Karen is a proud daughter of Los Angeles. She was raised with three brothers in the Venice/Fairfax area of Los Angeles and is the only daughter of DeWitt and Wilhelmina Bass. Watching the Civil Rights Movement on television with her father initially sparked her interest in community activism. It was at that time that she made a lifetime commitment to fighting for social and economic justice.
In 1990, in response to the crack-cocaine and gang violence crisis that was gripping Los Angeles, Karen founded Community Coalition, a community-based social justice organization in South L.A. that empowers the African-American and Latino community across generations to address substance abuse, poverty and crime in South Los Angeles. Through her leadership at Community Coalition, Karen worked to engage community residents in addressing the root causes of injustice. The organization has been recognized nationally for successful public policy campaigns that have won millions of dollars for the community.
She is a leading figure on foster care, founding the Los Angeles-based National Foster Youth Institute, which advocates for the more than 400,000 foster youth in America by ensuring that current and former foster youth have a seat at the table alongside legislators, policymakers, decision makers, families, and advocates.
Karen has represented Los Angeles in both Sacramento and Washington, DC for more than 14 years but has stayed rooted in the community here at home. She served as Speaker during California’s greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression. Under her leadership, the Assembly fast-tracked federal economic stimulus legislation that aided Californians who were affected by the national economic crisis and jumpstarted billions of dollars in infrastructure projects. In addition to helping navigate the state through a very difficult time, she passed legislation to make healthcare more accessible and affordable for Californians and championed efforts to improve California’s child welfare system. Karen led the effort to increase local film production through changes in state policy. For her leadership, Karen along with the 3 legislative leaders received the prestigious John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award, which has also been awarded to President Barack Obama, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and former Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annan.
A graduate of Hamilton High School, Cal State Dominguez Hills and the University of Southern California, she worked as a nurse, Physician Assistant, and clinical instructor at USC. Karen had one daughter, Emilia Bass-Lechuga, and a son-in-law, Michael Wright who died together in a car accident in 2006. Karen continues to be inspired by Emilia and Michael’s passion for life. Emilia planned to follow in her mother’s footsteps, working for social change. Karen also has four stepchildren, Scythia, Omar, Yvette, and Ollin, and two grandchildren, Henry and Michael.