In Memoriam: Robert ‘Bob’ Gnaizda
The Greenlining family mourns the passing of Robert (Bob) Gnaizda, one of the organization’s co-founders and a life-long advocate for racial and economic justice. On behalf of the Board of Directors, Academy Alumni, and staff, we wish to extend our deepest sympathies to Bob’s family during this difficult time.
This year has been fraught with many challenges, but to lose such a selfless community leader and friend during this time leaves us all speechless. For there are no words to describe the transformative legacy of Robert Gnaizda.
If you are a recent addition to the Greenlining community, you may not be familiar with our founding story; but simply said — without Bob Gnaizda, The Greenlining Institute wouldn’t be here today.
A Lifetime of Public Service
For more than 75 years, Robert ‘Bob’ Gnaizda fought to build a fair and just and fair future and defended the civil rights of underrepresented groups. Bob was a strategic reformer who knew the value of coalition building in the fight to dismantle racism from the inside out. Over the course his life, Bob litigated more than 100 class action court and administrative cases primarily around defending civil rights and removing barriers to economic opportunity. Previously, Bob was the chief deputy secretary for health, welfare and prisons as well as the state’s health director for former Gov. Jerry Brown during his first term. He also co-founded California Rural Legal Assistance and the United States first public interest law firm, Public Advocates.
During the 1970s, he and a group of grassroots leaders came together around a new and visionary set of ideas: instead of simply fighting institutionalized discrimination and redlining – the illegal practice of denying services to communities of color – their coalition would work together to proactively bring investments and opportunity into these communities. Instead of redlining, they would work to create Greenlining.
The Greenlining coalition was a new type of effort that would focus on leveraging the power of communities working together across racial and ethnic lines. Instead of different groups fighting for slices of a microscopic pie, they would increase the size of the pie for everyone. So what began as an informal coalition grew into a movement capable of holding powerful corporations accountable and winning victories that would help communities of color thrive. In 1993, Bob Gnaizda and John Gamboa formally brought the coalition together by establishing The Greenlining Institute.
Founded on the belief that diverse communities are a source of unrealized assets and strength, and that diversity leads to greater effectiveness; we’ve never lost sight of our founding vision that race must never be a barrier to economic opportunity. More than 27 years later, Greenlining continues to dismantle racism and remain connected to the grassroots movement via the Greenlining Coalition, a diverse group of over 50 Black, Asian American and Latino community-based organizations that comprise one of the country’s most effective and longest lasting multi-racial coalitions.The work Greenlining does every day to support communities of color and low-income neighborhoods wouldn’t be possible if wasn’t for Bob Gnaizda.
“Bob was a tireless leader who created community around a simple, shared and powerful vision,” says Greenlining Institute President and CEO Debra Gore-Mann. “To bring together grassroots community leaders from the African American, Asian American, Latino and disabled communities to both fight institutionalized discrimination and redlining and to proactively bring investments and opportunity into these communities. Bob was fearless. He and John Gamboa forced big banks and other institutions to listen, and brought billions of dollars in investment into communities that had been redlined.”
Bob Gnaizda will be truly missed. While many of us did not get an opportunity to work with him directly, we’re all grateful to be a part of Greenlining family and honored to be the advocates responsible for carrying the mantle of his vision forward into the future.
Robert ‘Bob’ Gnaizda | August 6, 1936 – July 11, 2020
“Throughout his career, Bob was known as a brilliant strategist who came up with inventive ways to get results… His steadfast commitment to social justice and the empowerment of our community will keep his legacy forever alive.”REP. BARBARA LEE, D-OAKLAND
“Before racial and economic justice was a popular hashtag, Bob was bold enough to say what others wouldn’t and brave enough to do what most wouldn’t. He wielded a pen and paper that was guided by his vast and unrivaled knowledge of our national economic and banking system. Coupled by his love of people, Bob never shrank in the face of the racial justice fight against outsized circumstance — be it a financially endowed CEO, a Federal Reserve Chairman or a powerful member of Congress or the Cabinet. His uncanny knack for strategy yielded Greenlining and the communities it serves countless wins that bent the arc of justice toward righteousness.”TUNUA THRASH-NTUK, BOARD CO-CHAIR
“Bob is one of the most underappreciated civil rights leaders of our time because he never cared about being honored or celebrated, he cared about the work.”JOHN GAMBOA, CO-FOUNDER
THE GREENLINING INSTITUTE
“Bob Gnaizda was a social justice creative genius. He mixed his vast legal skills with a creative organizing approach that often mixed baseball statistics with current and historic events. He always sought to uplift leaders of color and never backed away from talking about race. Nobody has worked harder than Bob to build a long-lasting, multi-ethnic coalition. Bob had an enormous spirit that will leave a long-lasting impact on all of us who were fortunate to have worked alongside him in our march towards social and racial justice.”ORSON AGUILAR, FORMER PRESIDENT AND CEO
“He was one of the most insightful voices on public policy in California, with a range of experience that was invaluable to those of us in the media. Bob’s wisdom illuminated the political landscape for so many journalists, and in doing so, he contributed to public awareness of important social and economic justice issues. There’s no way to make up for that loss: he will be sorely missed.”CARLA MARINUCCI
SENIOR WRITER, POLITICO CALIFORNIA PLAYBOOK
“Bob was always ahead of his times and always had great insights and strategies to address our issues. I am honored, privileged and thankful to have worked with him on so many issues.”ORTENSIA LOPEZ, CO-FOUNDING BOARD MEMBER
“Bob Gnaizda was a visionary leader who acted with courage and determination on racial and economic justice issues. His legacy endures through the important work of The Greenlining Institute in seeking a better future for Californians.”MARK BALDASSARE, PRESIDENT AND CEO OF PUBLIC POLICY INSTITUTE OF CALIFORNIA
A private funeral for Robert Gnaizda will take place in Petaluma on Saturday, July 18, 2020. Plans for a public online memorial are being developed and will be announced later in accordance with the wishes of his loved ones.