“Light the Way” Event Inspires Change in Laguna, Orange County

Assemblymember Cottie Petrie-Norris (center), with WAVE member Piper Sherwood, WAVE founder and president Joanna Weiss, and WAVE members Julia Demlow and Susan Lew. Photo courtesy of WAVE

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.”

Chapman University’s Dr. Pete Simi, left, and Derek Black, a reformed white nationalist, speak at Light the Way for Change. Photo courtesy of WAVE

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.

Gideon Berstein and Jeanne Pepper, parents of Blaze Bernstein, speak about their son, Blaze, at Light the Way for Change. Photo courtesy of WAVE

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.

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  1. No reasonable person wants to see any hate crimes committed here in our county or city.

    One common such attack would be the frequent assaulting of people who dare to go out into public wearing a red MAGA hat. That seems to be overlooked. But then, when you think about it overlooking this makes perfect sense, as this entire virtue signalling charade is just a thin mask for targeting President Trump and those who support him.

    How, you might ask? Clearly the attempt is being made to conflate white supremacy and other such ugly movements with support for Donald Trump. This is just politics, nothing more and nothing less.


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