Three. That’s the number on my mind today. It’s March 3, 2022, the third anniversary of the passing of Community Catalyst’s founding executive director, Rob Restuccia, a visionary advocate for health care for all and a mentor to me and so many others over a brilliant career that spanned five decades.
I write this as the program manager for Community Catalyst’s Restuccia Health Justice Fellowship program, founded in his honor. I feel it is a deep privilege to write about Rob on behalf of all those who knew and worked with and felt such great affection and respect for him. The Fellowship, which is currently in the middle of its inaugural year, is just one of many aspects of Rob’s legacy. His vision and influence are felt every day in all the work Community Catalyst carries forward, striving to bring about a world where health justice and equity is a reality for all people.
I know Rob would have loved to meet each participant of this year’s amazing first cohort of fellows. Before the pandemic, I can imagine Rob wanting to grab coffee with all nine fellows. He’d ask to meet in the downstairs lobby of One Federal Street in Boston for Starbucks, or perhaps, if it’s nice enough outside, he’d ask everyone to gather at The Thinking Cup, a few blocks away. We would have all sat around a table or two, Rob with his cup of black coffee, sitting upright with his legs crossed. He would have started by posing one question. He wouldn’t want to talk about himself or his journey, but instead, he’d want to know about each of them, their work, challenges and needs.
I imagine a lot of intensive listening and the opening of hearts and minds as Luvia, Brandon and Edith from the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) share their stories. I picture stillness as we listen to Ponsella, DeJuan and Banke from MOSES, a community organizing nonprofit serving residents of metropolitan Detroit, and a sense of calmness when Marsha, Michelle and Ebony from The Afiya Center (TAC) speak. We’d end with laughter, hugs and with a sense of gratitude and respect. And not once could I imagine Rob turning the conversation towards himself. We would leave the lobby or the crowded café energized and uplifted without Rob ever having made the conversation about him. That was Rob. Selfless, humble, curious and always a collaborative leader.
These organizations cut across a range of equity and justice issues and serve a range of communities. For each organization, grassroots organizing and power-building are at the center of what they do! There is something incredible about bringing together a reproductive justice organization, a faith-based organization and an immigrant and refugee rights organization to learn from each other and grow in their empowerment together.
Since starting the Fellowship in September 2021 and publicly launching this January, we have implemented a series of assessments that provided insight and guidance around the organizational health of each of our fellows’ organizational homes. We assisted fellows with evaluating and understanding their strengths and challenges as leaders. We have held a series of workshops, panels and a weekend retreat that was enriched by notable speakers and guest performances, graphic recording and even spoken word from one of our very own fellows, DeJuan Bland.
I am humbled by getting to know each of the fellows and honored to learn alongside them as I continue to grow as a leader myself. As I reflect on the Fellowship and evaluate this first-of-a-kind framework while preparing for the recruitment of the second cohort this spring, I often think and sometimes say out loud: “Rob, admittedly some of these ideas I’ve implemented have been totally outside of the box and probably nothing you’d ever imagine I’d do or suggest!” But after each engagement with our fellows, if there’s one thing that rings true, it’s that I think: “No, I know you’d be proud.”
The journey ahead is just that: a journey that will have peaks and valleys. As I reflect on the remaining six months with cohort one, I am grateful to be supported by our new executive director, Emily Stewart, and honored that Rob left his legacy in our hands – capable hands of family, friends, advocates and a new generation of hopeful leaders who are true change agents. We are working to equip diverse teams within local, state and national health advocacy organizations with the tools, resources and teamwork to transform their organizations.
A group collectively took a vision and has made it a reality, and for that, we – meaning you, too – should all be proud because I know Rob would be.