Growing up in a San Antonio in which pernicious neglect by an Anglo-controlled "Good Government League" left low-income Mexican-American neighborhoods flooded each year, Andy Sarabia helped transform the political landscape of the city and mentor generations of community leaders. In partnership with Ernesto Cortes, Sarabia not only reshaped the City, he launched COPS/Metro and the modern Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF).
A civil engineer with the Kelly Airforce Base and active at Holy Family Church, Sarabia was first approached by Cortes after a pastor recommended they meet. Standing ankle deep in a front yard pool of water after recent rains, he grew agitated when Cortes asked him whether he liked standing in floodwater. Reflecting on that question, Sarabia decided that he did not like standing in floodwater and went about shifting the racial and class dynamics in San Antonio so that his family and neighbors would not have to stand in floodwater again.
“Andy was quiet and methodical, the master of checklists with an ability to systematically organize,” says Cortes. “He had a natural talent as a negotiator, to make trade-offs, to reach a deal.” Sarabia soon found himself at the epicenter of a seismic shift in local politics as Mexican-American congregations began to band together -- not to march in the streets, but for quiet engagement in parish classrooms and union halls to identify barriers that chafed at the dignity of hard-working families. Through the formation of the broad-based organization Communities Organized for Public Service (COPS), Sarabia worked for the advancement of lower-income families, inducting them into a discipline of careful political research and targeted public action, and thus initiating sweeping structural changes (see Texas Monthly piece from 1977 below). Monied Anglos were fearful of the changes. Others, like bank founder Tom Frost, eventually welcomed them.
As the first president of COPS, Sarabia shaped the culture of the organization. During the 1970s, change was stirring across the nation, and a generation of young people explored local activism, party politics and candidacy for elected office. Sarabia believed in institutional change and regularly spurned invitations to run for office. He created a culture of organizing in which accountability to an institution was required and organizational leadership positions awarded to those that produced results. At the end of his two-year tenure, he continued to remain active from the sidelines -- mentoring new presidents, coaching first-time public speakers, and reminding subsequent generations of the organization's history and traditions.
“The most important thing for people to know is that none of the work was ever about him, it was about the betterment of the community, siempre para la gente,” said Linda Ledesma, Sarabia’s widow. “He was compassionate, he was caring, and he wanted justice, but he went about things his way, quietly.”
Sarabia connected the present to the past -- reminding leaders and public officials alike that it took COPS' power to establish successful programs like nationally-renowned Project Quest and the San Antonio Educational Partnership. The organization he helped establish, now COPS/Metro, has persisted as a powerhouse. This year, the San Antonio Current recognized it as the only community organization on its top ten list of power brokers.
COPS’ success led to the creation of over 30 sister organizations throughout Texas and the West / Southwest US, some of which are approaching 35+ years of age. Andy Sarabia was incredibly adroit with funders, ensuring support for expansion projects in Houston and Dallas through the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD).
Even in retirement, Sarabia continued to work with COPS/Metro -- writing op-eds and consulting with newer organizers. Weeks ago, from his hospice bed, Andy Sarabia watched the COPS/Metro accountability assembly on a NOWCastSA livestream. As the curtain closed, he called individual leaders, congratulating them on the session and evaluating which of the candidates were most responsive to the organization's concerns. On election day, he marked his ballot from bed, urging others: "Get out the vote. I am with you in heart and spirit." Days later he died surrounded by family and friends.
That is how COPS/Metro leaders remember him: passionate about community and democracy -- and committed to the end.
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Services will be held Monday and Tuesday, May 13-14 at Holy Family Church at 152 Florencia Ave. on the West Side. The 5pm viewing Monday will be followed by a Rosary at 7pm. Funeral Mass will be celebrated at 11am Tuesday, followed by a reception in the parish hall.
The Sarabia Family suggests that in lieu of flowers, a memorial contribution be sent to Holy Family Church (152 Florencia Ave., 78228) and COPS/Metro (1511 Saltillo Street, 78207).
[Credits: Upper right photo from COPS/Metro archives at UTSA; lower left photo by Carlos Javier Sanchez, San Antonio Express-News; other images provided by COPS/Metro. Quotes by Cortes and Ledesma first published by the Rivard Report.]
Andy Sarabia, COPS’ First President, Dies at 79, Rivard Report [pdf]
Editorial Board: A Man Who Gave Voice to Voiceless, San Antonio Express News [pdf]
Andy Sarabia, 79, Fought for San Antonio's Forsaken and Forgotten, San Antonio Express-News [pdf]
The Second Battle of the Alamo, Texas Monthly (1977)
COPS Takes on City Hall, Texas Observer (1976)
'Recognizing the Stranger' Training Reaches Albuquerque, Inspires New Leaders into Action Around Asylum Crisis
65 predominantly Spanish-speaking leaders from 18 institutions in Albuquerque convened for a multi-day training co-sponsored by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), the Organizers Institute of the West/Southwest IAF, and Albuquerque Interfaith. Parish leaders participated in leadership development workshops and engaged with scripture and their religious traditions as they reflected on their roles in public life.
A civic academy about the humanitarian crisis at the border, held on the third day of training, inspired 25 new immigrant leaders to participate in a City Hall action the next day. The rapid mobilization included the participation of Archbishop John Wester and helped leverage $250,000 in municipal funding to support asylum seekers.
City Council OKs $250,000 to Help Asylum Seekers, Albuquerque Journal
111 predominately Spanish-speaking leaders from 25 Houston-area congregations convened for a multi-day training co-sponsored by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), Mission and Ministry, Inc. (MMI), the Organizers Institute of the West/Southwest IAF, and The Metropolitan Organization (TMO)/ Gulf Coast Leadership Council (GCLC).
Parish leaders participated in leadership development workshops and engaged with scripture and their religious traditions as they reflected on their roles in public life.
Catholic Campaign, TMO Offers Leadership Training for Hispanic Parishioners, Texas Catholic Herald
Hundreds of leaders from six institutions in the Monterey, California peninsula assembled for a civic academy on affordable housing organized by Communities Organized for Relational Power in Action (COPA). Also in attendance were public officials including a Monterey County Supervisor, local city mayors, a school district superintendent and City of Monterey councilmembers. Allied research, labor and advocacy nonprofits attended as well.
The academy started with a bilingual presentation about housing conditions in Monterey County which included specific metrics on the number of units needed and institutional barriers to their development. One leader shared that as a result of taking good care of her unit, her landlord gave her 60 days to vacate so that their family could move in. The leader and her family ended up living in their car when they could not find housing within that time frame. Another leader, a senior who rented an apartment with her brother, shared that she could no longer afford the rent in the area after her brother died. She is facing relocation to a city far from friends and family.
Participants in the civic academy then split into smaller groups for fully bilingual small group conversations in which public officials listened. The academy closed with select officials detailing opportunities for allied action around housing development and tenant protections. All committed to working with COPA for change in this area.
A few years back, COPA took a similar approach to get affordable housing built in Aptos, against strong local opposition. At a recent Civic Academy at Resurrection Catholic Church, one man -- in front of an audience of 50 parishioners -- shared, “I was a big part of organizing the opposition to the affordable housing project here in Aptos… I held many of those stereotypes you have here, about crime, drugs, overcrowding, and declining property values. Let me tell you now… that project is one of the best things to ever happen to our neighborhood. It has brought new families and children into our community, we have regular community celebrations together… and I’m grateful to COPA for helping make that happen despite our attempts to stop it."
67 Spanish-speaking parish leaders participated in CCHD-sponsored training in Portland, Oregon. Launched in coordination with the Catholic Diocese of Portland, the Organizers Institute of the West/Southwest IAF and the Metropolitan Alliance for the Common Good (MACG), the training engaged delegations of leaders from 11 institutions in sessions focusing on the mission of the Church and scriptural foundations for leadership.
200 Spanish-speaking parish leaders were joined by Bishop Gregory Kelly for the CCHD-sponsored 'Recognizing the Stranger' training in Dallas. Launched in coordination with the Catholic Diocese of Dallas, Mission and Ministry, Inc. (MMI), the Organizers Institute of the West/Southwest IAF and Dallas Area Interfaith, the training engaged delegations of leaders from 21 institutions in interactive sessions that focused on the mission of the Church and scriptural foundations for leadership. Leaders will return to their parishes to hold listening sessions and work with other institutions to develop a city-wide plan of action.
Program Trains Leaders to Put Faith Into Action, Texas Catholic
103 Spanish-speaking leaders, from fifteen institutions in the Catholic Diocese of Des Moines, participated in and were joined by Bishop Richard Pates for three days of training for congregational and community leadership. Sponsored by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), the Organizers Institute of the West/Southwest IAF and AMOS, trainees deeply engaged with scriptural and church-based teaching to learn how be more effective leaders.
Over 80 predominantly low-income Spanish-speaking leaders converged for a multi-day training on leadership development co-sponsored by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), Mission and Ministry, Inc. (MMI), the Organizers Institute of the West/Southwest IAF and Valley Interfaith. Trainees came from 19 different institutions of the Rio Grande Valley -- including from Rio Hondo, Elsa, Las Milpas (Pharr), Weslaco, Peñitas and McAllen -- to learn how to organize around their faith and values.
Together Baton Rouge, Together New Orleans Condemn Attack on New Zealand Mosque & Stand with Muslim Neighbors
Within hours of the shooting in New Zealand, diverse faith groups in Louisiana came together to support Muslim neighbors.
At Masjid Al-Rahman mosque in Baton Rouge, Rev. Fred Smith of Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church (in photo at right), and Together Baton Rouge, joined Imam Waiel Shihadeh to speak to hundreds of congregants at Friday services. “Even though our worship comes from a different perspective, it’s important for us to recognize the value of inclusion — the value of universal love — which is what is a part of our Christian faith,” Smith said. Catholic Bishop Michael Duca sent a message of solidarity for both the victims of the attack and the larger Muslim community.
In New Orleans, leaders from Together New Orleans joined Jewish clergy at Muslim worshippers at Masjidur Rahim for an interfaith service of solidarity. Bridget Tierney, a member of Christ Church Cathedral on St. Charles Avenue, said that one of the worst things that can happen after such an attack is for worshippers to feel unsafe, alone and isolated.
No one, she said, should feel that way. “We have to stand together.”
[Photos Credits: At right by Jacqueline DeRobertis, The Advocate; photos at left by Brett Duke, Times Picayune]
'We All Stand Together: New Orleans Mosque Holds Service for All Faiths After New Zealand Attack, NOLA.com | Times Picayune
The CCHD-sponsored 'Recognizing the Stranger' strategy launched in Austin, Texas with the support of Bishop Joe Vasquez, the Catholic Diocese of Austin, the Organizers Institute and Austin Interfaith. 50 trainees from 13 institutions participated in Spanish-language sessions including the Body of Christ, the Baptismal Call of the Church and Qualities of Leaders through the lens of the Beatitudes.