We had the good fortune of connecting with Godfrey Plata and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Godfrey, what’s your definition for success?
This is such a hard question because there are so many different parts of life in which we might desire success. In Burnett and Evans’ DESIGNING YOUR LIFE, for example, they propose imagining parts of our life like gas meters we might find in our cars: how “full” is your “work” tank? Your “health” tank? Your “play” tank? Your “love” tank? Perhaps success is being able to manage the push, pull, and balance between these various tanks, knowing that one tank being 100% “full” may not make you feel good if another tank is running on empty.

For me, I imagine myself attaining success in the moments where I feel like I’m able to live life to the fullest while ALSO knowing I’m supporting other community members who have been historically and politically marginalized to be able to do the same for themselves. This is work I am committed to doing because we live in a world where too many of folks of color, particularly women and queer folks, are “never meant to survive” (as Black feminist thinker and author Audre Lorde has said). I believe you only get just one life, and that it can be cut off at anytime. Unfortunately, the world we live in makes that one life we get inhospitable and actively oppressive for some of us. Success, to me, is not just accessing joy for myself, but also living into Dr. King’s vision that “No one is free until all of us are free.”

To be clear, success isn’t just a destination for me. It’s a process, and it’s praxis: the ability to do, and then reflect on that doing, before trying to do that thing again. Success, for me, includes intentional cycles of reflection upon my own experience of joy (or lack thereof), and the nature of any contributions I can make within my community. With that intentional reflection, I aspire to raise the bar for what success can look like year after year.

Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
From my childhood onward, I’ve always known that racial justice would be the north star for my life, but what has changed is how I I imagine what impact I can have toward that end. I started my career in the early 2000s in two simultaneous ways — first, by becoming a public school teacher, cultivating the next generation of freedom fighters by supporting youth to develop the tools to be self-sustaining while critically thinking about the world around them; and second, as a director and writer for theater, interested in representing stories from politically marginalized communities in performance.

Those two entry-points have introduced me to work I never could have imagined as a child. Since the early 2000s, I’ve built on my experience as a teacher by organizing outside of the classroom against racist complexes like school to prison pipeline; and by building capacity in other community members to do the same. I found myself hired by non-profit organizations to design and facilitate trainings nationwide that help regular, everyday people understand how to translate dissatisfaction with their lives and communities into policy influence and real, systemic change. As someone with a background in education and theater, I uniquely understood how to create thought-provoking and personal learning experiences for adults to process what is happening in their neighborhoods, and to take their reactions into public spaces through advocacy, organizing, and even electoral politics.

Moreover, I applied this practice to my own community work, helping to organize around safer routes to school and anti-Asian racism in Los Angeles, and in 2020, running for California’s State Assembly, on a rigorous policy platform built around a belief that too many electeds still skirt: that Black Lives Matter. Although I didn’t win a seat to represent my community in Sacramento, we inspired 50,000 — 44% — of my neighbors to stand with an agenda that my opponent, a three-time incumbent, had not hitherto led as passionately or concretely on. My campaign’s work told important, often untold, stories in public, and has lit a fire underneath local politicians to pay more close attention to their constituents.

After that 2020 campaign, I continued to do what I had always done: organize to make change, and create art to inspire the same. In 2021, I worked with the LA County Democratic Party to take a stand against a volatile and hostile sheriff, and simultaneously returned to some of my theatrical roots by helping launch a new play featuring the stories of API RISE, a local organization that supports re-entry work with formerly incarcerated and detained Asian Pacific Islanders. The thing I am proudest of in my journey thus far is that, in 37 years, I am learning about all of the levers of change we can possibly pull and press to undo this nation’s racist and anti-Black roots. Working against what I had always been socialized to do — to choose one lane, one career — I find myself being able to identify where energy and movement are needed, and to lean into the work in ways I am uniquely suited, even if it means my career is hard for others to define. I’m a racial justice worker — perhaps that’s just it.

Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I like to bring visitors to places they might not find wherever they call home. For some, the nearest ocean might be thousands of miles away, so I’ll take them to my favorite quiet beach — El Matador, north of Malibu. Many friends don’t have proximity to mountains and hills, so depending on their desire to get sweaty, I might take them to Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook and Griffith Park, or Topanga Canyon, and the Santa Monica Mountains. For flatter ground, I think Huntington Library and Gardens is the Disneyland of gardens. If they’re art fans, I love LACMA and the Broad; for theater fans, my first go-tos are East West Players, Center Theatre Group, or Pasadena Playhouse.

And then where do I get started with food?! I live in Koreatown, so KBBQ is a must, alongside great Oaxacan food at Guelaguetza. I love repping my people with stops through Historic Filipinotown’s Park’s Finest and Genever. If folks are vegan, I love taking them to Sage, Gracias Madre, or Little Pine. Little Ethiopia is great for fans of Ethiopian food (and Issa Rae’s Insecure, which gave Merkato some shine), and Alta Adams, Bloom and Plume, and My Two Cents are other great Black-owned restaurants. Finally, we have so many breweries to check out! Three Weavers is a woman-owned brewery in Inglewood, which also partners with Crown and Hops, a Black-owned brewery I’m counting down to be able to open. Southland Beer is my favorite hub to taste a variety of local beers on tap, if I want a little more diversity as well.

The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
As a graduate of LAUSD and LBUSD schools, shoutout to all the teachers who have dedicated their lives to developing literally everyone else who makes our world what it is. Teachers work long, hard, under-appreciated, and severely under-paid hours and are the front-line workers shaping our communities and future. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Website: https://linktr.ee/godfreyplata

Instagram: instagram.com/godfreyplata

Twitter: twitter.com/godfreyplata

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