Jul 22, 2020 · 7 min read

Power to the People: Amplified Community Voices Drive Equity in California

Jazmin Segura, program officer at the Common Counsel Foundation. Photo courtesy of Jazmin Segura.

Progress on many of the world’s most pressing issues is driven by fearless leaders who stand with their communities and build movements that effect change. This series highlights those courageous and innovative people on the frontlines and their bold missions to create a more equitable and inclusive future for all.

Meet Jazmin Segura

Jazmin’s commitment to building community power is deeply rooted in her own lived experience. She was born in Mexico City and migrated to the United States at the age of nine. Growing up in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles Jazmin learned early on the need to advocate for herself in order to expand her access to opportunity. She became the first in her family to graduate from college, studying Political Economy at the University of California Berkeley. 

Now, with more than twelve years of experience in immigrant rights and social justice movements, she serves as the Program Officer at the Common Counsel Foundation. Core to her work is directing the organization’s Fund for An Inclusive California, a collaborative initiative aimed at creating equitable housing policies and development practices, advancing racial and economic equity, and supporting community well-being by strengthening the power of communities living on low incomes and communities of color. 

Tell us a bit about yourself ― how did you arrive in this work? 

My personal experiences shape how I show up in my role. I grew up in an immigrant, mixed-status family in Boyle Heights, a place where my parents to this day are renters who experience the daily pressures of displacement. When I went to college, I experienced how systemic barriers can keep people from accessing quality education and so many other ways our political and social systems impact the opportunities people have. That’s when I started forming my own political identity and values around systemic barriers to education, economic opportunity, and healthcare. I was really curious about the policies that allow these inequities to happen and kept asking questions: How and why does an immigration status impact someone’s ability to go to college? How does someone’s economic status impact their ability to prepare for rigorous coursework? As I began to confront these questions I started doing research around immigration policy. 

After years working in immigrant rights advocacy, I understood more clearly that immigrant communities don’t get impacted by just one system — I wanted to spend more time addressing the big picture of how issues of race and class intersect and how they play a role in creating opportunity, which led me to philanthropy. Now, as the Program Officer leading the Fund for an Inclusive California, I’m accountable to communities that face the pressures of gentrification and displacement. My role is to provide a platform and the resources to advance the communities’ collective vision and what they hope for themselves. This is how true transformation happens.

We believe that the people who bear the brunt of unjust housing policies, and the negative impacts of profit-driven development, should have decision-making power to determine what development looks like in their local neighborhoods.
Jazmin Segura and Liliana Campos at the Immigrants Rising (formerly known as Educators for Fair Consideration) annual event, 2012. Photo courtesy of Jazmin Segura.

What is the long-term vision for the Fund for an Inclusive California?

We believe that the people who bear the brunt of unjust housing policies, and the negative impacts of profit-driven development, should have decision-making power to determine what development looks like in their local neighborhoods.

Our vision of equitable development is designed by the community, and it is one where the people closest to the issue have the power to lead and make decisions about their lives, their neighborhoods and communities. 

This Fund is about investing in leadership of directly impacted communities so they harness their individual and collective power to protect and prevent people from being displaced, to increase community control of land and housing and out of the speculative market so that communities own the land they live on. It is envisioning a future where people of color and people living on low incomes can still live and thrive in California. 

Speak a little bit about why it is important to listen and take the lead of community organizers? 

Organizers are the trusted anchors of the community. They are the “first responders” to the needs of community members—whether it is related to housing, immigration, environmental and health concerns, education, or the justice system.

Let me share an example of what this looks like in action during the pandemic: We connect with Community Advisors in the Inland Region around housing, but the support they offer extends far beyond that. As the COVID-19 pandemic creates barriers, these Community Advisors are figuring out how to provide water and food to families in need, helping with translation for employment information coming out of Sacramento, figuring out broadband access so children can engage in remote learning, all while figuring out how to keep people in their homes. Organizers don’t address issues one by one; they are serving the community holistically at all times. 

Jazmin Segura with members of Pre-Health Dreamers at Health for All Resource Fair 2014. Photo courtesy of Jazmin Segura.

Why is your work more critical, now more than ever? 

The COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced our commitment to building community power and deepened the practices we have held from day one. We are connecting the dots across regions, communities, and approaches to help strengthen the organizational capacity of our Community Advisors. This approach has helped Community Advisors collectively achieve major wins including securing renter protections across the cities and counties immediately after the pandemic and shelter-in-place started.

The Fund has fostered relationships and collaboration among organizations. Community Advisors were able to reach out across cities and regions and even across California in order to respond quickly and collectively to help their communities get eviction, rent, and mortgage moratoriums. These wins are outgrowths of what is possible when we center the leadership and lived experiences of communities.

What are the challenges you see coming out of the current COVID-19 moment? Do you think the pandemic will change the way your community ― and Californians broadly ― think about housing and shelter?

We must continue to listen to, and follow the lead of, people on the frontlines. We affirm that housing is a human right. We must stand with the frontline organizers to make a new normal, where all people have safe, healthy and affordable housing, where communities are not stuck in cycles of debt, and where those most impacted by systemic inequities are drivers of their own destiny.

This is what we must continue to support and speak out about—standing with organizers, amplifying their demands for housing justice, and funding them fully to do their work.

And what are the opportunities you see coming out of this moment and in the recovery efforts that will follow?

This is a reckoning moment for philanthropy. We have the responsibility to hold the immediate and long view and to take active steps to shift power and deploy capital. COVID-19 has only made visible and exacerbated the existing housing crisis in California. As [rent and eviction] moratoriums begin to expire we will be faced with a wave of evictions and foreclosures.

We have the opportunity and necessity to think beyond triage and to move forward community-owned strategies that increase community control of land and housing and take it out of the speculative market. These are the types of bold solutions we need for a just recovery. 

We must support organizations who are building and expanding a base of impacted communities, wielding their political power and voice and holding elected officials accountable. Organizers are demanding solutions that will work for communities to not only survive this pandemic but for a future where people of color and people living on low incomes can still live and thrive in California.

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