Honoring Two Great Civic Entrepreneurs

Tuesday, December 1, 2009 (All day)

As many of you already know, we recently lost our dear friend, founding board chair, and long-time member of the Community Partners board of directors, Albert Rodriguez. In his honor, we created the Albert R. Rodriguez Civic Legacy Award to shine a bright light on values Al held dear during his life. On Wednesday, December 11, we honored the first two recipients of the award, a ceremony we will now hold annually at our holiday gathering.

In choosing the recipients, we looked for project leaders whose approach to their work paralleled Al’s commitment to the highest standards of ethical integrity, public accountability, fiscal prudence and dedication to the people and communities. While we could have chosen so many of our project leaders, two individuals stood out as exemplary.

The first honoree of the evening was Marsha Temple. Marsha, like Al, is an attorney by training, though she keeps many tools in her kit besides the power of the law. 

Marsha started her professional career as a nurse’s aide, but quickly worked her way up to administrative director of the UCLA Medical Group at the age of 23. It was then that she decided to go to college. Marsha wanted to become an attorney, and so she pursued law with her usual fierce determination. She worked as counsel to hospitals, clinics and other groups operating in the health care arena, and she built a broader civic life serving on the boards of prestigious organizations like the Venice Family Clinic.

One day, Marsha ran into a man on the street named Scooter near her home in Marina Del Rey. Scooter was homeless. She said hi. Scooter said hi back, very cautiously. Marsha wanted to help, but it took three years for Scooter to trust her. Fast forward to today. Our honoree has more or less turned in her lawyer’s shingle for the life of a civic activist and public policy advocate. Hoping to scale up a critical set of services for people like Scooter, Marsha has established a project at Community Partners – roughed out initially on a napkin over lunch at Philippe’s across the street – now known as the Integrated Recovery Network. IRN is like a powerful social welfare switching station, moving homeless, mentally ill, drug- or alcohol-addicted people in trouble with the police off the jail track and into treatment and a hospital bed. All of her work exemplifies Al Rodriguez’s entrepreneurial fire and the values he held dear.

The second honoree of the evening was Robert Garcia, who shares a few background characteristics that are similar to Al’s.

Al was a gifted Latino lawyer trained at one of the nation’s prestigious law schools, Yale. Robert is a gifted Latino lawyer trained at Stanford. And that is just the beginning. Influenced by some of the greatest legal minds of our time, Robert chose an uncharacteristic career path and became a public interest advocate. Social injustice aggravated him and motivated him at the same time.

Robert distinguished himself in the 1990’s by helping organize community members to oppose the development of the open space known as “the Cornfield” on Alameda Street. The stunning victory that resulted earned Los Angeles a distinctive new downtown park and our honoree a reputation as the banner carrier for “park poor” and low-income communities.

When Robert speaks publicly, he holds the United States as an exemplar of justice to the rest of the world. He calls, with a ringing public voice, upon our country’s leaders to live up to the ideals our justice system represents – right down to making sure that people in poor neighborhoods have access to the same kind of parks and open spaces in which to rest and recreate as people in any other part of the city. His project at Community Partners has broad reach. He calls it The City Project. It’s about Los Angeles, and it’s about all cities where people share tight quarters with one another. It’s about tolerance, equity and fairness as vital commodities in the everyday exchanges of normal life.

Marsha and Robert are outstanding individuals making impact in the lives of hundreds of people and in communities throughout Los Angeles. As Al’s daughter shared after the award ceremony, honoring people like them and their work is truly the most appropriate way to pay tribute to Al.