Ernesto Cortes | National Civil Rights Museum

Catalyst for Change Ernesto Cortes

Economic Recovery for Whom?: 

Who gets squeezed and what we can do about it

February 6, 2020 • 6-8pm • Free & Open to the Public


Ernesto Cortés, Jr. will talk about the toll the Great Recession took on people of color and how the corporate recovery in no way translated to individuals.  He will also talk about the important role for organizers to create an environment in which policy change can and will occur.

Cortés is the co-director of the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) which provides leadership training and civics education to poor and moderate-income people across the US and UK. Cortés has been instrumental in the building of over 30 broad-based organizations whose hallmark is the development and training of ordinary people to do extraordinary things. He is the executive director of the 30 organizations of the West / Southwest IAF.

He formally launched this work in 1974, starting with the Communities Organized for Public Service (COPS), the nationally recognized church-based organization of San Antonio’s west and south side communities. This work has since expanded to include organizing projects across ten states including Texas, California, Nevada, Arizona, Louisiana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Iowa, Oklahoma and Mississippi. Over the years, these organizations have leveraged billions of dollars for poorer communities including $700 million in infrastructure improvements in the colonias (areas of Texas which lacked basic drainage systems) in the 80s and 90s, $2.8 billion in increased public funding to equalize school funding in Texas in the mid-1980s, and in recent years, $15 million in state funding for workforce development projects equipping underemployed adults with job training options. Millions more have been invested (and saved) in community level infrastructure, healthcare reform and housing.

Each organization seeks to:

  • Build relationships of trust among people and institutions across the racial, denominational, economic and geographic boundaries that divide our cities
  • Strengthen congregations and community institutions by developing the skills and capacity of their leaders
  • Create a vehicle for ordinary families to have a powerful voice in the decisions that affect their lives and communities, instead of leaving decision-making in the hands of a select few
  • Take action on concrete, winnable issues that are transforming our communities every day.



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