SAN DIEGO – Effective today—the birthday of our Constitution—Norma Chavez-Peterson is the new executive director of the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties, the organization’s board of directors announced. She will celebrate her new role by giving Constitution Day presentations at her alma mater Chula Vista High School at 8:15 a.m., and a presentation in Spanish at Lincoln High School at 10:30 a.m. (Open to the media; contact Jess Jollett for details.) Also, this Thursday night, Chavez-Peterson will receive an award on behalf of the ACLU at the Center on Policy Initiative's gala.
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“We know Norma’s excellent work, and we were deeply inspired by her vision for the organization,” said board president and Qualcomm senior vice president Greg Rose. “We are excited about the ACLU expanding its fight for civil rights and liberties for all people in San Diego.”
A search committee of the board conducted a national search and interviewed excellent candidates. Chavez-Peterson, who started with the ACLU in February 2012 as organizing director, was promoted to associate director in charge of legal, communications, policy, and organizing programs in December 2012.
As organizing director, she led the organization’s Latino voter mobilization campaign in Escondido, which turned out seven percent of that city’s electorate, and the San Diego component of the statewide campaign to replace California’s death penalty (Proposition 34). In Chavez-Peterson’s short time as the associate director, she has been instrumental in creating integrated advocacy campaigns advancing priority issue areas, such as criminal justice, immigrant rights, and voting rights.
She has also been a key leader for the ACLU of California’s efforts in favor of comprehensive immigration reform. Chavez-Peterson was one of the leaders who created an unusual and groundbreaking coalition of San Diego leaders, which included law enforcement, business, and labor leaders, that called upon Congress for commonsense immigration reform.
Chavez-Peterson has nearly two decades of experience in community leadership and nonprofit management, advocating for affordable housing, neighborhood revitalization, and immigrant rights. Previously, Chavez-Peterson served as a senior manager at MAAC Project, a social service nonprofit that promotes self-sufficiency for low- and moderate-income families.
Chavez-Peterson was the founder and director of Justice Overcoming Boundaries, a faith-based leadership development and community organizing nonprofit that addresses issues of people historically excluded from decision-making and political power. She also played a lead role in previous fights for comprehensive immigration reform, leading to massive demonstrations, including a 2006 march of more than 100,000 people through the streets of San Diego. At JOB, Chavez-Peterson worked closely with the ACLU during the 2007 wildfires when false reports of an immigrant family looting goods from the Qualcomm evacuation center led to abuses and intimidation of immigrants and people of color throughout the county.
Key allies shared enthusiasm for the decision. Assemblymember and majority leader Toni Atkins said, “I’m excited for San Diego and California to have yet another strong woman in charge of such an important organization serving our communities.” Nora Vargas, vice president of community and government relations of Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest, said, “Norma is one of those exceptionally strong, strategic, inspiring leaders who also draws on a depth of personal experience to inform her work.”
Former Assemblymember and Republican floor leader George Plescia said, “I got to work with Norma in bringing diverse voices together to support commonsense immigration reform at an unprecedented press conference at Qualcomm headquarters. I appreciate her leadership in that effort, her advocacy, and her ability to look beyond labels to find common ground.”
“Building on the steadfast foundation created by our outgoing executive director, Kevin Keenan, I am eager to deepen our roots in communities directly affected by the civil rights and civil liberties issues of our day,” said Norma Chavez-Peterson, executive director of the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties. “It is tenacity and heart that makes our organization powerful, and I am excited to continue to work with our excellent staff, board, allies and community partners to build a better region and country for all.”
Chavez-Peterson succeeds Keenan who will move to New York City in December due to his wife being hired by the prestigious Union Theological Seminary as an assistant professor of social ethics. During his eight-year tenure, Keenan helped grow the organization from seven to 24 staff and achieve other accomplishments.
In the role of strategic projects director, Keenan will assist with the organization’s transition during the coming months.