Every year, L.A. Weekly's People issue is chock-full of artists and comedians, actresses and chefs. But amid all the glamour and gossip are another group of Angelenos — people who may not have marquee names, but are at work on a truly important endeavor: making this world a better place.
Meet 10 people in this year's issue who are doing just that.
10. Olenka Polak
Pity the stranger in a strange land who wishes to watch a movie. In most U.S. theaters, the odds of getting subtitles, much less a translation into his native tongue, are nearly nil. But Olenka Polak, who dropped out of Harvard last year and moved to Santa Monica to develop her own startup, seeks to change that. Her app, MyLingo, would make foreign language tracks available on smartphones — so people like her immigrant parents could watch new releases and get the dialogue in a language they understand. Read Gene Maddaus' profile to learn more about Olenka Polak.
9. Daveed Kapoor
An architect by trade, Kapoor has made himself something of a gadfly when it comes to good urban design. As Marissa Gluck writes, he fought (successfully) to get a bus stop added in a key part of Skid Row, thereby serving downtown's Arts District. He's designed three parklets, and even created a “pioneering DIY kit of modular designs, which members of the public can use to set up their own parklets, street plazas, and 'bicycle corrals' on underutilized bits of urban land.” He's making L.A. a more pedestrian/cyclist-friendly city — one block at a time. Read Marissa Gluck's profile to learn more about Daveed Kapoor.
8. Alexandra Suh
The executive director of the Koreatown Immigrants Workers Alliance, Suh helps workers fight unscrupulous employers. One of their biggest pushes: Wage theft. They believe low-income workers lose nearly $1.4 billion a year to companies that exploit them. Last year, that meant taking on Urusawa, famously the city's priciest sushi restaurant. After the alliance agreed to represent a fired employee seeking back pay, the state launched an investigation — which ultimately led to workers getting back tens of thousands of dollars. Read Tien Nguyen's profile to learn more about Alexandra Suh.
Turn the page for more Angelenos making the world a better place, including the concierge of Skid Row.
7. Daniella Meeker
A systems engineer at RAND Corp., Meeker's job is to stop superbugs. But since these microbes are caused by the overuse of antibiotics, that means fighting not germs but doctors. Her team found that 43 percent of physicians they studied were overprescribing, feeding an explosion in drug-resistant microbes. Now the Ph.D. in computation and neural systems is working on innovative programs to get doctors to stop being part of the problem. Read Jill Stewart's profile to learn more about Daniella Meeker.
6. Wendell Blassingame
After surviving life on the streets as one of the thousands of people in L.A.'s Skid Row, Wendell Blassingame dried out, cleaned up and found housing in the neighborhood. But he didn't turn his back on people suffering. Today he sets up shop in San Julian Park seven days a week, serving as a volunteer concierge of sorts to the neighborhood's residents, helping to connect them with services and nourishment. Read Hayley Fox's profile to read more about Wendell Blassingame.
5. Cristina Garcia
An L.A. City College adjunct math professor, Cristina Garcia looked into the budgets of her hometown, Bell Gardens, and realized city administrators were being overpaid — but that was nothing compared to what was going on in neighboring Bell. The corruption she stumbled onto there, and helped the L.A. Times reveal to a stunned nation, was virtually unprecedented. But Garcia wasn't just a gadfly. Inspired by what she witnessed, she campaigned for the state Assembly — and won. Read Joseph Tsidulko's profile to read more about Cristina Garcia.
4. Andrew McGregor
The 6'10″ McGregor is a writer by training, but his endeavors include everything from helping to tell the stories of refugees in the war-torn Congo to inventing a robot to take out landmines to … chessboxing. Yes, really. The “perfect sport for anyone who has sat through a game of chess wishing he could punch his opponent in the face for a good cause” raises money for charity. And now he's talking to RZA to translate the sport into chess jujitsu to reach inner-city kids. Read Orly Minazad's profile to learn more about Andrew McGregor.
Turn the page for more do-gooders, including a guerrilla gardener.
3. Angeles Echols Brown
She moved to Los Angeles after Cornell University in order to be an actress — but Angeles Echols Brown instead ended up teaching school. And when she realized her young pupils needed tutoring outside of classroom hours, she ended up starting a nonprofit, Educating Young Minds, to do it. She has helped more than 3,500 at-risk kids, 94 percent of them who end up graduating from college. Read Lisa Horowitz's profile to learn more about Angeles Echols-Brown.
2. Maria Klawe
President of Harvey Mudd College, Maria Klawe is the first woman to hold that job since the college's 1955 founding. And she's working to make sure women and minorities seize the opportunity to major in its tough, high-paying discipline. She sees it as a way to get better results: “If we don't get more women and African-Americans and LGBT folks into science and engineering, we don't get nearly as good outcomes.”
Read Liana Aghajanian's profile to learn more about Maria Klawe.
1. Ron Finley
By trade, Ron Finley is a fashion designer. But he's recently gained fame for another reason: He transformed his small yard in the South Central neighborhood into a “guerrilla garden.” By his example, he hopes to empower other neighbors to do the same — and help bring healthy food to a neighborhood that's been a food desert (or “food prison,” as he calls it) for far too long. Read Liana Aghajanian's profile to learn more about Ron Finley.