Yolande Beckles began showing up at Echo Park neighborhood council meetings last year, introducing herself as a former British resident interested in youth and education. She helped out at community events, volunteered at a church-sponsored food bank and is now running for a seat on the Greater Echo Park Elysian Neighborhood Council, which is holding an election this Saturday. “She seems very knowledgeable about education and kids,” said neighborhood council Jose Sigala, who included Beckles on a slate of candidates he helped put together. Recently, Sigala and other fellow council members have been surprised to discover stories of the fame – as well as misfortune – that Beckles generated in Britain. In February, the British newspaper The Independent published a story about Beckles – described as an education “guru” once featured in a BBC documentary – that recounted some of her business failures and allegations of financial mismanagement. Now, in Los Angeles, she faces questions about her involvement at local schools with a new education program, the paper said. But Beckles defends her track record in both countries.
“I have volunteered in my schools and in the community since I arrived,” Beckles said in an email. ” If it is a crime to give back and make a difference in Los Angeles then I am guilty of that as I spend over 60 hours a week volunteering since I arrived.”
In a February 14 story headlined “The messy life of Miss Beckles,” The Independent said that she left the United Kingdom in 2008 “leaving behind unpaid bills and county court judgments.” While in Los Angeles, Beckles has set up another educational group called Think Global Kids, which the Independent said “seeks grants and financial donations from public authorities and generous philanthropists to help reform the school system and help underprivileged youngsters.” Los Angeles Unified is investigating Beckles and the group’s involvement at Rosewood Elementary after parents expressed concerns, said the story.
LA Unified spokeswoman Ellen Morgan said the district would not comment on The Independent story. “The district is currently looking at various concerns surrounding Rosewood, and until we gather all the facts surrounding this matter any comment would be premature.”
Beckles said the British paper failed to print her responses to a reporter’s inquiry. In that response (published here in full), Beckles denied fleeing Britain to avoid her creditors, and said she continues to work to repay some debts. Meanwhile, she volunteers at local schools and raises funds for programs to help disadvantaged students and support arts education. In her email to The Independent, she said:
“I like many of people have made mistakes most of mine are in the public domain so there is nothing for me to hide, I have tried to go on to improve the situation after what has happened. Are you saying that does not give me permission to ask questions about how children are being educated and how are schools run and how funds are used in this system?”
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