By: Tori Richards and Mark Tapscott
April 12, 2010
It's often said that even the best of intentions can go awry and that
may well be an apt description of the careers of Greenlining
Institute founders Robert Gnaizda and John Gamboa.
The duo grew up on opposite coasts, but in 1993 jointly incorporated
what had been a loose coalition of activists groups into what became
the Berkeley-based activist non-profit devoted to forcing banks and
other powerful institutions to pour more resources into under-served
neighborhoods usually populated by minorities and the poor.
But Gnaizda and Gamboa go way back together, having first met in 1970.
An attorney from Brooklyn, New York, Gnaizda, now 73, was a civil
rights worker in the South, then migrated to the west coast where he
started the radical activist groups California Rural Legal Assistance
and Public Advocates of San Francisco. He was appointed by then-Gov.
Jerry Brown as deputy secretary of the California Department of
Health, Welfare and Prisons.
Gamboa grew up in a Mexican barrio in San Bernardino and dropped out
of high school to work in a steel mill. But he went to community
college and then the University of California at Berkeley, which then
was in the throes of the Free Speech Movement. Now 68, Gamboa
graduated with a social sciences degree and worked for Pacific Bell
Telephone. His leftist activism from within Pacific Bell's marketing
department twice nearly got him fired, and he later organized the
Latino Issues Forum, met Gnaizda, and the two organized a number of
community groups from around California into a loose patchwork of
activism known as the Greenlining Coalition (a purposeful play on the
banking term, "redlining').
From there, Gnaizda and Gamboa evolved the techniques and tactics
they'd first learned in their younger years in fighting racism in
Mississippi and the California barrios to the tasks of "persuading"
giant financial corporations and community banks to re-direct
billions of dollars away from profit-making activities to lending
based on ideologically defined gender and other demographic factors.
"We've been together 40 years," Gamboa reflected. "I've been with him
longer than I've been married. We're almost attached at the hip
because we're partners. We've never argued about what needed to be
done, but we have disagreed on how to get it done."
Gamboa was paid $196,866 in 2008, his last full year as executive
director. Gnaizda was paid $175,834 in his last full year as general counsel.
The two still maintain offices at the Greenlining Institute's
headquarters, but are semi-retired to pursue other activities. Both
remain as advisors to Greenlining's current leader, Orson Aguilar,
who took over after the pair spent several years planning their
exodus and grooming him for the top job.
Gamboa and Gnaizda still have offices at Greenlining and work as
consultants at half pay. "It was time for the young people to take
over, we were dinosaurs," Gamboa said. Gnaizda added: "It's not good
for an organization on the cutting edge to have leaders in position
too long. He'll be better than we were."
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