Funds raised from donations and the proceeds of a film about tensions between Pasadena police and Pasadena’s African American community were awarded as a scholarship to a local student.
Noah Griffin of Muir High School received $7,500 as part of the Anthony McClain Social Justice Scholarship, recently created by Dennis Haywood, director of “Thorns on the Rose: Black Abuse, Corruption & the Pasadena Police.”
In August, 32-year-old McClain was shot in the back and killed by Pasadena Police Officer Edwin Dumaguindin following a traffic stop. Police claim McClain pulled a gun as he ran away, though his family and members of the community say video of the incident does not show that. McClain’s family is represented by civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who also represents George Floyd’s family in Minneapolis, among others.
“Thorns on the Rose” was produced by James Farr and Rochele Jones and released on Vimeo on April 8. The 63-minute documentary examines the last 40 years of Pasadena’s police-community relationship with a particular focus on the police killings of Black men, including Kendrec McDade, Reginald Thomas, Jr., McClain and others.
Applicants for the scholarship had to be an African American graduating from Pasadena, Muir, Marshall, Blair or Rose City high schools in 2021, and they had to write a 500-word essay about how they felt about “Thorns on the Rose” and what steps they would take to make police and community relationships better.
“Having the opportunity to apply for this scholarship represents a responsibility to move forward and realize dreams that Anthony McClain may have had that he cannot achieve now,” Griffin wrote in his essay. “That was taken away from him. In a blink of an eye, many of us can be in his shoes.”
Griffin wrote that being a young, Black male in Pasadena, the film “hit home” and “ultimately grounded” him.
“I also know I represent the hopes and dreams of my community,” he wrote. “Watching the film was a very traumatic and troubling experience. Seeing people in the film who I have interacted with and see around Pasadena on a daily basis really struck a chord. Hearing the pain and frustration in their voices while they spoke was very difficult to watch. I was so bothered by the film it inhibited physical responses from me.”
This fall, Griffin will attend Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
The award was presented to Griffin on June 3 outside of La Pintoresca Library. In attendance was Pasadena City Council member Tyron Hampton, Pasadena Unified School District Board member Michelle Richardson Bailey, Muir Principal Dr. Lawton Gray and Farr, who presented and made remarks on behalf of the film. Also in attendance were My Tribe Rise co-founders Heavenly Hughes and Victor Hodgson, and District 1 Civilian Police Oversight Commission nominee Loren Esprit Jones, as well as several residents of the local neighborhood association.
“Thorns on the Rose” includes footage and analysis of fatal encounters between police and Black men in Pasadena, such as Michael Bryant, LaMont Robinson, Kendrec McDade, Reginald Thomas, Jr., Anthony McClain and others.
Griffin wrote that the film reminded him of “why I started doing grass root social justice work with the Ignite Youth Rights & Responsibilities program in the first place; which is based here in Pasadena and geared towards youth in Pasadena. The lost lives of beloved and respected black people like Michael Bryant, Kendrec McDade, Reginald Thomas, and Anthony McClain should not be regarded as stories of the past, but as souls propelling the fight for justice.”
Griffin is a co-designer of the Ignite Youth program, which aims to prevent violence in the community and is sponsored by the Pasadena/Altadena Coalition of Transformative Leaders. The program teaches conflict resolution skills to local youth.
“In Ignite Youth one of our main goals is to inform youth of their rights so they are able to effectively communicate with the police,” Griffin wrote. “Through teaching youth their rights we empower them with knowledge that puts the police on a more level playing field. Two important rights are the right to remain silent and the ability to not consent to searches. We also work on effective communication, and mindfulness of our demeanors in police interactions in hopes of better outcomes.”
Griffin said he plans to start a chapter of Ignite Youth in college in addition to continuing to represent the Pasadena community “wherever I end up.”
Before Farr presented Griffin with the cash award, he regaled the scholar with a quote from Pasadena’s own Octavia Butler: “All that you touch, you change. All that you change, changes you. The only lasting truth is change. God is change.”
Farr closed by inviting Griffin to “come back to Pasadena and be great.”