More than400 people gathered at the Laguna Beach Artists Theater for WAVE’s (Women for American Values and Ethics) Action Fund’s “Light the Way for Change” eventon Sunday, May 19. The presentation was WAVE Action Fund’sinaugural fundraiser for the new nonprofit.
“With the rise of hate crimes in Orange County and nationally, we at WAVE felt this was a needed co
nversation,” said Joanna Weiss, president and founder of WAVE. “We are confronted daily with stories of intolerance and division, and we wanted to give people the inspiration and the tools to make a difference in their communities.”
Attendees heard from families who have lost children to intolerance and violence, yet have found ways to inspire calls to action. Shelley McMahon discussed the death of her son, Joe to gun violence and how she is making America a safer place by advocating for gun safety reform. Anna Mendez, along with her daughter Victoria and members of the Cool 2 Be Kind Club from San Clemente High School, discussed the epidemic of bullying and spoke about ways to identify and support those who have been bullied. Jeanne Pepper and Gideon Bernstein, who lost their son Blaze to a hate crime in 2018, shared how they have started a movement promoting intentional acts of kindness, #BlazeItForward.
The second half of the program featured Dr. Marilyn Harran, Stern Chair of Holocaust Studies from Chapman University, and an in-depth conversation between political extremism expert Dr. Pete Simi of Chapman University,and Derek Black, a former white nationalist. Blackshared the story of his upbringing in the white nationalist movement, and how his worldview was challenged when he went to college. He spoke about the ostracism he faced from the other students when his identity was discovered, and how an invitation to a weekly Shabbat dinner eventually changed the course of his life. Though his personal views changed, Blackspoke about his desire to stay out of the political fray but decided he could stay silent no more. Today, he speaks out against the white nationalist movement, attempting to right the wrongs of his former life.
The program also featured Roxana Ward, Laguna Beach 2019 Artist of the Year,and the Jorg Dubin Band.The event was sponsored by Chapman University, South Coast Plaza, and Lugano Diamonds, among others. The funds raisedwill be used to support WAVE’s initiatives including gun safety,migrant rights, diversity and inclusion, student mobilization and engagement, and climate change.