I’m moving back home in a month. I’ve been feeling the urge to do this for a while. Home is where the heart is after all, and we could all use a little more love right now. For me, home is also where inspiration lives. It's a small suburb on the eastside of L.A., where more than 90 percent of the residents are Latino, many of whom proudly identify very specifically as Chicanos. Growing up, it was a bunch of beautiful brown people with good jobs, raising good families. It’s the town that used to build the B-2 bomber and that was the subject of a CNN documentary that called it the “Latino Mayberry.” I loved growing up there.
We’re going to launch our last Innovation Fund of the year next week, at a time when lots of people are trying to come back - to school or work, or from taking some time off, if you’re lucky. For many workers, though, the notion of coming back was never a notion at all. Many workers had no choice but to keep going to work in communities like mine. This Innovation Fund is for them.
By now, the broad impact of this crisis for workers, their families and communities is well documented. Less documented is the specific impact in communities like the one where I grew up, which has one of the highest infection rates in L.A. county. The data is rough, but the stories are what really get me. My brother and his wife are teachers in our school district where distance learning is just too far away for many without Wi-Fi. My mom, God bless her, who has been our city’s dry cleaner since before I was born, will have no choice but to close the shop she has owned and operated for more than 30 years next month. Her heart is broken and so is mine.
My heart may be broken, but my spirit is filled with optimism, mostly because I’ve seen first-hand what communities like mine are capable of given the opportunity. I’ve lived it. I know what our communities can build when life gives us lemons, often we just need a chance.
At The Workers Lab, our purpose is to give new ideas about increasing worker power a chance to succeed and flourish, and new ideas about workers need a chance now perhaps more than ever before. The Innovation Fund is not only the way we find and fund ideas like these, it is also the way we learn from them and share them. Our role in sharing new ideas is especially important right now, when so many leaders are making critical decisions and piecing together a foundation for the future of work and workers. As it stands today, that foundation has yet to adequately support those workers who have been supporting the rest of us for months now. We will use this Innovation Fund to help stage their comeback, with creativity and in community.
Our role in sharing new ideas is especially important right now, when so many leaders are making critical decisions and piecing together a foundation for the future of work and workers."
The good news is that workers are some of the most creative people in the world. This is especially true of workers like those in my hometown. My predecessor in this job used to say that the ability to navigate the precarity of their lives made these workers geniuses. And boy, isn’t that the truth when you think about the complex maze of systems workers have to figure out, interact, and deal with every single day, just to make ends meet. The pandemic has made this hustle harder for sure, almost impossible by many accounts. In this cycle of The Innovation Fund, we want to learn about what’s being made possible in this seemingly impossible time for workers, how, and by whom.
Many of us have been taught that two heads are better than one, especially when you’re working on a big project. I actually think the process of crisis recovery should be framed as a massive community service project, with workers and families at the center. This process is nothing new for communities of color and, in the absence of a robust federal response to this crisis, I know folks are turning to each other for help. Local and community leaders, pastors and priests, teachers and lawyers, entrepreneurs and small business owners are putting their heads together and coming up with ways to take care of our people. This fall, The Innovation Fund will be aimed at supporting them and their ideas about how we come back together.
Local and community leaders, pastors and priests, teachers and lawyers, entrepreneurs and small business owners are putting their heads together and coming up with ways to take care of our people. This fall, The Innovation Fund will be aimed at supporting them and their ideas about how we come back together. "
If you couldn’t tell, this cycle of The Innovation Fund has me a little nostalgic. I guess thinking about how and where I grew up reminds me that things can and will be better, hopefully soon. It also reminds me about why I am in this job and who I am here to serve. My home gives me inspiration, but it also gives me hope and I can’t wait to come back.
Sign up right now to learn more about the Fall 2020 cycle and when it opens for applications.