By Julia Barnes
Each year, the San Joaquin County Bar Association sponsors the Law Day Luncheon where it honors an individual or organization that have made significant contributions to the community. This years’ theme was “Cornerstones of Democracy: Civics, Civility and Collaboration.” The recipient of this years’ prestigious award is Jose Rodriguez, President and CEO of El Concilio.
For over 27 years, Mr. Rodriguez has worked relentlessly championing these very tenants of Civics, Civility and Collaboration through El Concilio. El Concilio was formed in 1968 as one of the nation’s first civil rights institutions for migrant workers. Its mission has been consistent with the purpose of “empowering diverse communities in California’s Central Valley.”
1968 was a year of triumphs and tragedies in our community and across the nation. It was also the same year that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy were assassinated in the attempt to silence their voices and extinguish a movement that challenged the status quo.
However, it only added more fuel to the fire and made the people more determined than ever to fight for equal rights for everyone, including migrant farm workers. El Concilio was instrumental in the nationwide boycott of California grapes, led by Cesar Chavez to improve the lives of migrant workers.
Mr. Rodriguez’ parents Raul and Valentina Rodriguez who were seasonal farm workers, and migrated to Marysville, California in 1967 as he recalls, “Our whole family worked in the fields including my three sisters before and after school. My parents and grandparents instilled in us the importance of an education and graduating from school. My father wanted me to become Doctor or a Lawyer. I decided to become a Lawyer so I could help more people.”
Mr. Rodriguez set his sights on going to the University of the Pacific, in Stockton California. Knowing the tuition was high, he put a plan in place to “fund” his way to UOP. “When I was in High School, I was on the Speech and Debate Team. We would go to tournaments and compete for scholarships and cash prizes. I used my winnings toward my tuition at UOP.” He continued, “The summer before I started at UOP, I was working two jobs, and doing everything I could to pay for my tuition.”
While in college he married his wife Carri and continued working hard to support his family. When he graduated from UOP, he wanted to go to McGeorge School of Law, but the tuition was much more than he could afford at that time. His Academic Advisor, Dean Wallace Caldwell encouraged him to apply to Humphreys School of Law because the college offered classes at night, so he would be able to work during the day and that is exactly what he did.
For the next four years, 1991 – 1995, he worked diligently and graduated from Humphreys School of Law. During his last year at Humphrey’s in 1994, he started as a Paralegal at El Concilio. “For years I had admired El Concilio for the programs and outreach on behalf on the Latino Community,” as he continued, “I was so excited, to be part of this organization, I would have worked for free.”
And just two years later, in 1996, Mr. Rodriguez’ diligence and passion paid off when he landed the position of President and Chief Executive Officer of El Concilio. For the last 27 years under his guidance, El Concilio has become the largest Latino Community based organization in the Central Valley of California. In addition, El Concilio’s agency budget went from $1.2 million dollars to $10 million dollars per year.
Through his leadership, El Concilio has received numerous local, state, and national awards for its program and services. As a result of Mr. Rodriguez’ dedicated community involvement he has received personal recognitions including the 2012 NAACP Freedom Fighter Award, The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Person of the Year Award in 2010 by Ministers and Community United, and in 2008 The University of the Pacific also presented him with the Distinguished Latino Alumni Award.
Mr. Rodriguez credits El Concilio’s success to the staff and to the community. “Our staff is excited be part of an organization whose first focus is on the Latino Community. We are all grateful for the support and trust that has been given to us by the community as well. We know that we would not be here without the support of the community.”
“El Concilio programs are open to everyone in the community,” he continued “During the Pandemic, El Concilio worked with the City of Stockton, coordinating and distributing millions of dollars throughout the community to help people pay their mortgage or rent. These funds were made available to everyone, no matter their race or socio-economic background.
El Concilio is celebrating 55 years and still going strong. With Mr. Rodriguez’ positive attitude we are sure El Concilio will continue make a positive impact throughout the community. Rodriguez’s motto: “Find something you love and stick to it. I love what I do. and when you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life.”