In this critical moment, social equity leaders and their communities are calling for space to cultivate a sense of purpose, enthusiasm, and momentum towards more resilient communities across California. This sentiment remains the same as it was four years ago as The California Endowment, Rockwood Leadership Institute, and InPartnership Consulting launched its inaugural Building Power for Healthy Communities Fellowship.
As with every year, we look for fierce power-building leaders in San Diego and Sacramento working to improve the lives of families in California. The goal is to help them skillfully and collaboratively shift the local and state health policy landscape. Over the years, we’ve seen dynamic volunteers of multi-pronged mission organizations, community-based organizations, government agencies, board and coalition drivers, social justice creatives, and political troublemakers. This year is no less astounding than the last.
Every one of the cohort members demonstrates that they are not just building movements, they are building trust in humanity with love and passion for all that they do. With curiosity, joy, confidence and humility, these fellows bring a racial equity lens to their leadership as well as to successfully push racial equity in their organizations, networks, and community.
Almost unanimously, this group considers power to be an innate quality within all of us, shifting as needed to achieve a common good. They believe in sharing the information, tools, support, and encouragement to inspire autonomous action from the ground up.
So it’s with love, hope, and solidarity that we introduce the 2021 cohort of Building Power for Healthy Communities:
Brittany Villalpando Torres | Administrative Assistant, Self Awareness and Recovery
Brittany is a UC Davis Student studying Cognitive Science with minors in Psychology and Chicana/o Studies. She is a first-generation student from Pacoima, San Fernando. She conducts research around trauma, incarceration, mental health, cognitive development, and cultural healing. Aside from her academic work, she is honored to be working with Self Awareness and Recovery in Sacramento, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing resources and helping high-potential youth, and incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals.
Carmela J Prudencio (she/they) | Marketing & Communications Director, Pacific Arts Movement
Carmela is the marketing and communications director at Pacific Arts Movement. She organizes with Asian Solidarity Collective and is a co-founder of the San Diego Asian Pacific Islander (API) Coalition serving as communications chair. She is active in the San Diego’s arts community as a curator and visual artist, co-running the independent artspace Teros Gallery. As a First Generation Filipino American, Carmela is passionate about sharing local and global Asian and Asian American stories and amplifying community voices through activism, film, and visual arts. In her organizing work, she works on city and county levels to promote racial equity and emphasize intersectionality. Through crafting meaningful messages, she is dedicated to empowering communities and creating enduring social change.
Cecilia Flores | Community Organizer, Sacramento Area Congregations Together (ACT)
Cecilia is the daughter of Filipino immigrants, Evelio and Marie, who grew up in Pittsburg, CA, and mother of Kiara and Jacob. She has spent over 15 years working with communities of faith to address issues of poverty and injustice in the US and in Central America through the formation and development of youth, young adults, and women. She holds an MA in global development & social justice from St. John’s University, and currently works as a community organizer with Sacramento ACT.
Christina Ree | Director of Programming, Pacific Arts Movement
Christina is an artist, administrator, and educator. She is currently the director of programming at Pacific Arts Movement, a programmer for the San Diego Asian Film Festival, and occasional faculty at local colleges. She ran a guerrilla cinema truck which popped-up in San Diego neighborhoods such as Barrio Logan and City Heights. Her individual and collaborative artwork has exhibited in museums, galleries, and public spaces throughout the US and internationally and focuses on indigenous, APIA, queer, and decolonial concerns. Prior to San Diego, she worked for close to 20 years for her hometown of Oakland, CA including founding an arts nonprofit to train 200 Oakland youth as urban scholars and organizers, and was deeply involved in launching a public high school for Black and Latinx youth. She has a long history working for APIA health justice at the local and national level, and at a center for artists with disabilities developing models of artistic citizenship.
Crystal Sanchez | President of Sac S.O.U.P / Sacramento Homeless Union
Crystal is the president of Sacramento Homeless Union and SAC SOUP as well as the regional director of the National Union of the Homeless. She is working on her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice to continue to have the education to fight a great fight in social justice. Her goal is to end homelessness, poverty and inequity.
Dan Nyamangah | Lead Community Organizer, SAY San Diego (Social Advocates for Youth)
Dan was born and raised in the rural outskirts of Kisumu, Kenya and moved to the US in 2010. Dan worked with the International Rescue Committee as an organizer for the Refugee Farming Program. For the last eight years, Dan has been a lead community organizer with SAY San Diego at the Crawford Community Connection – a school-based family resource center at a local community school, Crawford High School. Additionally, Dan manages Parent-Student-Resident Organization (PSRO), a parent and community coalition comprising of twelve language groups advocating for the improvement of academic and health programs in the community schools. Through the group, Dan hosts an annual Community Dialogue on Education where he brings together parents, teachers, community organizations, elected leaders, and school district representatives to have a dialogue to develop recommendations for the school district. Dan is a graduate from the Point Loma Nazarene University with a Bachelor of Arts in organizational leadership; and will be furthering his education within the same focus through a post-graduate program starting summer of 2021.
Eden Hirsh | Education Program Officer, United Way California Region
Eden works as the education program officer for United Way California Region, a Sacramento non-profit organization dedicated to eliminating poverty, advocating for social justice, and providing community support in the capital region. Her work centers around providing educational supports and partnerships that target marginalized students to provide them equitable opportunities for success both in school and after graduation. With over 10 years of experience in the non-profit project management, social services and case management Eden is committed to providing equitable responses and a voice to communities who have historically been pushed aside and ignored.
Evlyn Andrade | Policy Advisor, San Diego County – Board of Supervisors
Evlyn has a BA from UC Berkeley and currently serves as a policy advisor to San Diego County Board Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer. She is also the vice chair of the East Area Caucus of the San Diego County Democratic Party. Prior, she was the development director at Climate Action Campaign. Evlyn has volunteered with many organizations supporting low-income families on topics ranging from college admissions to substance abuse and addiction. She has volunteered with the Teach in Prison Program and now volunteers as a court appointed special advocate for youth in the foster care and juvenile justice system. She has been a passionate proponent of social, economic, and environmental justice and has served on various executive boards for Democratic Clubs throughout the San Diego region and the Sierra Club. She also has experience working on local, regional, and national political campaigns.
Griselda Ramirez | Director of Community Engagement and Partnerships, Team Nora
Griselda is a Los Angeles native and a graduate of California State University Fullerton, where she earned a degree in communications with an emphasis in public relations. Griselda has spent the last decade working in social justice and civic areas from political campaigns, fighting for worker rights, to getting involved with several community organizations. Before joining Team Nora, Griselda led the civic engagement work for Mid-City Community Advocacy Network in City Heights, as the director of civic engagement where she built a successful grassroots civic engagement program that successfully increased voter turnout in City Heights. Griselda also served as a commissioner for the Leon L. Williams San Diego County Human Relations Commission. She is an alumnus of Hispanas Organized for Political Equality Leadership Institute, LEAD Advance, RISE San Diego, MANA de San Diego LSLP, and Movement School. Her mission in life is to bring resources to those who need them and help build a culture of voters in her community. Griselda serves on several non-profit boards, including Run Women Run, Peoples Legal Services and serves as president of the Latina Democratic Club. Griselda’s inspiration comes from her family and friends, life experiences, and traveling.
Hermán Barahona | Lead Community Organizer, United Latinos-Promoviendo Accion Civica
Hermán is the lead community organizer for United Latinos-Promoviendo Acción Cívica, where he is forming an environmental justice leadership campaign to address unfair air quality policies forced on the poorest neighborhoods. His civics education began in 1987 at the age of 12 when he arrived in South Central Los Angeles from Honduras. He earned a degree in political science from the University of La Verne and credits his social justice “awakening” to the local affiliate agitators of the Industrial Areas Foundation. Hermán serves as president of the board of the Sacramento-Placer Latino Leadership Council, a health prevention and intervention program, led by a team of extraordinary grassroots promotoras.
Khalil Ferguson | President and CEO, United CORE Alliance
Khalil currently serves as the economic development chair for the United CORE Alliance (UCA). UCA engages populations and communities most harmed by the War on Drugs to create pathways for job placement in emerging markets, facilitates educational opportunities to increase economic mobility, and organizes legal support to formerly incarcerated individuals. Khalil’s focus on strategies for combating gentrification and supporting inclusive economic development programs has resulted in appointments to the City of Sacramento’s Measure U Tax Oversight Committee and the City Manager’s Inclusive Economic Development and Investment Committee. Under Khalil’s leadership, the UCA has been instrumental in helping the city of Sacramento in forming its cannabis equity policies. Recently, the city added 10 additional permits specifically for drug war impacted communities. Additionally, Khalil was integral to the establishment of the California Cannabis Equity Grants Program which provided $30 million in grant funding to jurisdictions throughout the State of California. Khalil holds a BA in international relations and economics from California State University, Sacramento.
Kimberly Williams | Hub Director, Sacramento Building Healthy Communities
Kim serves as the hub director for Sacramento Building Healthy Communities (Sac BHC), a health equity initiative, focused on ending health and racial disparities in Sacramento neighborhoods. The focus of the Sac BHC is to remove barriers and create new policies and systems that will improve the overall quality of life for the most underserved residents in Sacramento. Through the Sac BHC Initiative, Kim oversees and supports Action Team advocacy campaigns in the following issue areas: Food Access, Health Access, Youth & Education, and Community Development. In addition to Sac BHC, Kim serves as the community incubator lead for one of the Sacramento Black Child Legacy sites and she participates in several other coalitions and collaboratives.
Liz Blum | Community Organizer, Decarcerate Sacramento
Liz is an abolitionist organizer who believes that prioritizing public health is critical to building safe communities. Liz spent many years co-facilitating an educational and healing program in Folsom Women’s Prison and is constantly inspired by the resilience and power of those who are currently incarcerated. Her brother’s experiences with incarceration and probation led her to the political advocacy work that she does now with Decarcerate Sacramento, which has successfully prevented two jail expansion projects and is currently building a plan to decrease county jail populations in Sacramento County. Liz also works with Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB) on the state-level to support prison closure and abolitionist reforms, and the National No New Jails Network. Liz has also coordinated nonprofit urban farms and managed countywide food bank programs. She is completing a master’s degree in community development, focusing her research on Sacramento County, where she is proud to call home.
Monica Ruelas Mares | Community Organizer, Youth Forward
Monica is a South Sacramento native and is passionate about social change through healing and building transformational relationships. At Youth Forward, she serves as the coordinator of the Sac Kids First (SKF) coalition where she is building bridges between organizations and agencies across multiple sectors. Monica coordinates SKF’s efforts to build an advocacy platform with youth voices at the forefront and transform policies impacting kids in Sacramento. Monica received her Bachelor of Arts in geography from UCLA. Aside from her work with Youth Forward, she is a certified facilitator of self-awareness workshops and has facilitated workshops for women across California as well as foster/ systems-impacted youth in Sacramento. Monica is the proud daughter of immigrants from Mexico and the youngest of 4. Outside of work she loves spending time with her nieces and nephews, watching sports, and listening to good music!
Natasha Tais Salgado | Community Engagement Coordinator, Logan Heights Community Development Corporation
Natasha was born and raised in Orange County, CA. In 2019, she graduated from the University of San Diego with a BA in political science and minored in international relations & non-profit enterprise. Natasha serves as the community engagement coordinator for Logan Heights CDC primarily focused around socio-economic justice in Logan Heights & the Historic Barrio District. She also serves as the San Diego Promise Zone Economic Activities co-chair.
Nia Haeley MooreWeathers | Community Organizer, Youth Forward
Nia is a Sacramento, CA native, and a big supporter of social interests. She pursued higher education at Humboldt State University where she obtained a BA in anthropology, with an emphasis in evolutionary medicine (2012-2016). She began working for Youth Forward in the winter of 2018. As a community organizer, she has focused her energy towards the establishment of permanent funding streams for marginalized youth via policy advocacy with the Sacramento Kids First Coalition, developing a larger conversation around mental health resources for marginalized youth in their communities and schools, the expungement of cannabis-related criminal cases via the Justice2Jobs Coalition, created and taught a racial-justice inspired educational program called Blunt Talk for high-school aged youth centering around the War on Drugs, and the development of racial equity ideology and policy here in Sacramento.
Reem Nassr Zubaidi | Program Manager, UC San Diego Center for Community Health, Refugee Health Unit
Reem is the manager for the UC San Diego Center for Community Health, Refugee Health Unit and co-chair of the San Diego Refugee Communities Coalition, a recently formed collaborative of ethnic community based organizations whose mission is to work together on coordinated actions to ensure that individuals and families from refugee communities throughout San Diego County are healthy, safe, and thriving. Reem has a master’s in public policy from UC San Diego and a bachelor’s in journalism and communications from Northwestern University in Qatar. She is also an organizer with the Party for Socialism and Liberation and an advocate for human rights and climate justice.
Rizzhel Javier | Managing Director, The AJA Project
Rizzhel (San Diego, 1983) is a San Diego-based artist, educator and youth arts advocate. Her artwork explores topics in identity, memory, culture and human relationships. As a first generation Filipino-American, Rizzhel uses her art practice to dissect her identity, and that of the larger Filipino-American community through the research and creation of art projects. Her art is grounded in social practice, with the intent to engage the public and build a dialogue on topics that are often difficult to discuss or understand. She is currently exploring her own definition of power, how and when to hold it, as she redefines the word on her on terms. Rizzhel is currently the managing director at City Heights (San Diego) on the AJA Project, where they work towards collective liberation.
Roxanne A Suarez (she/they) | Director of Partner Integration, 2-1-1 San Diego
Rox dreams of a world where everyone has a high quality of life. She spends her days designing user interfaces and processes that support everyday people accessing supportive services. She draws inspiration from an eclectic set of tunes, science fiction, and an array of disruptors.
Samuel Tsoi | Equity Impact Manager, Office of Equity & Racial Justice, County of San Diego
Samuel joined the San Diego County Office of Equity & Racial Justice in June 2021. Previously, he was the assistant director for the 21st Century China Center at UC San Diego, where he produced a podcast and educational programs on U.S.-China relations. Samuel currently serves as the board vice president at Alliance San Diego, a civic engagement and policy advocacy organization. He is a core member of the San Diego API Coalition and a civic seminarian at Citizen University. As a RISE San Diego Fellow, he co-founded Welcoming San Diego, a cross-sector initiative to advance immigrant integration. Prior to moving to California, he coordinated a flagship conference, produced policy reports, and built diverse coalitions in Massachusetts state politics, and was a consultant in the field of corporate social responsibility. Samuel is a graduate of Gordon College (BA) and the University of Massachusetts Boston (MS) and has completed advanced studies at University of San Diego, Tufts University and Harvard Kennedy School. He has published articles on urban development, leadership, and Asian American affairs. Samuel and his partner Amanda, a public school teacher, are parents of three, and they are members of the Vineyard Church.
Tazheen Nizam | Associate Executive Director, CAIR-CA San Diego
Tazheen serves as the associate executive director of the San Diego chapter of the Council of American Islamic Relations (CAIR-SD). Tazheen is an activist and an organizer with deep roots in the San Diego community and has worked extensively with the progressive and interfaith communities. She is the co-founder & co-chair of the North County Immigration Task Force where she has advocates for immigrants’ rights through education and policy. Tazheen has also been instrumental in organizing the Woman’s March in North County San Diego since 2016. She serves on multiple non-profit boards including the San Dieguito Interfaith Ministerial Association (SDIMA), South Vista Communities (SVC), and the Tri-City Islamic Center (TCIC). Before coming to CAIR-SD, for over 20 year she worked in accounting and finance in various positions. She also owns her own business consulting outfit where she advises clients on full cycle accounting services, software implementation, budgeting, and compliance.
Tiffany Wilson | Research Partner
Tiffany has over 16 years of experience as an applied social researcher, whose passion is working with collaboratives, and engaging populations typically disenfranchised from research. She found her social research calling in 1998 while contributing to a study for the Urban League of Portland, examining the disparities between African American and white children in the foster care system. Through that project she realized the sense of fulfilment that came with working in partnership with community to understand an issue and amplify community voice. Tiffany’s work has increasingly focused on building people power and community organizing. Prior accomplishments include working as a senior planner and community outreach Specialist for a land use and community planning firm. As the chair of a resident-led, land use committee, she uses the knowledge she gained working as a planner, to inform her land use advocacy.
Tori Truscheit | Organizing Director, Housing California
Tori is the organizing director at Housing California, based in Sacramento. She supports a network of leaders who live in affordable housing or who have experienced homelessness in seven regions across the state. Previously, she was the solidarity manager at Sacred Heart Community Service in San Jose. In the last decade, she has organized tenants, urban gardeners, public school teachers, white people for racial justice, and a lot of moms. Her roots are in queer communities, which taught her that no one is disposable and movement-building should be fun. She writes Little Fish, a weekly newsletter about building power.