By T. A. Hendrickson
The newest mural in Los Angeles, by artist Sergio Daniel Robleto, is arguably the most inspiring.
Located in Albion Riverside Park in Lincoln Heights and entitled “Champions of Change,” the mural depicts six people from Lincoln Heights who have changed the world for the better.
“The Champions of Change mural is about the Eastside and the strength of these six people to lift up people around them,” said CD 1 Councilmember Gil Cedillo. “It is important to have murals that educate ourselves and others about our history.”
From left to right on the mural, the six are:
Sal Castro (1933-2013): A longtime educator in L.A. schools, Castro was a key organizer of the 1968 East L.A. walkouts, when thousands of Latino students protested inequalities in education and demanded better schools. A 34-year old teacher at the time at Lincoln High School, Castro and 12 other organizers were arrested after the walkouts and charged with conspiracy. They were freed amid demonstrations calling for their release and eventually exonerated. The walkouts, with Sal Castro in a leading role, are recognized today as watershed events in the political history of Mexican Americans.
Ruth Vivian Acosta, of the Lincoln High School Class of 1957, went on to become a leading advocate in the fight for equity for women’s sports. Her writings on the topic – including the authoritative book “Title IX” — have been extensively cited in law journals, Congress and gender-equity lawsuits. Acosta has received many national awards, including the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Association of Collegiate Women Athletic Administrators and the Billie Jean King Award from the Women’s Sports Foundation.
Robert Ernie “Babo” Castillo (1955-2014): Castillo was a third baseman at Lincoln High School before becoming a pitcher in the major leagues. From 1977 to 1985, Castillo pitched in 173 games for the Dodgers and 77 for the Minnesota Twins for a career ERA of 3.94. His best year was 1980, when he had a 2.75 ERA in 61 relief appearances for the Dodgers. In 1981, he played on the Dodgers World Series championship team. Castillo has also gone down in baseball history as the man who taught Fernando Valenzuela how to throw a screwball.
Leo Santa Cruz: Born in Mexico and raised in Lincoln Heights, Santa Cruz is currently the featherweight champion of the World Boxing Association, a title he adds to world championships in three other weight classes, including bantamweight, super bantamweight and super featherweight. He is also an exemplar of the immigrant experience in Lincoln Heights, where despite family hardships to get by, he and his trainer-father never gave up on the work, plans and dreams, starting in Santa Cruz’s childhood, to become a boxing champion,
Kenneth S. Washington (1918-1971) A star running back at Lincoln High School, Washington was the first African American to sign with a modern NFL team – the Los Angeles Rams – in 1946. Along the way, Washington attended UCLA, where he played both baseball and football, and, in 1939, become the first consensus All-American in the history of UCLA’s football program. Lincoln High remembers its star alum every year in the Kenny Washington Memorial Game (which Lincoln won this year to clinch the Northern League championship).
Paula Crisostomo was a senior at Lincoln High School when she became the student leader of the 1968 East L.A. walkouts. Sal Castro was her teacher and mentor. Crisostomo and fellow students first tried meeting with the school board and other elected officials about changing the dismal conditions at Lincoln and other eastside schools, but their demands were denied. The walkouts were a last resort. In an interview in 2018 Crisostomo recalled the moment the walkout began. “When I first stood up I thought, am I the only one leaving? When I turned around there were students behind me, and I opened the door, and I heard “Walk out!” And I … thought, ‘Okay, this is really happening.’” Over the next week and a half, more than 20,000 students had joined the protests. In addition to her career in nonprofits and college administration, Crisostomo helped to found the Sal Castro Foundation, which promotes educational justice and leadership development for Latinx youth.
The Champions of Change mural was commissioned by the Department of Cultural Affairs, which invited three artists from its 2020 muralist roster to submit designs. Robleto’s design was unanimously selected by a panel made up of Lincoln Heights community members, Bureau of Engineering staff and Recreation and Parks staff.
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T.A. Hendrickson, a native of Eagle Rock, is the editor of the Boulevard Sentinel, and a former member of the Editorial Board of the New York Times. Hendrickson is committed to local news reporting and to finding a way forward for local news outlets in today's challenging media markets.