Dec. 1 of complications from a long illness, her niece Nicole Evans said.
As the founder of Community Health Councils, Galloway-Gilliam worked with lawmakers, corporate executives and residents to tackle institutional problems that have plagued South L.A. Along the way, she helped cultivate the next generation of activists by hosting workshops to teach residents how to protect their community.
FOR THE RECORD:
Lark Galloway-Gilliam: The obituary of community advocate Lark Galloway-Gilliam in the Dec. 10 California section incorrectly characterized the removal of trees from South Los Angeles streets to make way for the space shuttle Endeavour's installation at the California Science Center. In an environmental impact report, the museum requested the removal of 393 trees, not 1,000, and the final number of trees cut down was 122, not 265. —
Fast-food restaurants had long occupied prominent street corners in the region, taking up prime real estate and, critics said, contributing to diet-related problems such as obesity and diabetes. Galloway-Gilliam worked with city officials to craft an ordinance that bans stand-alone fast-food restaurants and restricts new ones from opening within half a mile of existing fast-food outlets. She also recruited grocery stores and pushed existing grocers to improve the quality of their produce.
In 2012, Galloway-Gilliam led the charge against the California Science Center when it announced plans to chop down nearly 1,000 trees in South L.A. to make room for space shuttle Endeavour's last journey from Los Angeles International Airport to its permanent home in Exposition Park.
She negotiated a reduction in the number of trees lost in South L.A. to 265 and a stipulation that the center replant twice as many trees as required by law. The agreement also included at least 10 scholarships for local students and a $100,000 educational fund.
"What she was fighting and advocating for was not something she wanted so much as what the community deserved," said Romel Pascual, a former Los Angeles deputy mayor of energy and environment.
Galloway-Gilliam was born in Los Angeles on July 21, 1953, and would be the second-youngest of five children. Her father, Lloyd E. Galloway, was pastor of Lincoln Memorial Congregational Church in Leimert Park for 45 years. Her mother, Dorothy Carmen Kahn Galloway, opened one of the first Head Start programs in Los Angeles, Evans said.
It was in the church that Galloway-Gilliam discovered her passion for leadership, Evans said. She headed the youth program and represented the church at national events.
As a child, she experienced firsthand how lawmakers created policies without taking into account the needs of the African American community. When the Santa Monica freeway was built in the 1960s, it cut through the close-knit Sugar Hill neighborhood where she grew up.
"I lived through the building of the 10 Freeway and witnessed how that destroyed a very significant portion of the African American community — displacing people, and how it just was so disruptive," she told the Los Angeles Planning Department website re:code LA in an October interview.
In 1975, Galloway-Gilliam earned an undergraduate degree in biology from UCLA. She went on to USC for her master's and doctoral degrees in public administration.
She worked in hospital administration at Kaiser Permanente and Cedars Sinai Medical Center for a few years and considered lucrative consulting offers before deciding to open a nonprofit instead.
For a decade, she served as the executive director of Assisting the Disabled with Employment, Placement, and Training, a program that helped people with disabilities find work.
She formed Community Health Councils after discovering that the healthcare establishments that were burned to the ground in the 1992 riots were owned by outsiders or were out of touch with the community.
Through her nonprofit, she secured millions of dollars in federal and state grants to study community issues, including the problems associated with too many fast-food outlets and not enough grocery stores.
In 2009, oil companies drilling in the nearby Inglewood Oil Field agreed to improve environmental standards after Community Health Councils sued over a gas leak that forced home evacuations. She worked with then-Councilwoman Jan Perry to bring two supermarkets to South L.A.
"She was tenacious," Perry said of the soft-spoken activist. "She had her finger on the pulse of the community's health issues. The issues she took on were challenges for a very long time, but she was relentlessly optimistic" that she could change the status quo.
Part of that advocacy involved educating residents.
"I believe that people are empowered, that they do have power," she said in 2011 in an interview on the health councils' website. "I think that we try to wake that up in them and show them there are ways in which they can make a difference — that they really can have an impact."
Her immediate survivors include a daughter, Robin Eloise Gilliam; two sisters, Elizabeth M. Galloway-Evans and Patricia A. Galloway-Banday; and two brothers, Lloyd E. Galloway, Jr. and Mark E. Galloway.