Kent Wong, who led the work of the UCLA Labor Center for over 30 years and now serves as the center’s project director for labor and community partnerships, was presented with the John Allen Buggs Leadership Award by the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission on Jan. 16 for his longtime human relations advocacy and leadership.
The recognition was part of the commission’s John Anson Ford Awards ceremony, an annual event that honors human relations champions throughout the county. In a press release on the awards, the commission lauded Wong for devoting “his entire adult life to bringing together workers and communities of all backgrounds to stand up for social justice, fair wages, and humane working conditions.”
“I am humbled to receive the John Allen Buggs Leadership Award,” Wong said during his video acceptance speech. “I am so fortunate to play a small role in this vibrant labor movement to advance worker rights, immigrant rights, human and civil rights.”
Under Wong’s leadership from 1992 to 2023, the UCLA Labor Center expanded its staff from 3 to 40 members, becoming nationally and internationally recognized for its efforts to advance worker justice. In 2021, with the support of state Sen. María Elena Durazo, the center secured funding from the Legislature to establish a permanent home in MacArthur Park and to name the historic building in honor of worker and civil rights icon Rev. James Lawson Jr.
The following year, as a result of Wong’s steadfast commitment to expanding labor research and education throughout the state, an initiative to establish labor centers across the University of California began — today, nine UC campuses have their own centers. Under Wong’s tenure, an effort to create labor centers at three Mexican universities modeled on the UCLA Labor Center also got underway.
Wong also teaches courses in labor studies and Asian American studies at UCLA. Notably, for more than two decades, he co-taught a class on nonviolence and social movements with Rev. Lawson, and their collaboration resulted in two books: “Nonviolence and Social Movements: The Teachings of Rev. James M. Lawson Jr.” (2016) and “Revolutionary Nonviolence: Organizing for Freedom” (UC Press, 2024).
Six others were honored at the awards ceremony, including labor and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta, a friend of Wong’s and longtime partner of the UCLA Labor Center, who was recognized with the Yvonne B. Burke Courage Award.
“I am especially honored to be recognized alongside Dolores Huerta, who has been an inspiration to me and to millions of others for her pathbreaking work to advance human and civil rights,” Wong said.
The John Allen Buggs Leadership Award is named for Buggs, an expert on community relations who served on the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission from 1954 to 1967 and went on to become staff director of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. He died in 1995.