To honor our Hispanic members during Hispanic Heritage Month, we’re shining the spotlight this month on four leaders whose work embodies what it means to give everyone in our communities a chance at economic justice.
Will Gonzalez is the executive director of Ceiba, a coalition of Latino community-based organizations in Philadelphia. Ceiba promotes the economic development and inclusion of the Latino community by ensuring access to quality housing. Gonzalez has over 35 years of experience working with the Latino community and has won numerous awards such as the Philadelphia Foundation’s Williams Award for Organizational Excellence and the Bread & Roses Community Fund’s Community Change Award. Here is what Will had to say about his lifetime of work lifting up the Latino community in Philadelphia and what brought him to the table for a career advocating for a just economy.
1) Tell me how you came to work in the housing space?
I went to law school with the idea of being a public interest lawyer. After a year of traditional lawyering on worker’s rights issues, I felt that I was fixing things after they were broken. I realized that we needed to do more policy stuff and community organizing.
I connected soon thereafter with Pat De Carlo, the director of the Norris Square Community Alliance, who also was a lawyer that decided to do grassroots work. I worked with her on housing issues for a couple of years, was active on police accountability issues for another decade after that and then became the executive director of Ceiba, where we coordinate the community development activities of various Latino nonprofits.
Housing is key, because it is the biggest expense in everyone’s personal budget; especially for low-income families. I also understand firsthand how important it is for a family to have housing security. I lived in public housing when I was growing up.
2) How long have you been involved with NCRC?
I have been involved with NCRC since 2016. I met Jerry Kellman, NCRC’s senior advisor for membership, while forging a community benefits agreement with a bank. Over time, I learned more and more about the history and impact of NCRC. At some of those meetings, I met CEO Jesse Van Tol and some other members of the NCRC family.
What struck me the most about all of the NCRC folks was their genuineness and strength of knowledge. Ceiba did not hesitate to become an NCRC member.
3) What types of events or actions have you taken with NCRC?
The biggest thing Ceiba has done so far with NCRC was taking a lead in organizing the NCRC Reinvest Philly Summit in October 2018. We had a great turnout; over 300 people attended. I have been told that it was one of the most attended NCRC local summits.
It was great for Philadelphia as the summit was rich in capacity building and learning opportunities. NCRC quality shined through and through.
4) Tell us a little bit about yourself (background, education, passions etc.)
I am a lucky man. I say this even though I started college the year before “The Reagan Revolution” that marked the beginning of the conservative erosion of the gains produced by “The War Against Poverty.” I am an alumnus of one of the first Head Start Centers in New York City and I would not have been able to go to college without affirmative action. I also survived modern colonialism. I moved back and forth several times between Puerto Rico and the mainland U.S. It enhanced my perspective. I am bilingual, bicultural.
5) What do you like to do for fun?
For fun, I like to read history, take long rides along nature trails on my bike, swim across a lake in the Poconos with my wife, and spend time with my two grown kids and the rest of my family. I also really like to work and advocate on behalf of the Latino community. I love my vocation. I do not use an alarm clock. Sleep is boring compared to all the interesting stuff that I get to do. [I’m] Happy to say that NCRC is part of that agenda.
**lightly edited for clarity