Justin Rudd on Straight Talk

Justin Rudd

Art: Welcome to Straight Talk featuring Justin Rudd, community advocate, who grew up in Alabama, came to Long Beach 19 years ago. Let's explore some of the things that you've been involved with and since it's Thanksgiving season, let's start with the Turkey Trot, which you originated.

Justin: So the Turkey Trot is a 5K/10K run or walk on Thanksgiving morning. We get about 5,000 runners and walkers on the paths at the beach. We raise about $150,000 for my non-profit organization that morning.

Art: Do you want a good Thanksgiving joke?

Justin: Sure. How do you keep a turkey in suspense?

Art: I have no idea.

Justin: I'll you later.

Art: [laughter] You have an affinity for bulldogs and Rosy's Dog Beach is another one of your ventures.

Justin: I started Rosy's Dog Beach about 15 years ago. Rosy was my bulldog at the time and we were living a block away from the beach and it was not legal to have a dog on the beach. And other people were not using it, the beach was a little more dirty than it is now and I wanted to be able to take her over there and play. You could go to Huntington Dog Beach, but I wanted to be able to do it in my own backyard. So, I went down to the library downtown and found this code that allows dogs on the beach during a special event and so I held a special event. And on Sunday afternoon, that June, we had about 500 dogs show up for a four-hour period and we proved to the city over 21 consecutive months of those special events that dogs could run and have a lot of fun with their people, bring people to the beach, and it would be clean and safe at the end of the day.

Art: And then there’s Riley's Red Wagon Book Swap.

Justin: So, my friend had a book swap on Cherry Avenue near Seventh Street and I said that's a great idea. She had about 100 or so books out every day and I said I want to do that, but do it at Belmont Shore. So Riley, my bulldog, used to ride around in a red wagon when he was older and couldn't get around so well. [After he passed away] I put the wagon on my front lawn and filled it with our books and said you can come and take a book and leave a book. And people did that and it just has grown. Now it's about 450 books every day and we have about 50 or 60 books that come in and go out every day … on the corner of The Toledo and Corona in Belmont Shore.

Art: So we had Rosy the bulldog and Riley the bulldog and now you have Potus?

Justin: Yes, Potus the bulldog. It means President of the United States.

Art: Do these ideas just float into your head?

Justin: Yes, they do. Like in the middle of the night often times I'll wake up and just thinking about stuff. That's how I created the bulldog beauty contest. We get about 200 something bulldogs on Valentine's weekend. It's the world's largest gathering of English bulldogs in Long Beach.

Art: You were also originated the monthly beach cleanup. Tell us about that.

Justin: So 17 and a half years ago I was running on the beach and I was jumping over piles of trash that had washed ashore from the Los Angeles River and the San Gabriel River and I wanted to do something about it. The city was not able to pick up fast enough and keep up with the amount of trash. So, I said to some friends I was teaching at a beach boot camp “Can you come and join me Saturday at 10 o'clock after we do our boot camp?” And 12 of my friends showed up. We cleaned for 30 minutes. At the end of that day I said “Can you come back the next month on the third Saturday of the month at 10 o'clock? Same time, same place and bring your friends.” And they did. For 17 and a half years. Rain or shine, we're there.

Art: You just pick up garbage on the beach and throw it into trash cans?

Justin: Yes. We pick up a lot of Styrofoam because Styrofoam floats down the rivers. Fast food packaging, plastics, a lot of drinking straws. Sometimes we'll find bouncy house balls like at Burger King or McDonalds, those red, green, or blue balls. Basketballs, we find all kinds of things out there.

Art: You say this follows a boot camp. What is the boot camp?

Justin: I taught beach boot camp in Long Beach. It's called Sand Challenge. Every Saturday and Sunday morning for 11 years and it was just a one hour class where we would get about 20 or 30 men and women who would just work out together. So, I would lead them through running and running stairs and pushups and sit ups and squats and lunges and I still teach at the Belmont Athletic Club. I teach three classes a week of body sculpting. It's light hand weights, same exercises, but in a classroom.

Art: What does Touch a Truck involve?

Justin: Back in Alabama where I grew up there was an event called Touch a Truck and I decided to bring that to Long Beach. There are now Touch a Trucks all over the country. Ours, I think, is by far the largest one. We get more than 100 vehicles. We park them all in the parking lot at Granada Avenue. So, it's about 110-120 trucks like big rigs and fire trucks and police cars and ambulances and trash trucks and street sweepers, recycle trucks… There's even some off-road racing cars and then we get some motorcycles. So, kids get to sit in the driver's seats. They get to honk the horns. We get about 12,000 spectators.

Art: Amazing. Your non-profit owns and operates the Miss Long Beach pageant. Now I always heard that was part of the Junior Chamber of Commerce.

Justin: It was. The JC started that back in 1950 and they had it up until about six or seven years ago. So, my non-profit took it over and we now have the pageant. So, it's Miss Long Beach, Miss Teen Long Beach, Little Miss Long Beach, Mrs. Long Beach. So, we added Little Miss and Mrs. Our Little Miss is a natural pageant. They're not allowed to do any hair extensions, no makeup, no glitter, no fake teeth.

Art: It's more than beauty, it's intelligence and they need to demonstrate a certain amount of poise and I think skill in some area.

Justin: Absolutely. Ours is not a beauty pageant, it's just we call it a pageant. Beauty, they're not judged by that anywhere. They're all beautiful women who compete. Beautiful on the inside and on the outside and they're able to champion some cause that they might have for the year. Perhaps it is breast cancer or HIV/AIDS or arts education, something like that, but then they also attend many of my Community Action Team, my non-profit events and they're compensated every time that they attend one of the events.

Art: You have a non-profit called Community Action Team, CAT, and it generates some substantial income. You can then put it to charitable, appropriate charitable uses.

Justin: That's right. So, we started a non-profit about 15 years ago. I was already doing the dog parades and spelling bees. I was already doing the beach clean ups and Operation Santa Paws…

Art: What is Operation Santa Paws?

Justin: Each December for the month we collect toys and treats for shelter dogs and cats. These are animals that are trying to look for their forever home. So, we deliver toys and treats to about 4,000 shelter dogs in Southern California. I personally go to four various shelters in our area, but we also have affiliates in about 30 different states. So, it's basically you put out a collection box at veterinarian's office or at a pet food supply place or at a coffee shop and ask people to bring toys and treats. Then you go and pick those things up and deliver them to your favorite shelter or adoption group.

Art: From soup to nuts, you complete the transaction. That's marvelous. Now I learned through my sources, namely you, that you once were a singer.

Justin: I was. When I first moved to California, 21 years ago I was living in North Hollywood and I was singing for Disney special events. So, I sang at the world premiere of Mulan, the world premiere of Hunchback, singing in Las Vegas, singing at El Capitan Theatre, singing at Disneyland. I was a Dickens caroler and also was a singing sergeant for the Toy Story show. I grew up singing in church choirs, singing in choirs, acapella choir in college, traveled to Europe. I was singing in Zambia Africa on a mission's trip before. In fact, next summer will be my seventh time to Africa. I enjoy going back each year.

Art: The National Adult Spelling Bee has come under your bailiwick.

Justin: That's right. I started the National Adult Spelling Bee many years ago. It's a $1000 prize and we get spellers from all over the country. Last year a woman from Southern California won. The year before it was a gentleman from Georgia. The year before from Alabama. The year before from Virginia.

I always had spelling bees growing up as well and I did okay, but we never had an opportunity to go any farther than the school spelling bee. There just weren't opportunities like that, but when I'm, when I was starting my non-profit I wanted to be able to have a way for kids to excel and to win at education, something educational. So I just started the kids, the National Kids Spelling Bee and I could've done it just for kids in Long Beach. I could've done it just for southern California, but why stop there? There wasn't already a bee for kids. So I created the National Kids Spelling Bee.

Art: [Tell us about] Camp Justin. This has to be a program near and dear to your heart.

Well when I started Camp Justin five or six years ago, I was using it as a working title and it just has kind of stuck, but basically Camp Justin takes incoming high school seniors who are somewhat disadvantaged. Maybe they have a tough home life or a tough parent situation going on or they just can't afford a lot of opportunities to go and experience things. So, Camp Justin is a day camp and it's held for seven days and we take kids on various outings. For example, a few years ago we flew them to Las Vegas for the night. We stayed at a five-star restaurant, the Bellagio. We eat buffets, we saw Cirque Du Soleil show, went on the roller coaster at New York, New York.

Art: I was shocked to learn that many of our youngsters in Long Beach never get to the beach. Now how can you not get to the beach when you live in Long Beach? Opportunities to bring kids just to the beach is something special.

Justin: We've done that with the 30-minute beach cleanup. We bus students in who have never been there. Also with Camp Justin we visit presidential libraries that are here in southern California. We visit university campuses so they're getting tours. They meet the mayor and all of the council persons. They'll have an etiquette lesson at a five-star restaurant in town. We'll visit the, the downtown court house and Judge Danny Lowenthal's chambers and he'll give us a private tour. So they're meeting all kinds of influential people. We're eating dinners and getting the police chief and the fire chief, so they're meeting all kinds of people.

Art: What an opportunity and this is something from another world for a lot of these kids. And you get cooperation and donations from these various venues to bring these kids?

Justin: Yes. All of the restaurants we do, but a lot of the money though comes from the Long Beach Turkey Trot. In fact, the Turkey Trot funds about 90 percent of my non-profit’s work for the year.

Art: You said that generates a six-figure profit for the foundation.

Justin: It does. About $150,000.

Art: Let's go back to Kenya for a second. For a couple of weeks and you work with AIDS orphans.

Justin: We work with a non-profit organization in Lakewood called Tumaini International. Tumaini is a Swahili word and it means hope. So the idea is to bring these kids hope. So we visit with them in the places where they are living. So these kids are who have lost their parents to HIV or AIDS, are living with perhaps a grandparent or an aunt or an uncle or perhaps even a neighbor who knew the kids before their parents died. So, they're in a traditional home life setting except without a father and a mother and then the non-profit doesn't believe in putting these kids in orphanages, but rather in a more traditional atmosphere. But we visit with them, we'll go to their houses, we'll visit their schools, and we provide medical care and education, we help to pay for their education. So, they have to pay to go to school in Kenya and they have to wear school uniforms and often times because the average Kenyan makes about $2 a day, they can't even afford to go to school. So we will pay for their school uniform and for their education and get them food and housing and then the medical care. That's important.

Art: What kind of future is there in store for these kids in Kenya?

Justin: I think any kid that gets a good education has a fantastic future ahead of them. Often times when I'm working in the slum in Nairobi, it's like that's all that they know. They've never been outside of the slums so they don't even know what a great education is. They don't have access to internet or email to look beyond what they know in that slum. So the idea is to get them out of that situation and education is the tool to get them out.

Art: I think Long Beach is so much better off having Justin Rudd as one of our residents and he and others also who contribute so much on a volunteer basis to our community, add so much to what it means to be living in Long Beach. So, thank you for that Justin.

Justin: You're welcome. It's an honor to live here. I think God put me in the right place at the right time and to be able to do what I'm doing, I love it.

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