Al Rodriguez holds a revered place in the quarter-century history of Community Partners. He and I spent countless hours conferring as we put together early plans for launching the organization. Al’s legal experience in exempt organizations and philanthropic institutions, and my experience as a foundation executive and grantmaker gave both of us familiarity with the landscape we intended to change. Al lent his legal talent, his prestige, his personal funds and his considerable stature as a creative lawyer to Community Partners for 17 years.
Since Al died much too prematurely in 2009, we’ve honored his spirit and values every year with the Albert R. Rodriguez Civic Legacy Honors. Al was a very shy and private man and would have hated having anything named after him. But it still gives me a frisson of satisfaction to annually pluck the strings of the universe that absorbed Al’s energy at his death, and hold up his memory and legacy for both pause and celebration.
At our recent holiday gathering, we recognized five sponsored projects of Community Partners. The first was launched by Emily Cummins Polk and it’s known as JUNTOS. Based in the Lennox school district where many families have endured the rigors and challenges of poverty, JUNTOS brings a trauma-informed care approach to helping kids get a solid education free of health problems and other distractions. Emily’s a perfect example of all the social entrepreneurs the Civic Legacy Honors are meant to hold up.
As Al was fond of saying, people like Emily, especially in the early stages of doing transformational work in the community, should be freed to focus “on the cause that animated them in the first place.” They shouldn’t be weighed down by the need to formalize underlying finance and administrative systems or establish formal organizations.
Bruce Rankin of Westside Coalition, another honored group this year, has focused on the animating cause of hunger and homelessness that is prevalent even in one of Los Angeles’ more affluent communities. The coalition partners, now numbering 44, bring both hope and tough civic and political advocacy to people who have few, if any, standing in their corner.
We also held up as exemplar projects a trifecta of mobility and transit access groups, run by the rising generation – that is, people younger than me! – of standout activist leaders in the Southern California region. BikeSGV, Multicultural Communities for Mobility (MCM) and Investing in Place; each contributed uniquely to the overwhelming voter support – and greatly expanded scope – of Measure M, a sales tax augmentation that passed on November 8 and will bring a flow of about $840 million a year to transit and transportation coffers of the Metro, the regional transit agency for Los Angeles County.
Wes Reutimann of BikeSGV, an avid cyclist and racer, accepted the honor with a shout out to his fellow activists and the Community Partners staff with whom he and his team work.
Andres Ramirez, MCM co-chair, acknowledged the elevated place that equity deserves in transit access, especially given how critical buses, rail and pedestrian/bike infrastructure are to many low-income communities in the region with no other transit choices or options.
Jessica Meaney of Investing in Place, spoke about the Los Angeles transit system as one part of an over-arching infrastructure and mobility architecture ripe for investment and set to redefine our next century of community development.
Al Rodriguez once told me that he chose legal work with exempt organizations for much the same reason that a kid can’t keep himself from walking into one of those stores displaying jars and jars of tasty, colorful candy on shelves upon shelves all the way up to the ceiling. To Al, civil society, philanthropy and the organized nonprofit sector were like a 31 Flavors of delights, always something different, and all of it potentially sweet and satisfying. We make our Albert R. Rodriguez Civic Legacy Honors dignify that childlike wonder at the magic that is transformational activism for positive change – each jar of serious civic candy as unique and essential to the integrity of the region as the next one beckoning.