Rise Together adds 11 new members, looks toward the future of equitable access and representation

Thomas Sage Pedersen and Esabella Bonner
New Rise Together members Thomas Sage Pedersen and Esabella Bonner at a 2021 Juneteenth event.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Organized in June 2020 in response to the murder of George Floyd, the Rise Together Coalition has focused its collective efforts on advancing racial equity throughout Santa Cruz County. With the additions of 11 new members, the group hopes to expand its reach even further.

Finding diverse leadership can be a difficult task in Santa Cruz County, but with the work of a local nonprofit and nearly 30 individual leaders near and far, more equitable representation is on the horizon.

To kick off 2022, the Rise Together coalition invited 11 new members of color to the group, joining the founding members to work to support people of color countywide.

The coalition came together under the guidance of the Community Foundation Santa Cruz County and 17 founding members in the immediate aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, with the goal to grow each year.

In 2021, the coalition funded 14 projects with $423,000 in grants, and focused on five coalition goals. Now, with the added voices and continued funding efforts, the group looks to expand its actions to ultimately create more diverse opportunities for all community members.

The new and returning members — who are largely volunteers — have met only twice so far, but are collectively excited to see their shared and individual work make a difference.

Rise Together Coalition members

Returning Members

  • Ashlyn N. Adams, The Diversity Center / Westside Video / California Film & Cultural Center
  • Cat Willis, Santa Cruz County Black Health Matters Initiative
  • Consuelo Alba, Watsonville Film Festival
  • DeAndre’ James, Community Health Trust of Pajaro Valley
  • Erica Padilla-Chavez, Pajaro Valley Prevention and Student Assistance
  • Fe Silva-Robles, Senderos
  • Gina Castañeda, Aztecas Youth Soccer, Santa Cruz County Probation Department
  • Helen Aldana, Senderos
  • Jacob Martinez, DigitalNEST
  • Jenny Kurzweil, Community Foundation Santa Cruz County
  • Jorge Savala, COPA
  • Justin Cummings, PhD, City of Santa Cruz / UCSC Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program
  • MariaElena De La Garza, Community Action Board Santa Cruz County
  • Dr. Nereida Robles Vásquez, Senderos / Santa Cruz City Schools
  • Ruby Vasquez, Pajaro Valley Unified School District / Esperanza del Valley / Estrellas de Esperanza / Watsonville Campesino Appreciation Caravan
  • Stacey Marie Garcia, Community Foundation Santa Cruz County
  • Susan True, Community Foundation Santa Cruz County

New Members

  • Esabella Bonner, Black Surf Santa Cruz / Blended Bridge
  • María Ascencion Ramos Bracamontes, Campesina Womb Justice
  • Angela Chambers, Tannery World Dance & Cultural Center / Santa Cruz County Black Health Matters Initiative
  • Kara Meyberg Guzman, Santa Cruz Local
  • Dr. Rebecca Hernandez, UCSC University Library
  • Jennifer Herrera, County of Santa Cruz Health Services Agency
  • Elaine Johnson, Santa Cruz County Neighborhood Courts Program / Women Lawyers of Santa Cruz County
  • Chairman Val Lopez, Amah Mutsun Tribal Band / Amah Mutsun Land Trust
  • Stephanie Barron Lu, Positive Discipline Community Resources
  • Jaime Molina, Community Action Board / National Compadres Network
  • Thomas Sage Pedersen, Speak for Change Podcast / Everyone’s Music School

Ashlyn Adams — an original Rise Together member who received a $13,000 grant toward the California Film & Cultural Center — told Lookout that the coalition aims to “change philanthropy” and it’s been amazing to see the transformative actions it has been able to make thus far.

“People do deserve equitable access to all of these things, and we’re not going to put a bunch of bureaucracy in front of it,” she said. “I think the collective power of all of these orgs, and having these new folks on, is going to be pretty incredible.”

Rebecca Hernandez — a new cohort member and community archivist at the UCSC University Library — said the opportunity to join the coalition can help to raise visibility and awareness surrounding Indigenous issues, while also learning from longer-tenured leaders.

“I want to learn what I can about how they strategize and lead their organizations, and how they have developed their programs to serve the county,” she said. “This opportunity to work with all of these folks, I think it’s going to just really help me continue to learn about the county’s diversity, and the kinds of things the community needs.”

With this newly expanded cohort, the coalition aims to raise at least $400,000 for the forthcoming year, with both continued support for current grantees and opportunities for other project support. Community members can meet and learn more about the organization online and at a public event in September.


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