Jacqueline Martinez Garcel Is Building Up the Latino Community with Love and Opportunity

Jacqueline Martinez Garcel and the Latino Community Foundation are on a mission to unleash the power of Latinos. Martinez Garcel is the CEO of LCF, where she has helped create one of the largest networks of civically engaged Latino philanthropists in the country: The Latino Giving Circle Network is now a movement of 500 members and 15 Giving Circles statewide. She also co-chairs the National Latino Funds Alliance, and has led highly effective Latino voter engagement campaigns and collaborated with Google to launch the first Latino Non-Profit Accelerator, a groundbreaking incubator that unleashes the power and impact of grassroots nonprofits.

Martinez Garcel is committed to and passionate about her work in not only providing Latino-led nonprofits with the resources they need to achieve social justice, but also improving health and care for vulnerable populations. Though LCF, she helped organized the first televised gubernatorial forum focused on issues that matter most to Latinos, reaching an incredible 8 million voters.

In her Bioneers 2018 keynote address, Martinez Garcel delves into the work she and her team at LCF do to support Latino-led organizations committed to providing opportunity, and why it’s important to lead and create change through a basis of love.

Watch her full keynote address here.

View more keynotes, transcripts, and more from the 2018 Bioneers Conference.


Today in California, there are 15 million Latinos. We make up 39% of the population. But right now, we’re living in a reality that’s too painful for all of us. On June 14, The New York Times had this picture (below) in their front cover. It’s a picture that pierced not only our hearts and our minds, but also penetrated the soul of this nation, and demanded that we ask ourselves: Who will we become? Will we actually live up to the ideals that were set forth 242 years ago? It’s a democracy that’s still in its experimental stages.

I just came back from Costa Rica, meeting with students from Nicaragua who are leading a revolution in their country, trying to take back their democracy. And I dare to say to them, we are experiencing the same thing in our country right now.

But these images and the numbers are painful. They are painful because they are happening in a state that claims to have strong progressive values for our future. And yet if you look at the central part of our state, there are raids going on, there are hate crimes going on against our elderly, against our children, families being separated. I know all of you are very well aware of that reality right now. But that is the context in which I want to ground this talk in.

We also face the fact that the institutions that were supposedly set up to protect and defend are killing our fathers, our brothers, our sons, and yes, even our daughters. 41% of police shootings are of black and Latino men and women, and more than half of those shootings have been of people who are unarmed. And if we’re not dying in the streets because of a bullet, we’re being put behind bars in numbers that are just too far gone for a country that’s supposed to be democratic, industrialized country. And we’re locking up our men in prison? Leaving our children fatherless in our communities?

All of this, by the way, has taken place in the last 12 months. In September, October, and November – and I’m bringing this up because we just commemorated Hurricane Maria with a group of Puerto Rican leaders here in California. It’s a painful time, because in less than 18 days between September 20 and October 7, 4,000 people lost their lives between Hurricane Maria, the earthquake in Mexico, and the North California wildfires. Over 70,000 people were displaced who have yet to find a home.

It is in this context that we’re also experiencing a breakdown of the institutions that were set up to protect our democracy. Corporate dollars have penetrated our voting, and our voices seem like they matter less and less. Yet, the Latino Community Foundation is convicted—and I am convinced that the only way out is if we stick to love and to hope. It is the only thing that will not only undo what we’re experiencing as a country, as a world right now, but it will also propel us forward to build institutions that matter to the people who are hurting most.

Revolution Through Love

I have to share with you some truth and principles by which I wake up every morning and I ground myself in. And it’s this one: 1 John 4:8, “God is love.” It’s a truth that I learned at a really young age. In family dinners we talked about this. And it’s a truth I held onto when I saw cousins of mine lose their lives to a crack epidemic in Washington Heights. It’s a truth that I held onto when I saw cousins of mine suffer from HIV/AIDS in hospitals. It’s a truth that I held onto when I saw my family being separated because of immigration laws that were unjust. And this truth is founded on a movement 2,000 years ago that believes that the creator of the universe sent his only begotten son, was motivated for love for a broken and decaying world, to bring about salvation only because of love.

These words are still core to the Christian faith, and I understand there are a lot of imperfect, evil people who claim this title, as in many movements, many have lost their way. But I want to repeat these words from 1 Corinthians: “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have faith that can move mountains, but I do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all that I have to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

It’s a verse that’s been repeated in weddings, sometimes really meant, sometimes just repeated because it sounds good. But these are the founding principles by which we are trying to build a revolution in California with Latinos on the hedge, leading from a place of love and power.

It is a truth that has guided four of my heroes in the Civil Rights movement. Martin Luther King says, “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.” Cesar Chavez reminded us that if there is enough love and goodwill in our movement to keep giving energy to our struggle and still have plenty left over to break down and change the climate of hate and fear around us. My favorite poet, Maya Angelou: “Love recognizes no barriers; it jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.” Grace Lee Boggs, when speaking about her husband, reminded us that revolutions are made out of love for people and for place. He often talked about loving America enough to change it. “I love this country,” he used to say, “not only because my ancestors’ blood is in the soil, but because of what I believe it can become.” If we don’t hold on to that love of country for what it can become, we will lose our way and become what we are critical of our enemy has already become.

We have built the largest network of Latino philanthropists. I am proud of that. But what I am most proud of is that these women and these men and these youth are building this movement out of a place of love, and building up their power out of that inner strength that they have found in their moments of pain, and found purpose in that pain to build out their love.

Building a Movement

I’m not looking to build a movement of people who are writing checks and feeling good about themselves. I am done with charity. We should all be done with charity. This country has too often lifted up philanthropy as this thing that the wealthy are giving to the poor and therefore should feel good about themselves. I want to remind everyone that when philanthropy was started with Kellogg, Ford, Rockefeller, what drove them to start foundations was the fact that they were trying to not pay certain taxes when FDR settled taxes in 1936. Ford put aside $25,000. It is now one of the largest foundations in the world. Also keep in mind that 72 percent of board members in philanthropy are white.

What we’re trying to change is the face of philanthropy, the purpose of philanthropy, and the heart of philanthropy. Latinos are, yes, the future workforce. We are also the future philanthropists, and we can build something different.

Philanthropy for far too long has benefited from capitalism, and created some of the conditions by which we’re now trying to solve. What we’re trying to do at the Latino Community Foundation is unleash capital for social movement by everyday people. This is something new and different.

Giving circles are not new to this country. In fact, I have learned from some incredible Jewish women in New York, who have established these giving circles, and this is not about holding money, collecting interest, and growing funds. It is not about writing a check once a year to say, “Wow, I gave to this organization, I should feel so good about myself.” This is about liberating the capital that belongs to the people to begin with, that needs to undo the systems that have oppressed and robbed people of their fullest potential. That’s why when we go up and down the state—whether it’s Latinos in the technology sector, banking sector, nonprofit sector—we’re saying to them, “You have the power to change this, and it comes with your time, your talent, and your treasures.” We don’t want you to just come once a year and fill out a check. We want you to sit on the boards, to work with these community partners, to open up doors of opportunity. Because if you’re working at Google, you’re sitting in a place of privilege, and they know that. And they come from homes where their parents have taught them to pay it forward. Let’s harness that power for this country, for the good of our communities.

Then the question is: Well, who do we invest in? And who decides who do we invest in? Well, the Latino Community Foundation has made a commitment to invest in Latino-led organization, because we believe that those closest to the pain have the best solutions, that will last the longest, and actually transform the lives of a whole generation.

It Starts With Deeper Healing

Sammy Nuñez was expelled from school when he was 15 years old. At 18 he was shot in the chest but survived. Nine months later, he retaliates. He ends up in prison for nine years. During those nine years, Sammy dedicates himself to education, to ground himself in prison in a movement called La Cultura Cura, which means I will tap into my ancestral power to heal this pain, understanding that hurt people hurt more people, and I want to heal that hurt before I go back out into my community.

Today, Sammy leads one of the most important organizations in Stockton, CA: Fathers & Families of San Joaquin. Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs knows that it’s because of the leadership of people like Sammy Nuñez who has worked in this community, who has healed his own pain and are looking to heal the pain of others who’ve been through the same systems and the same oppression that they’ve experienced. They want to lift them up, and not just put them through a GED program or into a job, but to remind people that success without significance doesn’t mean anything; that we don’t need just jobs, we need jobs with dignity.

They are working to build up the advocates that are spending time in DC fighting for these changes for Stockton. Now everyone is paying attention. Sammy, for the last 30 years, has built this movement rooted in understanding that healed people heal people, and a healed community heals a nation.

Today this organization runs a trauma center. The state finally opened its eyes and said, “Wow, there’s something happening here.” When we started working with Sammy, the organization was mostly volunteers— men coming out of the criminal justice system. But there’s really no justice in that system. However, these men have come out looking for a place where they can turn their pain into purpose and use love to heal. Now the state is funding this healing and this trauma center on these cultural values.

Jacob Martinez is the son of a Mexican immigrant. His dad joined the military, fought in Vietnam. When he came back he was uprooted and they moved from South LA to Texas. Somewhere along the way, Jacob understood that a door had been opened for him, and now he wants to open it for others. He comes back to Watsonville, California—that’s where our strawberries come from—and established an organization called Digital Nest. It’s a nest for the sons and daughters of our farm workers to find a place where they can dream bigger and ground themselves deeper in the roots of this land that they have cultivated and their ancestors have cultivated to find a greater place for themselves.

Digital Nest is not about training the next workers for Google or Pandora or Apple. Those companies are great and we’re grateful for the doors that are opening, but what we are really grateful for is that these young people are working with the small businesses in Watsonville to lend their expertise in digital marketing, in analyticals with their web technology, to use what they’re learning and replanting it back into Watsonville and now Salinas. They’re staying there and grounding themselves there.

We are funding organizations like Community Coalition, which lifted up Edna Chavez after she witnessed her brother being murdered in South LA when they were walking home from school. In her pain, she found the strength to find purpose, and now has become a leader in March For Our Lives. She is holding onto love and to hope, understanding that the loss of her brother’s life cannot be in vain, that South LA has to be viewed differently and lifted up differently. And that’s why we invest in these leaders and in these organizations.

In North Cal, we selected three organizations whose sole purpose right now is not just to rebuild Sonoma and Napa, but to reimagine it as a just and inclusive place where our vineyard workers and our hospitality workers actually have a place that they can call home, where their wages will afford their children an opportunity to go to school.

I know many of you know who have grown up in poor neighborhoods know that money is not enough. Poverty is not just solved by money. Poverty is not just a lack of money, it is a lack of opportunity. And the nonprofit accelerator that we’ve established is about taking these organizations that I’ve just mentioned to you and giving them a home where their leadership can be unleashed, where the doors of opportunity can be opened wide for them. One of those organizations, La Luz, finally convinced Tipping Point to give them $3 million to do a micro-lending program for women who have worked the fields and have bigger dreams. They just need a little bit of opportunity and money to actually make them happen.

Standing with these organizations, their ideas, and their visions is what’s going to take us to the California that we all hope for. It’s just not what we do but how we do it. Every celebration, our giving circles meetings, we have our wine, we have our dinner, we have our music, we bring in our culture, we celebrate. And people want to be part of that celebration, even now when our hearts are hurting.

The power of all of this is that if we harness this and unleash this, the state of California can look really different 10 or 15 years from now. When we think about our civic and political power, every 30 seconds a Latino turns 18 and becomes eligible to vote. Latino millennials make up 40 percent of the millennial vote. Imagine if we actually invested in them and in the infrastructure of these organizations that will harness their political power, and have Edna Chavez not just vote, but become the next city councilor, the next school board member, to have Latinos sit at the table of water boards and decide how water will be used in their community.

There are days that we go home and we cry really hard because the political climate that we are living in hurts. But we are committed to this mission because we know that it can change the future.

One of the great problems of history is that the concepts of love and power have usually been contrasted as polar opposites, so that love is identified with a resignation of power, and power with a denial of love. Now we’ve got to get this thing right. What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and that love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love—implementing the demands of justice. And justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.

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