By Breana Weaver
On November 13, in a celebration at the historic Tom Bradley Tower at Los Angeles City Hall, Liberty Hill’s Wally Marks Leadership Institute for Change proudly presented its first class of Commissions Training Program graduates to an audience of family, friends, Liberty Hill donor-activists, and city staff.
Eleven grassroots leaders, all affiliated with nonprofit organizations, completed the yearlong program designed to train community leaders to become advocates within local government structures. Through workshops, presentations and coaching, participants are trained to serve on or work with city, county and state boards and commissions. Commissions and boards, as described in our blog about the program launch, “oversee key city agencies and advise elected officials and government employees on core policies and programs that impact the quality of life for all of our local residents.”
During her opening remarks, Shane Murphy Goldsmith, Liberty Hill’s President and CEO, explained that the commissions and boards of Los Angeles need everyday Angelenos to participate. Our ultimate goal is to help community organizers work more effectively with commissioners by training more leaders with community based experience to serve.
Most importantly, the Commissions Training Program aims to ensure that all Los Angeles communities are represented by commissions and board members who understand and can advocate for those communities’ needs. This mission was celebrated at the graduation.
Maria Cabildo, the keynote speaker, spoke about her journey to becoming an L.A. City Planning Commissioner, in which role she plays a significant part in the work of one of the most complicated and powerful commissions in Los Angeles. She, like many of the graduates being recognized, grew up in a low income community in East Lost Angeles. At a young age, she saw the need for better housing in her community. After attending college on the East Coast, she returned to Los Angeles with a goal of promoting and advancing socially and economically just community development in East Los Angeles. Cabildo went on to cofound East LA Community Corporation (ELACC), an organization that has captured and invested more than $155 million in affordable housing and community development resources, and has organized the participation of hundreds of community residents in development decision making, community planning and anti-displacement efforts.
As a City Planning Commissioner, Cabildo told the audience, “You have the power to elevate issues that really matter and create [awareness] for policies.” She also had advice for the graduates about the realities of working as a commissioner: “Sometimes the work you do as a commissioner does not create immediate change, but it is actually planting a seed for future change that matters.”
“You take a seed and you take it to a blossom, and you take a blossom till it becomes a fruit. That’s what this commissions training is all about.”
During the graduation, three graduates spoke about the personal experiences that led them to the Commissions Training. Max Podemski, a Planning Director at Pacoima Beautiful, describe how growing up in Portland Oregon, a city renowned for its progressive urban planning, led him to study urban environment through policy. He is currently creating a vision plan for converting the Los Angeles River into a more resourceful location that offers multiple amenities. “You learn [that] serving on commissions can be intimidating,” he said about the training program, but “It is the training that gave me confidence to serve on a commission.”
It was due to the events of 9/11 that Jennifer Samson, who had studied philosophy, decided to pursue a career that she thought would make a difference in the lives of Angelenos. At that moment, she said, “I realized that I could either make the world better through my effort or worse through my apathy.” As a Real Estate Development Director at the Los Angeles River Revitalization Corporation, she learned through the Commissions Training Program that as a commissioner, you must identify what the community wants and align your own vision with those needs. The lessons in civic process are relevant to her work to enrich neighborhoods, build iconic landmarks, and develop a 51-mile greenway along the river.
Gabriela Garcia, the last graduate to speak, had been involved with community organizations in South Central and Boyle Heights as an organizer since 2001, advocating around green space, community health access, affordable housing, community and economic development. When she saw the need for stabilization in her own neighborhood north of USC, she became involved with Strategic Actions for a Just Economy (SAJE). The training made her aware of the steps she can take as a resident, a mother, and an organizer to bring the community perspective to the table, such as serve on a board in her neighborhood.
The program moved and inspired the audience and the room filled with joy as the graduates received certificates and posed for photos. In addition to the three speakers, the graduates recognized were: Jacqueline Agnello, Senior Center Administrator at the USC Program for Environmental and Regional Equity; Carlos Aguilar, Director of Organizing at the Coalition for Economic Survival; Victor A. Aquino-Limeta, member of T.R.U.S.T. Los Angeles;Everardo Alvizo, Development Chair at Latino Equality Alliance; Johanna Arias-Bhatia, Government Affairs Manager at the South Central Los Angeles Regional Center; Orino G. Opinaldo, member of Strategic Actions for a Just Economy; Julia Plascencia, former Civic Engagement Coordinator at California Calls; and Miranda Rodriguez, Community and Events Coordinator at L.A. River Revitalization Corporation.
Head over to the Wally Marks Leadership Institute Commissions Training Program webpage for more information.