Let me—if you were unable to attend—bring you a taste of our recent annual holiday gathering, a stellar event that captured once again this year the essence of what Community Partners is all about.
More than 200 friends and allies packed the largest meeting room on our co-location campus with The California Endowment. Leaders of sponsored projects and their teams connected with our staff and board members. Foundation colleagues met up with our partners from a range of county and municipal departments. Project leaders exchanged ideas and strategies about each other’s work.
The feel of the room was about how, in search of a common future, we craft a more connected and ultimately more resilient civic culture, something we aspire to at Community Partners.
Our evening also recognized the need for unity across differences and varied interests in our mutual efforts to make this place called Southern California, and the world, a better place for all. Every person in the room connected in some way to the work of social good, and I’d wager that every person who joined us also holds dear the notion that you can’t go it alone. We must all be together, and for one another, or we will surely suffer in isolation. Which brings me to the projects we honored.
Every year at our annual gathering we lift up a few project leaders and others close to our work whose efforts exemplify and honor the memory of our late co-founder—and my dear friend—Al Rodriguez. The folks we honor represent innovation, creativity, generosity and social entrepreneurship that adds shape and contour to a vibrant, vital and evolving Southern California civic landscape. By presenting the Albert R. Rodriguez Civic Legacy Honors we keep alive Al's spirited dedication to ethical integrity, public accountability, and fiscal prudence, core values we embrace at Community Partners.
This year, the four projects and their founding project leaders stand as a kind of counter-programming, if you will, to some of the more egregious expressions of what is held up as America’s national ‘agenda.’ Together these four efforts stand mightily for inclusion, tolerance of difference, acceptance and civility. Shining a spotlight on the work of these projects couldn’t have felt more right. If you get a chance, reach out and slap a high five to our 2017 Albert R. Rodriguez Civic Legacy Honorees, who include:
Circle of Friends, Barbara Palilis
Decreasing bullying and increasing inclusion for differently-abled young people was Barbara Palilis’ goal when she created the first chapter of Circle of Friends. It was in 1999 at Santa Monica High School, and her idea was to foster friendships between special needs students and their non-disabled peers. Over the past 12, her project here at Community Partners—Circle of Friends—The Path to Inclusion—has created hundreds of chapters across the country and touched the lives of over 300,000 people, positively impacting children, families, schools, and communities. Barbara, who is a former speech-language pathologist, has shown us that it’s not enough to focus on the social language skills to help differently-abled students navigate the school years. Fostering social relationships helps assure they are welcomed and valued by their peers as well.
Dignity & Power Now, Patrisse Cullors
Dignity and Power Now has celebrated major victories in their fight for criminal justice reform, while also lifting up the humanity and rights of incarcerated people, their families, and the communities they come from, and return to. Not only has Dignity and Power Now successfully advocated for civilian oversight of the LA County Sherriff’s Department, this multi-faceted project has incorporated arts, research on alternatives to incarceration, resilience practices, and leadership development activities into its movement building to heal the trauma of incarceration and end mass incarceration. The project was founded by Patrisse Cullors, an artist, organizer, and freedom fighter from Los Angeles who has experienced how the prison-industrial complex can affect families in Los Angeles. Patrisse is also well known as a co-founder of Black Lives Matter, and has received many awards for activism and movement building, including being named by the Los Angeles Times as a Civil Rights Leader for the 21st Century.
Latino Equality Alliance, Ari Gutierrez-Arambula
LEA is a collaborative of community leaders who came together to address LGBT racial justice issues in the Latino community after passage of California Prop 8. In the past few years, LEA has made tremendous advances in family acceptance, LGBTQ immigrant rights, and other related policy and legislative issues. As an example of the impact LEA is making—two years ago, the first LGBTQ community center, Mi Centro, was opened in the Boyle Heights to serve Latino communities on the eastside and adjacent communities. Thanks to a partnership between LEA and the Los Angeles LGBT Center, Mi Centro stands as an enduring testament to the ability of LEA, Ari’s leadership, and the commitment of Latinx LGBTQ community leaders like her. Together they are working to break down cultural barriers to justice and family acceptance, and to help change the narrative and health outcomes for LGBTQ youth and their families.
Long Beach Immigrant Rights Coalition, Norma Stoltz Chinchilla
The Long Beach Immigrant Rights Coalition was started by Norma Stoltz Chinchilla and Mario Salgado in 2006 following the historic immigration reform marches in Los Angeles. Since that time, the Coalition has evolved from a small, passion-driven all-volunteer group to an equally passionate and trusted community advocacy organization. Having long served as volunteer executive director of the Long Beach Immigrant Rights Coalition, Norma is now preparing to transition in a paid executive director so the organization can grow in power and influence. The Coalition will continue to fight for immigrant civic empowerment, comprehensive immigration reform and paths to citizenship for Dreamers—the immigrant youth brought to the US as children—several of whom are employed by Community Partners!