Long Beach Forward Becomes Independent Nonprofit
Long Beach Forward announced it is officially an independent incorporated 501(c)3 nonprofit organization allowing it to deepen its work to develop low income residents and communities of color into leaders and community organizers, in order to make a long lasting impact on growing health and equity needs that will continue to impact generations to come. The community-based organization was originally fiscally sponsored by the California Conference for Equality and Justice in 2010, transitioned to fiscal sponsorship with Community Partners in 2012, and as a independent organization has now built a culture of philanthropy and fundraising strategy into its workplace–a workplace it says is grounded in values of fairness, collaboration, connection, integrity, and change.
Formed in 2010 as a community “hub” through the California Endowment’s “Building Healthy Communities: Long Beach” initiative, Long Beach Forward has overcome challenges (including legal uncertainty when health and racial equity was seen as “too political”) and become more established with community backing, while keeping people at the center. Because of its core focus on community relationships, Long Beach Forward has developed into a go-to organization for movement building issues related to economic and racial inclusion and equity, language justice, parent engagement, organizing strategy, community leadership development, and other social change issues.
“We are a unique organization that does difficult work. And we know that change takes time. Our work isn’t to make things popular; we make popular what needs to be done,” described Executive Director James Suazo. He added, “Our past work, track record, history, and relationships show the boundaries we’re willing to push, the critical issues we’re going to help people advocate for, and the community we’re here to stand with, especially when we’re standing up against the status quo and the unjust ways of the institutions around us.”
By being intentionally inclusive, working in coalition spaces, and providing resources to partner organizations and volunteer-led groups, Long Beach Forward has been able to be at the forefront of Long Beach issues related to defunding the police, Sanctuary Long Beach, parent organizing, land use, language access, environmental justice and other community priorities. Its successes have been collaborative, pulling together a diverse community of people from various racial, religious, sexual orientation, age, gender identity, immigration status, and economic backgrounds.
Of note, these collaborative successes have included: Long Beach Forward’s role in helping the community to win Measure N in November 2012–the ballot measure that raised the minimum wage for hotel workers in the city; helping pass Proposition 47 statewide with a large margin in Long Beach in 2014–the first major justice reform ballot measure in California that reclassified low-level felonies into misdemeanors and allowed people to change their records to access jobs, social services, and housing; leading door knocking, get out the vote efforts, and voter education to engage under-represented communities in the electoral process; providing over $425,000 in mini-grants and pass through funds over the past five years to budding and partner nonprofits, neighborhood organizations, and grassroots groups; convening residents and community-serving organizations to partner on intergenerational, interracial social justice campaigns; establishing the annual “People’s State of the City” and the “People’s Budget Long Beach”–initiatives for working people to lift up community priorities, move people into action, and a way to connect people in the community to one another to make change.
Associate Director Marlene Montañez shared, “Our new nonprofit status cements us as a Long Beach-rooted movement building organization that is here for the long run. We don’t have the money that people in power have, but we do have people, and working with people is how we change things. We’re stable, experienced, and focused on continuing to build upon the foundation that a beautiful, diverse community of residents and community partners have been creating collaboratively for more than ten years with us. I am looking forward to future growth, increased people-power, more engagement, and amplifying unheard voices to ensure that BIPOC and working families are heard when decisions are being made in our city that impact our quality of life. We will continue to do amazing work alongside our community partners, now with more independence.”
Long time community volunteer with the organization, Juanita Wilson expressed, “I’ve been involved with Long Beach Forward for years through the Best Start Central Long Beach program, and I’ve even brought my son on board. Now as a Leadership Team member, I am able to be hands-on with decision making as a community partner for the betterment of local children and families. Long Beach Forward gives people the opportunity to be part of change-making through leadership development, collaborating on projects, and educational programming.”