Let’s play a game of “Who I saw in Ackerman today.” Here are the clues:
1) He’s Olympic gold medalist
2) He lit the Olympic Flame at the 1984 summer games in Los Angeles.
3) He also happens to be a fellow Bruin (class of ‘59)
It’s Rafer Johnson, who I spotted sitting near Panda Express, just sipping some boba and chatting with students about politics–Los Angeles politics that is.
He came to help his fellow Bruins support Wendy Greuel, Los Angeles City Controller who is running against Eric Garcetti in the Los Angeles mayoral elections. Voters hit the polls on May 21.
Since early spring, students have come together to help promote Wendy Greuel’s campaign for office, and Johnson was the special guest at Thursday night’s phone bank.
So how exactly did he get involved in all of this? Well, it all goes back to his days as a student athlete here at UCLA.
While a student here Johnson ran track, and he also played basketball under the coaching of John Wooden. He credited his success to all of the support that people, like Wooden, gave him over the years.
“You know I worked hard to be good at what I did, and you don’t get that way alone.”
After he retired from sports in 1960, Johnson decided he wanted to give back to the same community that helped him with his achievements. Since then he has been involved in charities and events that serve the community, including the Special Olympics, which (coincidence!) is how he got to meet Wendy Greuel.
“I’ve known Wendy for many years,” he said, “We got to work together with fundraising opportunities for the Special Olympics.”
Cathi Cohen, a third-year political science and psychology student, was working the event as part of an internship. She and her fellow interns work for the Greuel’s West Los Angeles campaign office, and have been working to promote student interest in the election, and Greuel.
“Voter turnout at the first election was pretty small, about 18% of registered voters in L.A.,” said Cohen. “Students just don’t know what’s going on, especially with USAC elections going on this week.”
Johnson said he supports Greuel because she is works for the community.
“Wendy gives back, and not just once or twice, or in one specific place. No, it’s all across the board, all over L.A.,” he said.
And out of curiosity, as a UCLA alumni what was his hope for students here?
“I feel that I made the right choice in coming to UCLA, and I just hope that more students would feel the same way.”
That school pride was obvious, especially when he mentioned how he’d been involved in some board or another here since he graduated. He’s also just one alumni of an extended Bruin family (his wife, mother in-law and children are all UCLA graduates)!
His pride for the school was clear when I snapped a picture of him at the campaign table.
“Should I wear my UCLA jacket?” he asked, laughing.
-Estefani Herrera, Bruin contributor