James Hodge, a community leader and activist in Long Beach for decades, told the City Council Tuesday night that he was stepping down as the Martin Luther King Center chairman after 16 years in the post.
Hodge, 44, who has become the face of the center on Riverside Boulevard, said he was “tenured out,” but would continue to work for the organization as an advocate.
The announcement came about two weeks before the center is to celebrate its 40th anniversary, on Oct. 20, with a fundraiser and a reception.
Cedric Coad will be installed as Hodge’s successor at the anniversary celebration at the center.
“This will be the last meeting I will speak to you as chairman of MLK,” Hodge said at the end of a lengthy City Council meeting. But he delivered an often fiery speech, pleading for aid for the center, which serves food to the poor and homeless and provides educational, recreational and social services for children.
“I come to you as an advocate,” Hodge said in an often booming voice. He said the center lacked air-conditioning for most of last summer, and was forced to shut down at times.
“I question the care of low-income people,” he said. ”I question the care of the North Park area,” which is primarily Black. “I speak for those who don’t have funds.”
“I speak for the children who cannot speak for themselves,” he said.
City building officials acknowledged Tuesday night that the building’s air-conditioning system did not work properly this summer, and said they were working on fixing it.
Hodge said he could have it repaired. “Let me call in a contractor,” he said. ”I will do that, for free.”
He recalled the battle that he had with the city in May 2020, when fire officials closed the center because of a faulty fire alarm. Hodge said the city locked the building’s doors, and he and staff members were unable to get inside, preventing cooks from preparing meals for 300 people. Ultimately, the staff was allowed back in to cook, and meals were served outside.
Hodge said that federal dollars were available, and should be provided to the MLK Center for its programs.
Hodge has played a major role in the city’s life for decades. At times, he has been a controversial figure, arguing that he and the center have been treated unfairly.
During the nationwide protests over the killing of George Floyd by a white police officer in Minneapolis, Hodge organized protest marches in Long Beach that attracted hundreds.
In 2008, the Herald named him its Person of the Year. He grew up in Long Beach, and over the years wore many hats. He was the city’s animal warden, a union official, a member of the Long Beach Coalition to Prevent Underage Drinking, and a member of the school district’s Envisioning Committee and its Community Involvement Subcommittee.
When a 14-year-old boy, Leo Vann, drowned in Reynolds Channel in 2008, Hodge led the charge in questioning the city’s handling of the incident. Showing up at a City Council meeting wearing a T-shirt bearing Vann’s image, he pushed the council to form a commission to review the city’s emergency procedures.
Hodge has long advocated that people get out and vote. During election season, he hits the streets, bullhorn in hand, urging residents — Democrats and Republicans alike — to head to the polls.
He befriended a wide spectrum of leaders, including Rabbi Jack Zanerhaft of Temple Emanu-El of Long Beach. At a protest meeting two summers ago, Hodge thanked Zanerhaft for teaching him how to make challah bread.