Rockwood Leadership Institute is pleased to announce the inaugural cohort of Lead Now: California!
With the support and partnership of the California Endowment, and the Evelyn & Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, Lead Now: California was created in response to the urgent political moment facing our nation that is calling forth a new era of leadership, activism, and alignment among progressive leaders.
Lead Now: California brings together 24 leaders from across California representing issue areas of immigrant rights, Muslim rights, criminal justice reform, LGBTQ rights, workers’ rights, agriculture, economic justice, arts & culture, health, and education. It is a bold, intersectional initiative to dramatically shift the sustainability, effectiveness, and connection of communities across the state.
Join us in congratulating this wonderful cohort!
Tanuoma’aleu Ah You | Founder, Project ALOFA
Tanu is a tenacious and courageous community leader who advocates for system impacted Asian Pacific Islander LGBTQ+/Gender Non-Conforming Communities. He is the founder of Project ALOFA, Another Loving Opportunity For All. Project ALOFA was founded upon the belief that second chances should be extended to those who have made unfortunate decisions and led us into the judicial system. Those who have been incarcerated look for ways to redeem ourselves and reintegrate back into our families and our communities. Project ALOFA is that organization.
Zahra Billoo | Director, Council on American-Islamic Relations, San Francisco Bay Area
Zahra is an attorney who joined CAIR in 2009. She has led its six-fold growth and works with a team of a dozen advocates to advance CAIR’s mission of promoting justice and empowering American Muslims. Her work includes providing legal services to individuals targeted by law enforcement and facilitating know your rights workshops. Zahra spoke at the 2017 Women’s March on Washington and sued Donald Trump to challenge the Muslim Ban. Her advocacy has been highlighted in local and national media including MSNBC, NPR, and the San Jose Mercury News. Among her awards, Zahra has received the 2017 Human Rights Award from the Society of American Law Teachers and the 2014 Unsung Hero Award from the National Lawyers Guild, San Francisco Bay Area Chapter.
Cynthia Buiza | Executive Director, California Immigrant Policy Center
Cynthia has over two decades of experience in nonprofit management and human rights advocacy. She worked on international refugee, migration, human rights, and civil rights issues in Southeast Asia before working with ACLU as Policy Director for its San Diego regional affiliate. She was also Policy and Advocacy Director at CHIRLA in Los Angeles from 2007-2010. Before working with CIPC, she worked as a senior consultant with various immigrant rights and social justice organizations in California and the U.S. Most recently, she managed a statewide capacity building project involving nine regional coalitions in California, helping to strengthen these coalitions through a combination of highly customized training and leadership coaching. Before moving to the United States, she worked with various international organizations, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the Open Society Institute-Burma Education Project in Thailand, and the Jesuit Refugee Service.
Maria “Lou” Calanche | Executive Director, Legacy LA
Raised in the Ramona Gardens Community, Lou’s dream was to return to make a difference in her community to help address the systemic issues that create obstacles for youth success and as well as to improve overall community health. Lou founded Legacy LA, a youth development organization providing at-risk youth living in the Ramona Gardens community of Boyle Heights with the tools and resources needed to help them reach their full potential. Lou’s long-term vision for engaging youth and residents has contributed to Legacy LA’s rapid trajectory as a model of comprehensive service provision in Boyle Heights and facilitates the successful development and implementation of programs and projects for youth. Lou has a Master of Public Administration Degree and is a Doctoral Candidate in Public Administration at USC, focusing her research on land-use policy and citizen participation.
Monique Castro | Co-Founder, California Native Vote Project
Monique is an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation, born and raised in Los Angeles. She is a psychotherapist, consultant, trainer, educator, advocate and community organizer. She is the Co-Founder and Field Operations Manager of the California Native Vote Project based in Los Angeles. Monique is also the Owner & Founder of Indigenous Circle of Wellness, a private practice providing mental wellness counseling to individuals, couples, and families. Monique earned a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from California State University of Los Angeles and Master of Science in Counseling Psychology from Mount Saint Mary’s University.
Alicia Dixon | Executive Director, Marcus Foster Education Institute
Alicia’s professional experiences extend across the nonprofit, for-profit, government, and philanthropic sectors. Her expertise is in developing and implementing comprehensive, multi-sector initiatives addressing the most pressing social justice issues of our times. Alicia holds a bachelor’s degree in microbiology from UC San Diego and a master’s degree in public health from UCLA. Alicia is responsible for implementing MFEI’s new systems-change strategic vision.
Ashara Ekundayo | Founder & Curator, AE Creative
Ashara is an independent curator, creative industries entrepreneur, cultural strategist, founder, and consultant working across arts, community, government, and social innovation spaces. Through her consulting company AE Creative, she designs and manages multidimensional projects and fosters collaborative relationships through the use of mindfulness and permaculture principles to bring vision to life and create opportunities “in the deep end,” often with unlikely allies. Her creative arts practice epistemology requires an embodied commitment to recognizing joy in the midst of struggle. Ashara is the Co-Founder and Chief Creative Officer at Impact Hub Oakland, Director at Omi Arts, and recently opened “Ashara Ekundayo Gallery” to investigate and inspire social and spiritual inquiry at the nexus of fact, Black feminist imaginary, and Afrofuturism through visual and performance exhibition.
Caroline Farrell | Executive Director, Center for Race, Policy & The Environment
For over 14 years, Caroline has assisted low-income communities and communities of color in both the south San Joaquin Valley and throughout the country in their struggle for environmental justice. She quickly established a reputation as one of the Valley’s foremost environmental justice advocates, going toe-to-toe with agricultural polluters from Fresno to Bakersfield. Caroline has represented communities on issues related to dairy development in the Central Valley, hazardous waste facilities, land application of biosolids, and land use planning issues. She has been practicing law in the region for over 18 years, and is an avid (very) amateur photographer with her favorite subjects being her trees, rocks, and her dog.
Eder Gaona-Macedo | Executive Director, Future Leaders of America
Eder is an alumnus of Future Leaders of America, an organization providing leadership and advocacy training for low-income youth and their families throughout the Central Coast. Born in Guerrero, Mexico, Eder was brought to Santa Barbara, California at the age of four as an undocumented immigrant. Eder believes that education is our nation’s greatest equalizer, and as such, we must rally around policies that increase access for low-income communities. He attended UCLA, where he advocated for immigration reform and educational access for all students. Upon graduation, Eder worked at the UCLA Community Programs Office where he managed the Student Retention Center, working towards 100% student retention. Eder received his Master of Public Administration at Columbia University, concentrating in Urban and Social Policy.
Isela Gracian | President, East LA Community Corporation
Growing up, Isela experienced first-hand the leadership skills modeled by her mother’s commitment to collective decision-making to manage family struggles. As immigrants, her parents inculcated strong roots and links to their cultural traditions, which is now a hallmark of her leadership, infusing ELACC’s organizational principles with her cultural practices to forge staff unity and celebrate what binds them to their community. With over a decade of working to advance accountable development to marginalized residents, Isela is recognized as a distinguished authority among Southern California community development leadership and serves on various boards including Strategic Concepts in Organizing and Political Education, and the California Reinvestment Coalition.
Lucia Lin | Director, Young Workers United
Lucia is a 2nd-gen Chinese American queer femme who found her way to the labor movement through a combination of a student worker organizing campaign at UCLA, the UCLA Labor Center, and starting a grassroots Chinese worker organizing effort in the San Gabriel Valley. Today, Lucia is the Director of Young Workers United, and also the National Coordinator for Grassroots Asians Rising, a national network of grassroots organizations rooted in Asian working class communities.
Christina Livingston | Executive Director, Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE)
Christina began her organizing career in 2004 when she was hired as a field organizer for Los Angeles ACORN. In 2010, Christina helped form ACCE, where she worked for two years as Statewide Deputy Director before becoming Executive Director in 2012. Christina has worked on campaigns that addressed equitable infrastructure investment, progressive revenue solutions, housing equity, access to high quality and well-funded public services, corporate accountability, good government, representative voter engagement, and criminal justice. She centers her work at the intersection of racial and economic impacts and is passionate about increasing the voices of people of color, poor folks, and women. Christina graduated from the University of California, Berkeley in 2004 with a B.A. in Sociology. In 2008 she received her M.A. in Sociology from California State University, Los Angeles.
Ruth McFarlane | Director of Development & Community Engagement, National Center for Lesbian Rights
Ruth brings two decades of legal and policy experience, nonprofit leadership and relationship building to her role as Director of Development & Community Engagement at the National Center for Lesbian Rights. Prior to joining NCLR, Ruth was the Director of Programs at the San Francisco LGBT Community Center, and the Director of Community Engagement for The PRIDE Study, a national study of LGBTQ health experience based at UCSF. As a social worker, Ruth worked with LGBTQ and other marginalized youth in the Bay Area, including directing a wraparound residential program for homeless youth living with HIV at Larkin Street Youth Services. In an earlier chapter of her career, Ruth practiced international tax and corporate law in the private sector in New York City and Dallas. Her pro bono practice included nonprofit law and immigration and asylum cases.
Teddy Kỳ-Nam Miller | Economic Equity Director, Greenlining Institute
Teddy leads the organization’s efforts to build wealth in communities of color through a variety of strategies, including housing policy, financial empowerment, bank accountability, and investing in people of color-owned businesses and nonprofits. He is a former Senior Associate at PolicyLink, and he served as an aide to Congresswoman Barbara Lee. He worked on behalf of low-income and communities of color during the Dodd-Frank financial reform negotiations in Washington, DC, and was a policy advisor for the 2016 Measure JJ Tenant Protection campaign in Oakland. He currently serves on the City of San Francisco Municipal Bank Feasibility Taskforce and the CA Secretary of State’s Language Access Advisory Board. He received his master’s from the London School of Economics, and graduated with honors from UC Berkeley, where he competed on the national champion rugby and heavyweight rowing varsity teams.
Josie Mooney | National Organizing Director, People’s Action
Josie directs a network of 45 member organizations in 30 states working on economic, environmental, race, and gender justice. She has been one of California’s most influential labor leaders. She is a past executive director of SEIU 790 (now local 1021), and the only woman to serve as president of the San Francisco Labor Council, a role she held for more than a decade. During her tenure, Josie helped initiate the first labor/neighbor program, and negotiated the best living wage ordinance in the country at that time. She played a key role in unionizing 14 Walmart stores in China with the All China Federation of Trade unions. Josie was a community organizer for 10 years before she joined the labor movement, building power in low-income communities around economic and racial justice. She has been a strategic advisor to international union presidents, many local union leaders, and is a mentor and coach to young organizers. Josie is a vice president of labor and strategic partnerships at NextGen America. She and her husband Vin live in Berkeley, CA and have 4 amazing kids.
Vattana Peong | Executive Director, The Cambodian Family Community Center
Vattana has been working for over seven years to bring culturally and linguistically appropriate services to immigrant and refugee families in Orange County. Vattana leads the work of TCF, a community-based organization which has provided preventive health, mental health, youth and resident leadership and education, civic engagement, citizenship/immigration, and cultural preservation programs to low-income children and families since 1980. Under his leadership, TCF has doubled its budget and has tripled its staff and clients. Vattana has over 15 years of experience working with NGOs both in the United States and abroad, and has been a strong advocate for health equity. Previously, he served the United Nations Population Fund in New York as a Special Youth Fellow, and Japan International Cooperation Agency in Cambodia as a Health and Training Program Assistant. Vattana serves as Co-Chair of the Cultural Competency Committee for Behavioral Health Services for County of Orange Health Care Agency, and as a board member of Khmer Parent Association. Vattana is bilingual and bicultural in English and Khmer (Cambodian), and has a Master’s in Public Health from California State University, Fullerton.
Claudia Perez | Executive Director, Resilience Orange County
Claudia’s work supports youth leaders in creating a transformative leadership pipeline that aims towards social and systemic transformation through healing, trauma-informed, and culturally-relevant practices. Claudia also serves as co-coordinator of the Orange County Girls and Womxn of Color project, which addresses the need to develop a holistic space that is inclusive of a network of cross-cultural womxn of color-identified individuals. She is deeply passionate about youth-led and youth-driven movements, and has a background in Circle Keeping and Restorative Justice practices.
Constance Slider Pierre | Director of Organizing & Community Engagement, Housing California
Constance has worked in organizing and advocacy for over 15 years, supporting workers and communities and advancing social and environmental justice causes. She joined Housing California in 2014 as Residents United Network coordinator before taking on her current position in 2016. Housing California is a statewide advocacy organization focused on advancing affordable housing development and ending homelessness in California. Constance has expertise in program development, coalition building, and strategic planning. She has worked on local and national organizing campaigns, including: winning strategic campaigns in Los Angeles, Boston, and Sacramento with Unite Here; organizing campaigns that won living wages for workers in Berkeley; at ACORN; and managing and operating Democratic Party of Sacramento County 2008 election campaigns that included the history-making Obama for America campaign. A native of Sacramento, Constance currently lives in Oakland where she is a devoted partner and mom.
Alexandra Suh | Executive Director, Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance
Alexandra has been a supporter of KIWA since she moved to Los Angeles in 2002. She joined KIWA’s staff in 2009 and became executive director in 2011. Alexandra has 20 years’ experience in social justice work and holds a PhD from Columbia University. In 2014, California Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez honored her as 53rd Assembly District Woman of the Year. She was named one of LA Weekly’s People 2014 and is the recipient of Liberty Hill’s 2014 Changemaker Award. She was a member of the 2014-15 cohort of the Fellowship for a New California through the Rockwood Leadership Institute, and serves on the board of the National Immigration Law Center. She lives in Koreatown with her partner and two children. She seeks to bring ecological awareness together with organizing and advocacy for social and economic justice–to create a livable Koreatown, Los Angeles, and world.
Alexis Teodoro | Campaign Strategist, Santa Ana Building Healthy Communities
Alexis has been organizing against deportations and pushing for pro-migrant policies for many years. His organizing and policy work is shaped by the lived experience of being formerly incarcerated, part of a mixed-status immigrant family, and having to work in the low-wage janitorial industry where his parents still work. Along with being the campaign strategist for Santa Ana Building Healthy Communities, Alexis writes poetry and cooks for loved ones as a form of therapy.
Rev. Dr. David Vásquez-Levy President, Pacific School of Religion
David leads a progressive, multi-denominational seminary and center for social justice that prepares theologically- and spiritually-rooted leaders to work for the well-being of all. A committed pastor, a nationally-recognized immigration leader, and a sought-after speaker, David leads at the intersection of faith, higher education, and social change. David regularly contributes a faith perspective to the national conversation on immigration, including speaking at a congressional briefing and participating in two immigration consultations at the White House. He has consulted on a number of documentaries on immigration, labor, and human rights, and is the author of various publications that explore migration stories in sacred texts and people’s lives. He has lived in four countries, and taught courses and led international study and service trips across the globe.
Marvin K. White | ARTivist In Residence, Oakland Peace Center & Public Theologian in Residence, First Church Berkeley
Marvin earned a Master of Divinity from the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, CA. The former Pastor Associate at the world-renowned Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco, he is currently the Public Theologian in Residence at First Church Berkeley and a recent Yerba Buena Center (YBCA) for the Arts “Equity” Fellow. He has just been named ARTivist In Residence at the Oakland Peace Center, where he will create arts and social justice community programming at the intersection of displacement and creative/prophetic placemaking. He is the author of four collections of poetry: Our Name Be Witness, Status, and the two Lammy-nominated collections last rights and nothin’ ugly fly. His poetry has been adapted for the stage at San Francisco’s Theater Rhinoceros, and he has performed his original work at YBCA. As a former member of the critically-acclaimed theater troupe The Pomo Afro Homos, he has performed nationally and internationally. As a Teaching Artist for WritersCorps, he has led creative arts and writing workshops for a range of audiences. He holds a fellowship in the national African-American poetry organization Cave Canem, and formerly sat on the board of Fire & Ink, a national black LGBT writers organization. He is articulating a vision of social, prophetic, and creative justice through his work as a poet, artist, teacher, collaborator, preacher, cake baker, and Facebook Status-tician.
Amy Wolfe | President and CEO, AgSafe
Amy leads AgSafe, an organization whose mission is to advance the food and farming industries’ commitment to a safe, sustainable workforce and food supply by providing practical education and resources. Her career includes tenure as a legislative aide in the California State Assembly, serving as an account executive for E&J Gallo Winery, and as Vice President of the California Agricultural Leadership Foundation. Amy is dedicated to her community, serving on the Modesto Rotary Foundation Board of Directors, as well as being a member of Stanislaus County Farm Bureau and a Girl Scout for nearly 35 years. She received a master’s degree in public policy and administration from CSU, Sacramento, a Bachelor of Science from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, and is accredited as a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE). She, her husband, and her daughter enjoy their life in the country with their Great Dane.
Anthony E. Wright | Executive Director, Health Access
Anthony has served as leader of Health Access, the statewide health care consumer advocacy coalition since 2002. The organization has led state and national efforts to win consumer protections, fight budget cuts to invest in safety nets, encourage prevention, and advance coverage expansions and comprehensive health reform. Anthony led California’s coalition effort to help pass the Affordable Care Act and state laws to implement and improve it, including: the #Health4All expansion of Medi-Cal to include all income-eligible children regardless of immigration status; the recent #Fight4OurHealth to protect this progress; and campaigns to successfully pass first-in-the-nation laws to ensure timely access to care and to stop hospital overcharging of the uninsured. He has also worked for New Jersey Citizen Action, the Center for Media Education, The Nation magazine, and in Vice President Gore’s office in the White House. Born and raised in the Bronx, he lives in Davis with his wife Jessica and his son Jefferson.