Darren Parker, president of the California Democratic Party's African American Caucus and a decades-long political activist and assistant to multiple Assembly Speakers, died Monday in the Los Angeles area after a battle with esophageal cancer.
"Sad to hear about Darren Parker's passing," Gov. Gavin Newsom wrote on his Twitter page. "It's powerful activists like him whose legacy will live on for decades to come. My heart goes out to his family at this time."
Sen. Kamala Harris, D-California and a presidential hopeful, tweeted, "I'm grateful for his dedication to life up the voices of African-American leaders and ensure we have representation from the White House to the school house. May his life and legacy continue to inspire others to action."
His age was not immediately available. He was believed to be in his late 50s.
Raised in Compton but a longtime resident of the Antelope Valley, Parker spent more than a decade leading the African American Caucus. He also served as vice chairman of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party, president of the Antelope Valley Democratic Club and on a host of community boards, including the YouthBuild Advisory Board, the Antelope Valley Mentoring Partnership and Antelope Valley Partners for Health. He was well known for his work in Sacramento, working with Assembly Speakers John Perez, Toni Atkins and Anthony Rendon.
"My condolences to the family and friends of Darren Parker, following reports of his death today after a long battle with cancer,'' Rendon, D-Lakewood, wrote on his Twitter page. "His many years of service to the Assembly will never be forgotten."
Mark J. Gonzalez, chair of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party, said the party was "sorry to lose another great champion of the people."
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"He was instrumental in helping turn one of the last red congressional seats blue this past fall," Gonzalez said. "He helped harness Democratic enthusiasm in Los Angeles County's reddest hot spots and was able to finally see his work bloom. He bravely fought his battle against cancer and kept his commitment to empower and engage his community. He leaves us to continue the work for him. We send our deepest condolences to his family, friends, and colleagues."
Parker told the Los Angeles Sentinel in 2017 -- shortly after announcing his cancer diagnosis -- that he began his political activist at age 11, teaming up with his brother and three cousins to start a club at his grandmother's home in Compton called One Hundred Thousand Students for the Freedom of South Africa.
"Very early in life, we were creating organizations in the backyard and had meetings about how do we help the students over there that we can't see and can't touch, but yet, want to be a part of stopping the struggle that they're in," he told The Sentinel.
Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson said he was "deeply saddened" at the death of his longtime friend.
"If you knew Darren, you knew that he had no choice but to be a lifelong activist because it ran in his family, starting with his mother who introduced us to each other over 25 years ago," Wesson said. "Darren embodied the type of bold leadership that California needed to make sure that African-Americans and the black vote were not forgotten or taken for granted in Sacramento and in the California Democratic Party.
"It's because of Darren's five tenures as chair of the African American Caucus of the California Democratic Party and his strong and committed leadership that there are more blacks elected as delegates in California than ever before,"he said.