Speakers 2023

Alberto Retana ’09

President and CEO, Community Coalition

Alberto Retana ’09

Alberto Retana is the president and CEO of Community Coalition, a nonprofit organization based in South Los Angeles that empowers residents to transform their communities, improve education and reimagine public safety. As president and CEO, Retana has developed initiatives to build Community Coalition into a mass community-based organization that involves thousands of South Los Angeles residents in the practice of creating change.

Under his leadership, Community Coalition most recently created the People First Platform, a comprehensive policy agenda informed by over 4,200 adults and youth, to equitably move resources to the communities with the highest need, re-imagine our criminal justice system and transform the built environment in South Los Angeles.  Community Coalition is also working to build a center to serve as a national hub for community organizing training and racial justice activism.

Retana’s leadership has broken new ground for Community Coalition. He has built the organization’s cultural arm, including: PowerFest — South L.A.’s premier political concert drawing thousands of South L.A. residents; People Power Convention — an annual convention that engages residents through plenary sessions and workshops; and Re-Imagine Justice — a living art and people’s exhibit marking the 25th anniversary of the 1992 LA Uprising — featured in the New York Times and Los Angeles Weekly.  In 2018, Community Coalition was selected by the City of Los Angeles to organize the embRACE LA inaugural dinner series, and successfully mobilized over 1,200 Angelinos across the city to discuss race and equity in Los Angeles.

Retana was introduced to organizing at UCLA, where he graduated with a degree in political science. As a student activist, he joined with his peers across the country to lead campaigns to defend affirmative action, lower student fees and advance racial justice.

He joined Community Coalition in 1998 as a youth organizer and played various leadership roles within the organization. His accomplishments include winning key public policy victories, developing a mass civic engagement strategy organizing over 190,000 African American and Latino voters in various state and local elections, and leading an initiative to enroll 6,000 South Los Angeles families into Obamacare.

From 2009 to 2011, Retana worked for the Obama administration in the U.S. Department of Education as director of community outreach. During his time in D.C., he organized the Department’s first National Youth Summit, and worked with thousands of community leaders across the country on turning around the nation’s “push-out” crisis.

Retana’s leadership has resulted in his recognition by the Los Angeles Business Journal as one of L.A.’s 500 Most Influential People and ACLU’s Educational Equity Award. He is currently an active board member for Catalyst California, Edward H. Hazen Foundation and Power CA Action. He also completed Rockwood’s “Leading from the Inside Out” Fellowship in 2017 and the Atlantic Fellowship for Racial Equity in 2018.

Retana is the son of Mexican and Costa Rican immigrants. He currently lives in South Los Angeles with his wife, Jennifer Arceneaux, and their two children, Emile and Kahlo.

Aurea Montes-Rodriguez '97, M.S.W. '99

Executive Vice President at Community Coalition

Aurea Montes-Rodriguez '97, M.S.W. '99

Aurea Montes-Rodriguez is the executive vice president at Community Coalition and has worked at the organization for 25 years. Born in Mexico and raised in South L.A., she developed a passion for creating change at the local level. She has been a key leader responsible for building the organization’s youth programs to fight for educational equity, leading efforts to keep children in family care and out of the foster care system, helping to build organizing capacity in South L.A., and leading a capital campaign to transform the organization’s headquarters into a state-of-the-art community hub for community organizing. She is currently leading an effort to build a center for community organizing to harness the power of communities and support activists across the nation in multi-racial organizing towards our collective freedom. Montes-Rodriguez is a graduate of UCLA where she earned bachelor degrees in political science and Spanish literature, and a Master’s in social welfare from the Luskin School of Public Affairs.

Ryan J. Smith ’03, Ed.D. ’22

Chief Strategy Officer, Community Coalition

Ryan J. Smith ’03, Ed.D. ’22

Dr. Ryan J. Smith supports the policy, advocacy, organizing and powerbuilding efforts for Community Coalition. Prior to joining the Community Coalition, he served as the chief external officer for L.A. Unified’s Partnership for Los Angeles Schools overseeing the organization’s development, communications, policy and advocacy, and family and community engagement initiatives. Before that, Smith served as the executive director of the Education Trust-West and vice president of Strategic Advocacy for the Education Trust, a national education civil rights organization dedicated to closing opportunity gaps. At The Education Trust-West, he worked on producing actionable, accessible research and advocacy tools that reached state policymakers and on-the-ground community advocates and education leaders alike. He also led the team’s development and production of Black Minds Matter: Supporting the Educational Success of Black Students in California, and The Majority Report: Supporting the Educational Success of Latino Students in California. Before Ed Trust, he served as the director of education programs and policy for the United Way of Greater Los Angeles, where he was responsible for education programs and policy efforts for the organization.

Smith holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science and a Doctorate of Education from UCLA. He served as an Annie E. Casey Children and Family Fellow and a Coro Fellow in Public Affairs. State Superintendent Tony Thurmond appointed him as a co-chair of his Closing the Achievement Gap Initiative.

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