Manuel Pastor is truly a changemaker, making a critical connection between the interests of low-income communities of color on the one hand, and the economic and social future of entire metropolitan regions on the other. Professor of American Studies & Ethnicity at the University of Southern California, he directs the USC Program for Environmental and Regional Equity and the Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration, research centers that work with and for community-based organizations working for social justice.
Long an advocate (and sometimes an organizer), Pastor’s life – like so many others – was changed dramatically by the 1992 civil unrest. The days of rage made evident the depth of despair in Los Angeles. The inadequacy of top-down responses made it clear that old models – including those many progressives had held dear – had to be reinvented. And the creative responses that emerged from the ground up – and continue to evolve and expand today – inspired and guided Pastor to work with others to forge a new approach to university-community partnerships for social change.
Pastor’s research in environmental justice, for example, has been conducted in direct collaboration with a wide range of activists in both Los Angeles and the Bay Area. After a decade of documenting disparities in both locales, Pastor and co-researchers developed a way to preemptively identify overburdened and socially vulnerable communities – and then worked directly with residents to “ground-truth” the toxic reality on the ground. The results – community-based participatory research that offers an accurate picture of where hazardous sites are located and how they affect the health of nearby communities – have fed directly into a campaign to "Clean Up Green Up" three of the most environmentally stressed areas of Los Angeles.
But that’s just one example. His work on low-wage Latino workers and the positive impact of unionization helped to support the campaign for a living wage in Los Angeles. His work on regional equity – the inclusion of everyone in metropolitan prosperity – helped to inform organizers across the country as well as efforts for better workforce systems here in L.A. His work on immigrant communities has helped to support campaigns for comprehensive immigration reform and the Dream Act. And his work on America’s changing demography and the importance of Black-Latino relations has both foreshadowed our national future and offered new models for community organizing.
And he writes. In 2009, he co-authored This Could Be the Start of Something Big: How Social Movements for Regional Equity are Reshaping Metropolitan America, a volume that helped chart contemporary organizing and explain the rumblings that produced the Obama victory in 2008. In 2010, he co-authored Uncommon Common Ground: Race and America’s Future, a book that documents the gap between progress in racial attitudes and racial realities, and offers a new set of strategies for both talking about race and achieving racial equity. And just this year, he co-authored Just Growth: Inclusion and Prosperity in American’s Metropolitan Regions, a book that uses an innovative mix of quantitative and qualitative methods to assert that equity is actually key to growth – a timely message for a U.S. economy still seeking to recover from economic crisis and distributional divides.
With his deep commitments to both activism and academic rigor, he has become a critical translator between philanthropy and social movements. Comfortable in the board room, the university, and the street, he has facilitated connections, helping to explain to funders how grassroots organizing works, how it builds the power necessary for justice, and why funding change, not charity, is a framework that needs to go beyond Liberty Hill.
Marqueece Harris-Dawson, President of Community Coalition in South LA, sums up Pastor best:
“Manuel Pastor has the heart of an organizer and the vision for social justice research that makes a wide-spread impact on people’s lives. Lifting him up as a leader means lifting up Los Angeles as the nation’s most important model of organizing, research, and policy that works for social justice.”