The People of SDOP

San Diego Organizing Project logo in red transparent background

Newt Ferris, First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Diego

What does SDOP mean to you?

I’ve been involved with SDOP for 10 years through the First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Diego, and I have never run into a charitable organization that works the way SDOP does. Everything starts with the organizers talking to our church leaders and lay leaders to see what we want for our community.

What are your favorite SDOP memories or fights?

Years ago, nobody was paying attention to the county budget. But SDOP brought 300 people for an evening meeting. This was the first time the county had an evening meeting – and people were overflowing through the halls.

Last year, SDOP and other organizations involved in the Invest in San Diego Families coalition advocated to receive $60 million from the County to work on community issues. That’s huge.

Also, when Prop 47 was on the ballot, we got more than seven thousand infrequent voters to vote. We were able to say we can bring several thousand people to either support you or not depending on what you do.

How has SDOP changed you?

SDOP is people coming from different faiths who all want to make their community better.
Before SDOP, I didn’t know what other faith groups were doing. I thought our church was the only one doing active protests, active actions to change the community. There’s more power in a coalition that wants to make things different.

Older black man wearing a lavender colored shirt and jeans

Tom Cartwright, City of Hope International Church

What does SDOP mean to you?

Through City of Hope International Church, I have been involved with SDOP for more than 20 years. SDOP is a community committed to helping people, fighting for social justice and human rights, preserving human dignity, and doing this for the good of our community and beyond our community.

What are your favorite SDOP memories or fights?

My proudest moment with SDOP was when Prop 47 passed. I was at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church when I heard the news. It was awesome celebrating it with the group of people who worked together. We did it.

San Diego Organizing Project logo in red transparent background

Wendy Baez, St. Mary, Star of the Sea Catholic Church

What does SDOP mean to you?

We have seen the difference SDOP makes to help our community.

We work with immigration issues, and for some families that have been detained, I see how SDOP helps families to not feel alone. They find legal support for people detained, and they help provide for the families that stay behind.

What are your favorite SDOP memories or fights?

A couple of years ago, a local school district wanted shut down Jefferson Elementary School with the purpose of opening a charter school. For many parents, this meant their children would need to transfer to another school because they couldn’t afford the new charter school.

SDOP gave parents hope. They got organized and protested to make their voices heard. They told the district they didn’t want the school to close; they wanted the one they already had. Now, that school is still open today. When we get more people involved, we can actually make a difference.

How has SDOP changed you?

I’m more knowledgeable now. I’m now able to find resources for people who ask for my help. Even when I don’t know, I ask SDOP to see what resources we have.

San Diego Organizing Project logo in red transparent background

Father Edmundo Zarate, St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church

What does SDOP mean to you?

SDOP is like a lighting rod. It’s a way to reach out to people of other faiths or no faith that believe in the same values.

SDOP unites people despite their differences. Social justice is an area in which many religions or people of faith agree on the dignity of the human person.

What are your favorite SDOP memories or fights?

In one of the parishes where I served, we had a large problem with the industry in our area; they polluted a lot. We got them to move away from the practices that polluted the area because we had the worst quality of breathable air in San Diego – my asthma was triggered because of the quality of the air. Through the organizing of SDOP, we were able to work with the City to change that.

How has SDOP broadened your perspective?

Once people are awakened, they see their voice is important. You see people come alive and be involved, and that’s a great thing. It begins as trying to make change in the community and as result, it can be powerful in the broader community. The positive involvement changes people’s perspectives, bringing about new relationships with people who think differently.

A priest wearing a Virgin Mary Stole and a traditional colorful mexican hoodie

Father Neal “Pepe” Wilkinson, Our Lady of Guadalupe Church

What does SDOP mean to you?

SDOP is a group of people dedicated to causes of social justice. It’s people who share the faith with me. We give a platform where they can speak up.

We don’t speak for them but do everything we can to help them to speak for themselves.

What are your favorite SDOP memories or fights?

The President came down to San Diego to see the border wall prototypes, and SDOP gathered a group of faith leaders concerned about the way things are happening.

At the demonstration, I said something spontaneous about why our savior died for speaking up for undocumented people. I was quoted in the New York Times.

How has SDOP changed you?

I think the biggest thing is that SDOP helped me understand that it’s our responsibility to listen to people. The emphasis is on helping people to speak for themselves.

It’s important for me to respect an individual’s journey, even if it’s different from mine. When we pull together, we work together to accomplish much more than we could as individuals.

Martha Roman, St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church

What does SDOP mean to you?

SDOP means to me a path between all the communities that don’t know their rights. This is the connection for any kind of solution.

We don’t speak for them but do everything we can to help them to speak for themselves.

What are your favorite SDOP memories or fights?

We showed up for the migrants coming in at the border, for the children facing separation. We fought very hard to get the children returned to their parents, to not live in prisons like animals.

It touched my heart, showing me how the community gives out a hand in unison.

What first got you involved?

It was personal. I was ready to apply for my citizenship and looking for help. I met organizations that wanted to profit from my situation.

SDOP arrived to my community church, and I knew they were the right ones. I started getting closer to the SDOP volunteers through the citizenship process. I saw that they really fought for the community regardless of where they come from, for the needs of the person.

Older woman standing on a hallway wearing a white sweater and blue dress

Sister Zita Toto, St. James – St. Leo Catholic Community

What does SDOP mean to you?

For me, SDOP is a very well organized group that helps the needs of our parishes. I used to feel very frustrated when I didn’t know how to help people with their immigration status. SDOP has changed that for me.

What are your favorite SDOP memories or fights?

I spoke at a recent District 49 candidate forum, sharing my personal story with the people who attended. I was very nervous; my English isn’t perfect, but I knew sharing my experience would be important to share.

How has SDOP changed you?

SDOP has helped me help others. I can see how important path-to-citizenship education is, helping people with their immigration status and fighting for affordable housing. I like to take action, and SDOP helps make things happen.

Father Tommie Jennings, Christ the King Catholic Church

What does SDOP mean to you?

For me, I see it like putting feet into the gospel. SDOP is really involved in doing things within the community – not just talking about it.

What are your favorite SDOP memories or fights?

A great memory was when we started thinking about how we were going to be welcoming to immigrants, and we met with DACA students. It was very powerful. It was a big turning point, and we started going to marches together.

How has SDOP broadened your perspective?

I get a lot of ideas through my learnings with SDOP and PICO California that I share with my community. I share about voting engagement, immigration and what it means to be welcoming. Material we get from SDOP helps me articulate what we’re supposed to be about as Christian people.