Gamaliel Board of Directors member and President of Gamaliel of California Victoria Jimenez-Morales doesn’t consider herself to be a community organizer, but she has been acutely aware of power since her childhood in California’s rural Central Valley.
Jimenez-Morales’ first job was working in the fields alongside her parents in a town with several active white supremacist groups. This rural, working class world was – and still is – far removed from the beaches and high-paying tech jobs that many people associate with California, Jimenez-Morales said.
“Growing up in a rural town, there were the people that worked the farms, and the people that owned the farms and businesses, and everyone kind of kept to themselves,” Jimenez-Morales said. “Whenever something happened in my hometown, you could only speak up so much, and there was a limit to what type of justice you could get even if the event was very egregious. There was only a certain amount of push before you just had to put your head down.”
“This is how things have been for generations. This is the lens that I grew up with. It’s not the land of all this opportunity for everybody,” she said.
Jimenez-Morales was introduced to organizing as a college student, interning with various nonprofits as part of her major. She helped to start a health clinic for day laborers in San Francisco’s Mission District and lobbied in Sacramento with various nonprofits, but felt that there was an element that was missing from her work – her faith.
When Gamaliel Founder and Retired Associate Director Mary Gonzales hosted an event to introduce people to Gamaliel, it felt like a synthesis of the work Jimenez-Morales cared deeply about and her faith. She became active in Gamaliel affiliate Genesis (California) through her church.
“There was something really different about Gamaliel because it was faith based,” Jimenez-Morales said. “It was a joining of my beliefs around organizing and also around my faith and what my faith directs me to do.”
Although her passion has always been promoting access to healthcare, Jimenez-Morales said she wasn’t deterred by Genesis’ strong focus on transportation when she joined.
“I jumped onboard and I figured I needed to understand the whole process, how to build strategy around this, how this whole thing works, so that at a future date I could apply all that to bringing and pushing the health equity or health access issue,” Jimenez-Morales said.
Eventually, Jimenez-Morales became the president of Genesis and was nominated to Gamaliel’s Board of Directors at a time when the Board was seeking to be more representative of and connected to the work of the affiliates.
“It really broadened my perspective on the work across the entire network, and I was able to see what other affiliates were doing,” Jimenez-Morales said. “Then when called upon, [I could] bring word from what was happening in California,”
Now, as President of Gamaliel of California, Jimenez-Morales is overseeing an effort to increase community organizing in rural areas like the one she grew up in. While many rural communities are often not included in organizing efforts, Jimenez-Morales said that there are serious issues to organize around there.
Although much of her work is near her current home in the Bay Area, Jimenez-Morales said she is still passionate about building power in her hometown – and encouraging her family to get involved.
“They’re not as passionate about organizing as I am, but if I invite them, they’ll still come to stuff. They definitely understand the ‘why’ in what I do,” Jimenez-Morales said. “It’s always been kind of close to my heart that I could come back and give back, showing that I’m not anything unique or special. There are a lot of young people growing up in similar conditions, and everybody should have an opportunity to have their basic needs met.”