"The program gave me a close-up view of political, business and social issues and trends, information that is invaluable to me as an entrepreneur and active participant in the success of our great state. The speakers were incredible� they inspired us and stretched our minds. The opportunity to connect with successful and dynamic California women leaders was a main highlight. Being part of Leadership California is like being part of a powerful sisterhood."

—Ursula C. Mentjes, M.S., ACC
President and Certified Business Coach
Potential Quest, Inc.
"I have enjoyed my involvement with Leadership California. Our trip to the state capitol was most enlightening. As a result I have gotten involved with the Los Angeles African American Women's Political Action Committee. Thank you, Leadership California, for sparking a genuine interest in the political process."

—Shawn Farrar
Director Corporate Diversity
Sempra Energy
"The CIT program brings together successful women from all over California, and gives them the opportunity to build a network with other successful women. It's a way to learn about the important issues in our state, and to get ready to take the next step in your professional life."

—Isela Vilchis Hoenigmann
"Leadership California has provided me a panoramic view of issues, challenges and opportunities for this lovely state that I live in. The program was my introduction to women of unbelievable talent, experience and passion who are set to make a difference. The feeling to want to be more, to accomplish more, is simply contagious. I hope to know these women for the rest of my life."

—Rosario Montes-Arena
Manager, IBM Software Executive Briefing Program
Silicon Valley & Worldwide Briefing Program
"As a young immigrant woman working in the nonprofit sector, it was inspiring to see women leaders in action, to be able to network with them, and talk about the issues that are relevant to our communities and our state. I feel honored and privileged for the opportunity to participate in such an awesome program that weaves women leaders from different sectors and geographies of California to engage in a conversation about the social, political, and economic fabric of California."

—Winnie Hui-Min Yu
Development Associate
Asian Law Caucus
San Francisco
"I've spent half of my work life in the corporate world, and the past ten years in the nonprofit world, but neither taught me how to be who I am at work�the whole pastiche of talent and spirit. I found role models who excited me, the true state of our state of California (which frustrated me), work partners continually learning like me, and friends."

—Peta G. Penson, Ed. D.
Oakland Unified School District
"Leadership California sessions feature influential speakers and lively discussion on timely issues shaping the economy and workforce. The session on work-life balance struck a chord with me, where key leaders advised us to map out a personal career plan. Networking with other women was invaluable. Leadership California is an engaging and downright fun experience."

—Roberta Tinajero-Frankel
Kaiser Permanente Community Benefit Dept.
Healthy Eating, Active Living Project Manager
"Simply put, Leadership California is time well spent that will benefit me personally and professionally for years to come. I've not only kept in contact with my fellow classmates on a social level, but have had opportunities to work with some of them on business projects as our professional paths crossed. The sessions gave in-depth looks at the critical social issues that many Californians face, inspiring me to get more involved in my community�s outreach programs."

—Teena Massingill
Manager of Corporate Public Affairs
Safeway Inc.
2018 Legacy of Service Award Interview - Lateefah Simon

Lateefah Simon’s Leadership is Driven by the Commitment to Giving Back

Lateefah Simon is President of Akonadi Foundation and Member, California State University Board of Trustees. Leadership California had the honor recently to sit down with Lateefah to learn more about her background, her passions and the leadership lessons she has learned along the way.  

Q: What led you to becoming an advocate leader?

Being poor and growing up in San Francisco, as well as being a teen mom, I knew I wanted to create “shifts” in my life. I had women who loved me and gave me tremendous opportunities. This didn’t come naturally; it came out of necessity. I was fixated on creating opportunities in my neighborhood and communities that could make a difference in my life and in the lives of those around me. I dropped out of high school and was working full time. I had always wanted to do advocacy work and began working with girls on the street and in jail. I couldn’t see not doing this work. I fell into it.  In time, I earned a public policy degree from Mills College, where I began running organizations. 

Q: What issues are you most passionate about that fuel your ongoing leadership at the Akonadi Foundation?

For me, focusing on equity and equality is so important to combat bifurcation by class and race. I am passionate about creating opportunities to achieve a level playing field for all children, who should be able to be children, live in a safe community and realize the benefits of going to college. I joined the Akonadi Foundation because we are all about funding public policy and launching movements that build equity in all of our community systems. We are passionate about people realizing their power in their own lives as well as in the public policy arenas. We believe in holistic democracy that is about real people making decisions over real lives, not just about electing individuals into power. 

Q: As a recognized community leader with extensive experience in eliminating barriers and creating opportunities for equity, how would you describe your strategy for success?

The short answer is having a ridiculous number of women around me, holding and loving me while making sure I am accountable for my decisions and actions. Success is being held up by others, not just when you’re down, but when you’re up and things are good. I have mentored hundreds of young women, and I believe every one of them is why I am here today. They have seen me through happy times and difficult times – as a caretaker for my husband until his passing, through my own cancer diagnosis, a year later when I ran for a seat on the Bay Area Rapid Transit Board and when the Governor appointed me to the California State University Board of Trustees. As a constant learner, I’ve been able to tackle all of these challenges and take on the honors and responsibilities because people have paved my way by mentoring me, ensuring I went to school and more.

My life is great! I have accomplished everything because I have a circle of women surrounding me and supporting me. I believe the “glass is half full,” and I am thirsty to find out what’s out there and take hold of it. Yes, there are young pregnant girls and girls behind bars who are hurting, and I have seen my fair share of dark places. That is why I believe my job is to create opportunities, but equally or more importantly, to spread hope and joy that can help motivate and support others.

Q: As a female leader of color, what has been your greatest challenge? Greatest reward?

Professor Melissa Harris-Perry talks about this. I am responsible for lots of people in my family today. I believe that getting to the point where I could pay rent every month meant I was privileged to live a better life and now I have a responsibility to help people out. My job is to fight for justice, so those who are close to me and still struggling can survive. It’s difficult to celebrate what I have when people are going hungry at night. The challenge is trying to realize that having privileges translates into a responsibility to care about and help others. 

My greatest rewards are my two daughters who are happy and live in a violent-free home. They are young African American girls who have learned from their mom and witnessed the incredible benefits of community support. Seeing my daughter go to college and not have to struggle being one of few African American girls in the entire department has been so heartening. 

Q: As a woman, what are the most significant lessons you have learned along the way to becoming a recognized leader?

I have learned two invaluable lessons. The first is “don’t read the comments.” Not everyone will agree with you but having a basket of folks who will support you is key. We can’t please everyone, particularly when having to fight for something that hasn’t happened yet such as equality and equity in communities.

The second lesson is that “life has to be joyous.” At 41 years of age, this has become a very valuable lesson for me. Finding joy is absolutely necessary and, at times, difficult when fighting so hard to address the sorrow and pain of folks in California who are dealing with such hard things. I try to find joy in spiritual work and nature. Wanting to be joyous and support my spiritual and mental health means taking time out to do the things I love such as reading and swimming. I have learned that poverty and the work to combat it will be there tomorrow. I am thankful for every challenge.

Q: Do you have a message or advice for women leaders as they engage in shaping the future of our state and country?

I don’t have advice because I am still on this journey. I get asked this question all the time, and what I do say to young women struggling is, “When you can’t see how amazing you are, remember your grandmother’s greatest prayer.” I try to help them stop for a few minutes and think about how much their grandmother prayed for them or hoped for them or loved them and use this as a springboard to take action.



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