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Leadership Award Honors Recipients Spearheading Solutions to Challenges Confronting California

-Editorial

Every year the James Irvine Foundation honors leaders for advancing solutions to critical challenges that affect millions of people in the state. The Leadership Awards prove the premise that change can happen even in the face of California’s most intractable problems. The awards recipients participated in a panel discussion moderated by Ethnic Media Services where each spoke about their work and experiences.

The recipients for this year were Héctor Camacho Jr. and Elizabeth Baham; Frankie Guzman, National Center for Youth Law; Manjusha Kulkarni, AAPI Equity Alliance; Blanca Meléndrez & Amina Sheik Mohamed, UC San Diego Center for Community Health; Brian Poth & Nick Vargas, The Source LGBT+ Center; and Michele Siqueiros,

The Campaign for College Opportunity.

The Leadership Awards acknowledge individuals and organizations committed to innovation and with a proven track record of success in enhancing lives, creating opportunities, and contributing to a better California. Each Award recipient’s organization receives a grant of $350,000 to further support their work benefiting the people of California, with the potential for expansion, replication, or policy support. Additionally, the Irvine Foundation assists recipients in sharing their successful approaches with policymakers and practitioners.

Since 2006, The Irvine Foundation has celebrated the achievements of over 100 leaders in California. The selection of Award recipients is conducted by an independent committee, which assesses nominations using criteria including the significance, effectiveness, innovation, and inclusion demonstrated in the leader’s work.

Let’s look at the testimony of one of the recipients who are working to improve education.

California is facing a teacher crisis, with 10,000 vacancies and 20% of educators planning to leave in the next three years. Students enter schools every day with temporary or underprepared teachers, and many do not see leaders who reflect their cultural background.

For Elizabeth Baham, Ed.D., it wasn’t until college that she was finally taught by a Black educator. This experience propelled her to enhance access to education for all. In 2015, Baham joined Reach University, an organization that is tackling California’s teacher shortage by partnering with schools to train and place aspiring teachers – who are often working in classrooms as aids or other non-teaching personnel – in critical job vacancies. Driven to nurture young leaders of color, Baham now serves as the University Provost and Chief Academic.

As a young adult, Héctor Camacho Jr. felt drawn to teach but didn’t know the best way to become a teacher, or how to pay for it. Nine years and over $100,000 in student debt later, he finally became a teacher.

Determined to support others with similar aspirations, and similar barriers, Camacho joined Reach University in 2022 and now serves as Senior Vice President. Together, Baham and Camacho have expanded the organization’s reach throughout the state and obtained accreditations that anrm the University’s credibility and allow it to leverage federal funding to keep programs affordable for candidates. By creating accessible, job-embedded pathways to a degree and credential, Reach is preparing high-impact teachers and leaders who reflect the diverse students they serve.

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