Our staff and Board members stand alongside our partners to advance wellness and to defend the progress we’ve made together.
The following are interviews with 4 Advance and Defend Wellness Grantees: Sarah de Guia, Executive Director of the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network; Shane Goldsmith, President and CEO of the Liberty Hill Foundation; Manuel Pastor, Professor of Sociology and American Studies & Ethnicity at the University of Southern California; Paul Tepper, Executive Director of the Western Center on Law & Poverty.
One of my heroes is Maria Blanco. She was my supervisor when I worked at MALDEF (the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund). Maria was a wonderful mentor, and she was instrumental in getting legislation passed in California that permits undocumented students to be able to pay in-state tuition at state universities. (Maria currently is executive director of Undocumented Legal Services at the U.C. Davis School of Law.)
Two other heroes are Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. They both demonstrate poise and conviction in their beliefs, and are pillars of strength in the U.S. justice system.
Family first. I have bicultural family. Mom’s family is Mexican-American and my father’s family is from Virginia. We have a lot of strong women in our family on both sides, and I draw my inspiration from them. When I have challenges or I feel a little lost, I give my Mom a call or I check in with my aunts and my grandmother.
I also draw strength from my son Max, who is three-and-a-half. He needs me when he needs me — and I have to be there. It’s a good reminder to turn off the phone and unplug and be there for the people you love.
The other place I get strength is from our community partners. At CPEHN, we work with fantastic, on-the-ground organizations in communities across the state. When I hear the stories about the struggles of the people those organizations serve, I am reminded about what we’re all fighting for.
The work we’re doing is really deep. It’s about fighting systemic discrimination, and this is a long game we’re playing. But at the same time we have seen a tremendous amount of positive change in a short time, and it gives me hope we can overcome today’s challenges.
Cautiously optimistic. I am cautious because we really are under attack. Communities of color and immigrants are facing strong, systemic challenges. But I am optimistic because we have a lot of motivated, smart and engaged people working with us.
One book I am reading is a new one called Supervision Matters by Rita Seever. I have been working as an executive director for two-and-a-half years, and I find new challenges and opportunities all the time. I have been working with an executive coach and she suggested the book. It’s given me a lot of bite-sized, practical ways to connect with the staff at a time when we are all moving at 150 miles per hour and it’s hard to connect. I also just finished re-reading The Handmaid’s Tale since it came out on Hulu. That story is a reminder to stay awake and make sure we’re doubling down on protecting our rights.
Ice cream. We go to Fenton’s in Oakland pretty regularly. I get a junior Black & Tan Sundae with toasted almond.
When I was at MALDEF, I worked with a team on some fairly substantial state legislation that set standards for interpretation and translation services in private health care settings. When it passed, that was a big deal. Another achievement I’m proud of is winning the Herman Wildman Social Justice Writing Award for a paper I wrote in law school. I was always a little nervous about my writing, but my professor submitted a paper I wrote about language access and reproductive services. And I won!
It’s not a failure or a regret, but one place I am focused on as an area for growth is improving my leadership skills and learning how to help the next generation grow and learn and become strong leaders. That’s why I am reading Supervision Matters. I am thinking a lot about the best ways to reach out and connect with new, younger staff members. When I think about my personal achievements and leadership, I want to see that reflected in the growth and achievement of mentees and the people I work with.
Wellness means that people feel confident and healthy in all aspects of their being.
Securing the gains we have made in areas from health care and immigrant rights to environmental justice and climate change. Those are all places where we have moved the needle and we need to make sure we don’t backtrack.
Get to know your elected representatives. Visit them, call their offices, talk with their staff, and learn more about how they are representing your beliefs and your concerns. And if you don’t agree with them, then make sure you vote. Next, I would say that people need to identify those issues that really concern and motivate them and get involved.
My greatest hope is that people are reminded in this period of darkness that we all need to be involved and engaged, and that we will come out all right on the other side.
My work is a big part of my wellness. If I stopped being an advocate, I would be undermining my own health and wellness. So part of wellness for me is to continue to be engaged and involved in advocacy. But I also understand the importance of unplugging the phone and reconnecting with family and friends. It’s about finding that balance.
I am inspired by the youth leaders we work with at Liberty Hill. These are young people of color living in low-income communities with the odds stacked so much against them. And yet they take that personal experience of tragedy and injustice and turn it into power to change their lives.
I get a lot of strength from work. I was raised poor with a little brother by a single dad, and he taught us how to work hard. It’s even better that I get to do work that I think makes the world a better place. Especially at a time like this when there is so much uncertainty and when so much of what we have fought for is at risk, this job is a source of real strength for me.
My personal wellness is contingent on taking action. And so sometimes I get discouraged when it’s hard to figure out what to do. When the threats are so large, finding the right response can be daunting. But I am lucky. I get to work with so many inspiring people who are doing great things on the front lines in their communities. They remind me we can use this moment to build power for moving forward.
I serve as a commissioner with the Police Commission in Los Angeles, and we’re working on an effort to get all 10,000 people in the department to go through implicit bias training. As part of this work, I read the book, Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People. It’s a great book, and it really gets to the core of the deeply ingrained biases in all of us, and how we can interrupt the relationships between bias and behavior.
Chubby Hubby ice cream. Definitely.
The one thing I am proud of recently is being part of the Brothers, Sons, Selves coalition in Los Angeles. This is a group of community-based organizations made up of young people of color. We supported leadership and media training for coalition members to go and talk to school boards about the problem that young men of color were getting suspended from school for totally preventable and subjective reasons. This, in turn, contributes to the school-to-prison pipeline that puts so many of these young men on a really tough trajectory through life.
Now, thanks to the advocacy of these groups, we have a School Climate Bill of Rights that has reduced suspensions by 50 percent. It’s amazing to be part of something where young people said this is a problem and here is the solution and we will fight for it. And to see them win is icing on the cake.
In a moment like this, the one thing closest to failure that I feel is a feeling of inadequacy. As hard as I work, at the end of every day I know it is not enough for the people who are like I was when I was growing up — people who are not sure how they will survive and who are afraid and hungry and who look ahead to lives where they won’t have the choices and opportunities they deserve. So in some ways it feels like I fail every day, but that doesn’t stop me from getting back up the next day and keeping at it.
I think wellness is about power. We cannot take care of ourselves and each other if we don’t have personal and collective power. That’s why it’s so important to build power for people who are most impacted by injustice and inequality. We need to change those systems that leave so many people powerless and unwell.
Go to the heart of the issue. If you care about schools, then go to the young people who are directly impacted by the injustices in that system and listen to their perspectives. If you care about kids experiencing homelessness, then go to those kids and figure out who they are and what they need. Realize the incredible potential of the people impacted by these issues, and support them to build power and lead.
I have been consumed by the urgency of my work, and I work as hard as I possibly can. But now I have two young children and they are at an age where they are starting to notice that I am not around so much. I am seeing through them the need to find some balance and take better care of myself.
To stay healthy, I have become obsessed with exercise in the last few years. I do CrossFit, I run, and I also do Spartan races. They’re crazy obstacle course races from five to fourteen miles in the wilderness where you do everything from climbing up high walls to carrying around barrels of rocks. I do this with a team of friends, and it’s really become a metaphor for my life. Progress is about powering through every obstacle so you can take the next one on.
He directs USC’s Program for Environmental and Regional Equity and the Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration.
My parents. My dad was an undocumented immigrant who joined the Army and found a path to citizenship in this country. My mom grew up in Spanish Harlem and was tough as nails. Both were incredibly principled people. Once my Dad got hurt in an industrial accident, and when it came time to go back to work the union was on strike. Dad went straight to the picket line even though the family would be without food.
I am also inspired by the community organizers I work with and get to meet. Mom taught me that small, often unrecognized acts of courage and principle are the everyday province of ordinary people. Too often, we look for big heroes when it’s the small acts of regular folks we should celebrate.
I spend a lot of time working with numbers and figuring out how data can help people tell their stories. The rigor of doing that provides strength for my mind, just as my interactions with community groups provides strength for my soul.
I recently worked on a project here in Los Angeles. The focus was on low-income neighborhoods with many environmental problems. And one of my proudest moments was watching an immigrant woman get in front of the City Council and talk about how she had done air quality tests and mapped the environmental hazards in her neighborhood. She had the data to show there was problem and she wanted to see a change. When you see your work empower people to act, that gives you real strength.
Right now, I am discouraged by the negative political atmosphere in the country and the complete disregard for data and facts being evidenced at the highest levels. That is a real downer, but I find it also reinvigorates me to do the work I do.
Determined. With a view to the long haul. And confident that human dignity and solidarity will eventually win.
A recent book I read is The Penguin and the Leviathan by Yochai Benkler. What he writes about is that economists and social scientists essentially adopt a Hobbesian version of human nature. They say that life is nasty and brutish and short, and that our destiny is to pursue self-interest in intense competition with one another. But Benkler says that people have both selfish impulses and impulses of solidarity, and that we need to move to different rules to encourage connections to one another. It’s really a beautiful and actually pragmatic vision.
I’m a sucker for bad TV. I love Scandal. It’s deliciously wonderful.
Gaining the trust of movement activists and community organizers who know that we do our work in solidarity with them.
I often think less about failures than about places where further growth is necessary. I think I haven’t done a good enough job transforming the universities of which I gave been a part. I have been able to create pieces of the academy that are more public and engaged and relevant, but dragging whole institutions in that direction is a tough job.
For me it means empowerment. I think that when someone feels a sense of their own power, they’re better able to take care of their health, and that sense of empowerment affects community health. When people are stronger and more confident about the power they have to change things, that feels to me like wellness.
Advancing and defending wellness means helping people realize that wellness is a community concept and not just an individual concept. It means challenging structures of inequality and building civic engagement to do that.
We need to move away from a frame of “beating the odds” to a frame of “changing the odds.” It’s wonderful to help one young person in a challenging environment to be able to learn more and graduate on time and get ahead. But it’s even better to create school systems that do that on a regular basis. So that means lobbying school boards and making sure money gets to the schools so they can hire and keep the best teachers and help all kids succeed.
Or think about a child with asthma. It’s vital to make sure that child has the right kind of medicine and treatment. But we also need to look at whether there are environmental causes contributing to asthma throughout the community and then take steps to reduce pollution.
It’s really about waking up to what’s going on in our communities and then working with other people to get our voices heard. Politicians respond to the calculus of votes and power around them, so it’s our job to change the calculus.
I go to the gym a lot, so that helps. I also laugh a lot because that lightens things for me and the people around me. Even if we are talking about a hard thing, bringing some humor to the conversation makes it a little easier for everyone.
My wife, Nancy Berlin. (Nancy is a well-known member of the nonprofit and advocacy communities in California, currently serving as Policy Director with the California Association of Nonprofits.) She has impeccable political instincts and an ability to instantly wrap her arms around an issue and know where to go with it.
I work with a truly amazing staff of 31 people who are experts on issues, ranging from health and housing to public benefits and racial justice. Despite the challenges in this work, they are always ready to charge forward and do what’s best for our clients.
It is tough when you see past victories being eroded. For example, repealing the Affordable Care Act will take a huge toll on poor Californians. All of the proposed cuts in safety net programs, too. Things—and people—are really on the chopping block.
But I always take heart in Dr. King’s quote that the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice. If you look at the longer trajectory on issues from racial justice to civil rights, women’s rights and gay rights, we have seen astonishing changes happen in a relatively short time. So I’m confident that even if we are in trouble right now, in the long run things will continue to get better.
Ready to fight the good fight.
I recently read Strangers in Their Own Land by Arlie Russell Hochschild. She is a U.C. Berkeley sociologist who went to Louisiana to try to understand why people there supported the Tea Party. She used the lens of environmental issues and asked why people whose lands were being polluted, and who fish and hunt and should nominally support conservation, back a political movement that works against those interests. I think it’s instructive for progressives to understand what these folks are thinking — even if we can’t change their minds.
I have lots of pleasures but I don’t have any guilty ones. Cooking is a gigantic pleasure for me. I probably have 100 cookbooks. I think of it as a good way to travel around the world without having to leave home.
Working to ensure the success of Western Center gives me enormous satisfaction. I have spent most of my career working in the nonprofit sector, and I know very well the challenges nonprofits face, from fundraising to building a strong staff and board. We are celebrating our 50th anniversary this year. This organization has weathered ups and downs like any other nonprofit but we are going strong. That makes me feel good.
I have been a pretty lucky guy. I have been married for more than 30 yrs. I have a healthy child. I am healthy. I like my work. I don’t like to dwell on regrets.
Overcoming obstacles. Taking on the bad guys who are trying to do harm to the people we serve. And always recognizing the racial justice component of what’s happening to so many communities across this country.
I have expanded my media diet recently so I am not just looking to places like the Washington Post and the New York Times. I am also checking Breitbart, Fox and other, more conservative sites. One of Arlie Russell Hochschild’s recommendations in her book is that we should spend time talking to people who hold different views than ours. I may not have the same religious beliefs as my neighbor, and we may not agree on a particular political issue, but we are still neighbors. I think we should always be looking for opportunities to step out of our bubbles and be good neighbors. And I think there is a real opportunity for political parties and candidates who can create and foster that sense of neighborliness among all of us.
That the pendulum will swing back.
I maintain a good work-life balance. I make it a point to get home for dinner most nights with my family. I realize I am incredibly fortunate to be able to say that; it’s a luxury many people don’t have. And it’s a reminder that what we’re fighting for at the Western Center is the opportunity for more people to have those kinds of choices.