From community organizing in South Los Angeles to becoming the first-ever African American woman in the United States to serve as a Speaker of a state legislative body, Karen Bass has always been a fighter for social justice and equity, two principles she’s continued to fight for in Washington, DC.
Karen 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. A graduate of Hamilton High School, Cal State Dominguez Hills and the University of Southern California, Karen has represented Los Angeles in both Sacramento and Washington, DC for more than 14 years.
Karen 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 healthcare for Californians and championed efforts to improve the child welfare system and to provide tax credits to keep film production in California. For her leadership in California, Karen, alongside fellow Democratic and Republican lawmakers David Cogdill, Darrell Steinberg and Michael Villines, received the prestigious John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award, which has also been awarded to President Barack Obama and Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annan.
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.
Prior to launching Community Coalition, Karen was a nurse, Physician Assistant, and clinical instructor at USC.
Karen had one daughter, Emilia Bass-Lechuga, and a son-in-law, Michael Wright. 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 three grandchildren, Henry, Harlynn, and Michael.