Rodney King's daughter starts initiative to help black fathers | News Coverage from USA

Rodney King’s daughter starts initiative to help black fathers

The name Rodney King has become synonymous with police brutality. But one of King’s daughters is hoping to shift that association toward something more uplifting.

Lora King, 35, launched the “I am a King,” scholarship program Monday aimed at celebrating and empowering African American fathers. Selected applicants will receive grants enabling them to take their children on an outing for the day. The grant is open to African American fathers around the country.

“We tend to downplay the attention a kid gets from a father, because mothers can be so dominant, but not having time with a father can be detrimental,” says King. “Most of time, fathers around here can’t take the time off because of funding. So I thought may I could give them an outing without them worrying about whether they could keep the lights on that month.”

The scholarship program has so far received $10,000 in donations, including significant seed funding from an undisclosed technology entrepreneur. King hopes that other corporate sponsors, as well as members of the public, will add support to the program by contributing cash or services.

King says she wants to help fathers bond with their children through local outings that could range from a trip to a museum or a day at Disneyland. The funds could cover a lost day of wages or transportation and admission.

While such a grant might seem modest to many, for people who are struggling to make ends meet while parenting it can be a gift with resonance, says Edna De Leon, educational director for Red Eye Inc., which operates the Watts Empowerment Center, a youth mentorship program in South Los Angeles.

“Going to a museum with your child might seem easy for the average person, but here it’s not the narrative,” says De Leon, who will be helping King select and interview grant recipients.

“Many people here are in a cycle, you’re working to pay for rent and food and there’s no money for anything else,” she says. “This program will help put the father in the spotlight as a hero.”

King’s father was struggling with his own parental responsibilities in 1991 when the then-unemployed 26-year-old ex-convict was pulled over for speeding. He was Tasered and beaten repeatedly with batons by four white officers.

The incident was captured on amateur video. When the officers involved in the beating were found not-guilty by an all-white jury in April 1992, rioting ensued. The officers later faced a federal trial, and two, Stacey Koon and Laurence Powell, were sentenced to jail time.

Rodney King later sued the city of Los Angeles, winning a $3.8 million settlement. But he struggled with both alcoholism and being an unwitting and controversial civil rights figure. In 2012, he was found dead at the bottom of his pool at age 47.

For De Leon, reminding people of King’s violent interaction with police is “the perfect teaching opportunity, because we have kids here with PTSD from living on the streets and they don’t know where that comes from, but those who lived through the Rodney King-era know.”

For Lora King, her father’s troubled life as a social figure overshadows the man who did his best, particularly after the incident and its ensuing lawsuit settlement, to foster his daughter’s curiosity and ambitions.

“We would go to lots of art shows, he’d send me to leadership camps, and we even went to a lot of black rodeos together,” recalls King. “It was normal for me, because I was so young then. But looking back, I can tell that spending time with my father made a difference in the person I became.”

Three years ago, King started the Rodney King Foundation for Social Justice and Human Rights, eventually leaving her job as a law firm administrative assistant to run the enterprise full-time. 

King says her wish for the foundation’s new initiative is to provide fathers and children with a window into a different world. “If you’re exposed to the same environment all the time, you become a product of that one environment. So a balance of a few is always better,” she said. 

Although the announcement of “I am a King” comes on the 27th anniversary of the riots that broke out in the aftermath of the first Rodney King trial, Lora King would prefer the initiative to be associated with Father’s Day. Rodney King died on Father’s Day seven years ago and Lora King is due to give birth to her second child, and the extended family’s first son, on the upcoming holiday.

“June has always been tough for me since it’s the month my father died, but maybe now, between handing out the first grants then and the birth of my son, it will change,” says King. “Your life, in the end, isn’t about how much money you have, but about how many lives you change. So, I’m honored to try.”

Follow USA TODAY national correspondent @marcodellacava

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