The community development world lost a leader on May 3. Pete Garcia, who was the director of Chicanos Por La Causa (CPLC) from 1984 to 2008, passed away at the age of 71.
Started in 1969 at the inspiration of leaders like Cesar Chavez, CPLC is now the second largest nonprofit in the state of Arizona, with dozens of programs, including housing and homeownership, education programs, health-related partnerships, community lending, and even for-profit subsidiaries. CPLC’s current leaders credit Garcia with much of the inspiration and leadership that grew CPLC to the size and force that it is today. CPLC modeled partnerships and thinking beyond narrow silos for the rest of the field.
Garcia had started a local foundation when he retired from CPLC. He was also a founding member of the National Association of Latino Community Asset Builders (NALCAB), and active throughout the field at a national level. “Pete was a tireless activist for low-income people across the globe,” wrote Noel Poyo, director of NALCAB. “His generosity, leadership, commitment to equality, and service to the community has inspired generations of activists and community asset builders.”
Here are some memories of Garcia, also known as “Big Dog,” submitted by Shelterforce readers:
“I invited Pete to be a keynote speaker at the 15th anniversary conference of the Chicago Association of Neighborhood Development Organizations on March 8, 1994. His remarks then remain relevant today: ‘Community development has to start at the community level. It doesn’t start at the mayor’s office or at the top of a bank building. It has to start in the community if it’s going to succeed. It has to have those partners with political and financial resources. Communities, at a certain point, have to develop themselves and the sophistication to be able to develop these partnerships with business and government in order to be successful.’”
—Ted Wysocki, CEO of the Institute of Cultural Affairs
“I had great conversations with [Pete] at the NCRC meetings in D.C. We shared basketball stories. Pete talked about [how] when he traveled either locally or at a distance, he would take a basketball with him and got into some interesting games, in interesting places and situations. Pete told great stories. He was a proud and confident man and I admired him. I will miss him dearly.”
— Samuel E. Miller, senior management analyst, Region 2, HUD
“Perhaps one of my fondest memories is taking a tour with Pete of some of CPLC’s housing in the early 2000s. As we traveled through neighborhoods I had been to many times, I got [to] see them through Pete’s eyes as he told me stories of growing up in ‘the projects’ and how those days influenced his life’s work. It was a wonderful window into those communities and into Pete’s vision for CPLC and the communities they serve. Pete was bigger than life, committed and passionate, with a great sense of humor. He truly made a difference in Arizona and beyond.”
—Fred Karnas, senior fellow, Kresge Foundation
“Over the past 30 years my mentor Pete Garcia taught me lots of things about life and especially about leadership. I first met Pete in 1989 when I was 18 years old. CPLC’s then board chair Armando Gandarilla introduced us as he believed I could be doing much more if I was mentored by the right person! I worked under Pete for 15 years at CPLC. . . . I have countless Pete-isms and lessons I could share but I will share the very first one he taught me 30 years ago: ‘It’s important to keep up with the news in the world because everything has a ripple effect and it’s our responsibility to assess by the time that ripple reaches our shore will it simply roll onto our sands or will it be a tsunami?’ Just a couple weeks ago he called me over and said, ‘leader, what’s going on in the world?’ By that he wanted me to tell him how I viewed what was taking place in the world and what the potential impact could be for our communities. Pete was visionary, but more importantly he had the heart to lead.”
—Annette White, director of Strategic Business Development, CPLC
We at Shelterforce extend our condolences to all who knew Pete. And as David Adame, the current president and CEO of CPLC, said in a public statement, “His legacy lives on to encourage us to number our days and to invest in those things that last . . . Let his life challenge us to selflessly use our gifts investing in others, committed to the betterment of community, and especially to the benefit of our youth.”