As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing John Gamboa.
John Gamboa is a veteran community activist. His advocacy work began in 1968 when he became involved with the anti-Vietnam War and Civil Rights movements. While attending UC Berkeley, he started doing community activities around racial discrimination. He launched the Latino Issues Forum, which focused on the economic injustices that Latinx people faced, and then later The Greenlining Institute, a multi-ethnic coalition focused on combating redlining practices.
Since 2006, John has served as President of the Board of Directors of California Community Builders (CCB) alongside colleagues from Greenlining. The Two Hundred is an initiative of CCB and focuses primarily on mitigating the growing racial wealth gap through homeownership and home building in California. Prominent members include Elaine Brown, a former leader of the Black Panther Party; Joe Coto, former chair of the Latino Legislative Caucus; Herman Gallegos, the co-founder of National Council of La Raza, now known as UnidosUS, and attorney Jennifer Hernandez of the law firm Holland and Knight. The group’s activism efforts include a groundbreaking civil rights lawsuit against the California Air Resources Board.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
My interest in social justice and civil rights started early at 19. I worked in a steel mill that was segregated, where the Black workers were primarily assigned to the coke ovens and the Mexican workers (now Latinos) were assigned to masonry. All higher paid jobs, like working the rolling mills, were for white people. The Vietnam War was my first entry into community activism as an anti-war college student in 1967. Next I was introduced into politics when I supported the La Raza Unida political party which evolved into the Peace and Freedom Party.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
My biggest mistake was accepting a $40,000 grant from the state to assist in the development of 10 very low income housing units. It kicked in prevailing wage which increased the cost of each unit by $16,000. I asked the unions for an exception as these houses were being built for very, very low-income farm worker related buyers. They laughed. I learned that money always speaks stronger than fair play or charity from every organization who claims the high moral ground.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
Nothing has moved me more than listening to Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
The vision or purpose of our organization’s mission was to begin a process that will slowly close the wealth gap between white families (20x higher) and families of color. This 90 year old growth gap can be primarily attributed to discriminatory mortgage lending practices which began in 1930 when all government assisted mortgages (redlining) specifically denied access to families of color. This, followed by the predatory lending practices which greatly contributed to the Great Recession, wiped out 30 years of minority wealth in just 3 years. Now, the COVID-19 pandemic is the 3rd strike which will increase the wealth gap and aggravate the growing racial tensions in our country.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
The number one principle is to practice the transparency you wish all politicians and businesses did. Sunshine kills discrimination and vampires.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
The major challenge facing us is foundations and other sources of support who are rightfully focusing their efforts to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic ignoring the needs of organizations with longer impact programs. And, these foundations also expect quantifiable achievements at the end of each grant cycle. Addressing the problem of poverty in communities of color, the result of 90 years of discriminatory mortgage practices, cannot be addressed in one or two years. It will take a long-range program by corporations, the community, and the government to make substantial progress.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
The COVID-19 pandemic, which is being consistently used to create even more friction between races, makes it even more difficult to promote patience, caring, and charity. The only method that works is to practice it yourself — to promote and bring out the best in people.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
Having lived a few years and through a few hardships I try to convey the idea that that the current state of affairs will also pass. The only thing we can count on is change. This has always been the case.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
I expect that many of the young people will be more open to work together than perhaps earlier generations.
The opportunity to re-imagine institutions like health care for all is more real now than when health care was discussed over the last few years.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
I intend to learn more from the younger generations how to use social media to get our ideas out there. They have mastered the new technology. I intend to follow their lead more.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
To be open to not only new ideas but also study history to learn strategies that worked in the past.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Martin Luther King once said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
Change can only begin when the disparities are brought to light.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Follow us online: