Why are you a strategist for good?
“I have always been involved with grassroots organizations, and working with people who’ve dedicated their lives to change something for the better is inspiring. But I was struck by how difficult it was to put together compelling campaigns like a brand or company would. Most of the time we just didn’t have the budget. But also, communications, advertising, branding — they can evoke negative connotations around spin, consumerism, or manipulation. In the communities I come from — the Puerto Rican community, the LGBT community — our history is in storytelling and that’s how I perceive communications. It helps us pass on lessons, tell stories about leaders, shape who is a leader. There’s power in that. I come from a long tradition of storytellers rooted in integrity.”
What good have you done that you’re proudest of?
“For a long time I trained smaller organizations in communications, usually helping them understand how media works in this country. Who owns which publications? Who produces what in a newsroom? Through that, I’ve helped hundreds of organizers and some of the hardest-working social change folks tell their story and what the possibilities are within the media system we have. They don’t have big budgets, but now they’re savvier. I’m proud to have helped them take tape, glue, and sticks and make something amazing to advance social change. Now there are a lot of organizers out there who also have media skills.”
Who is your intellectual crush?
“Melissa Harris-Perry. She’s doing amazing work on MSNBC to talk about important issues. I don’t know many other folks with the level of reach she has. She’s holding class every Sunday, bringing a level of news and issue analysis onto people’s televisions that we have trouble finding on the dial. I totally respect her — and I have my DVR set to record her show!”
What are people surprised to learn about you?
“I listen to the last scene of Swan Lake by the London Philharmonic at least once a week. Why? Because finishing otherwise mundane tasks feels like winning an Olympic gold medal with that as your soundtrack. The end of a report, sending an email you’ve been avoiding, even just sweeping the floor — it’s all triumphant with Swan Lake.”
What’s your superpower?
“Glamouring people. If you watch True Blood, you’ll know it’s the power to help somebody forget something or put them under a spell to influence what they do in the future. It really helps in crisis communications situations, which happens to folks working on challenging issues. Sometimes you have to glamour a reporter, and it helps avert crises.”
W. Haywood Burns Institute for Juvenile Justice Fairness & Equity
The San Francisco Foundation
The Mayor’s Office of the City of Oakland
U.C. Irvine Sustainability Institute