For the past 12 years, the community advocacy group Long Beach Forward has been at the forefront of championing progressive causes like economic and racial equity, language access, and renters’ rights in the city.
Today, the organization starts a new chapter: For the first time, the group will run independently as an incorporated 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. Until now, the group has depended on other organizations for funding and administrative services. Most recently, the Los Angeles-based Community Partners served as Long Beach Forward’s fiscal sponsor.
Under the new structure, Long Beach Forward will continue its long-held mission to empower low-income residents and people of color and “make a long lasting impact on growing health and equity needs that will continue to impact generations to come,” according to a press release.
The change will allow the organization to have full control over its finances and allow its efforts in the city, such as distributing emergency grants and relief for families who experienced hardship during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, to run more efficiently.
“We’ll be able to do that much more simply, and much more streamlined now that we are in control,” Executive Director James Suazo said.
Long Beach Forward began in 2010 as the “hub” organization for the The California Endowment’s 10-year Building Healthy Communities initiative, a $1 billion program to transform 14 California communities that were impacted by health inequities. Long Beach was chosen as one of the sites because of the inequities that existed in Central and West Long Beach, said Suazo.
From 2010 to 2012 the organization was fiscally sponsored by the California Conference for Equality and Justice, and Community Partners has sponsored it ever since. The current iteration of the group dates back to 2018, when it rebranded as Long Beach Forward to continue its work beyond the BHCLB initiative and began accepting support and donations from the community.
The effort to become independent, though, began three years ago, when the previous executive director Christine Petit laid out a plan to break away from the fiscal sponsor model. After almost 10 years of program stability, the group had gathered enough resources from the state, sponsors and individual community supporters to run on its own as a nonprofit organization.
The change was put on pause in 2020 due to the pandemic, but the group still used that time to prioritize the needs of communities in Long Beach that were disproportionately affected by COVID-19, Suazo said.
Long Beach Forward is now funded by over 300 individual donors, according to Suazo, as well as key foundations like the California Endowment and First 5 LA, among others. This funding will continue as the group becomes fully incorporated and takes on additional costs, such as those for accounting and human resources.
“We will never have all the money and financial resources that our opponents within the hotel lobby or the real estate lobby or the oil lobby will have,” he said. “But we have people power.”
Long Beach Forward is currently planning for its annual People’s State of the City on April 28, where community groups will come together to discuss the issues impacting the city’s most vulnerable.
“My biggest hope for Long Beach Forward now that we’re moving into this next era of our organizational life, is for us to really be able to build new pathways for community members and community leaders, regardless of your age, your race, ethnicity, income, sexual orientation, disabilities,” Suazo said, “to be able to really drive real social change within the city.”