CAHRO, the California Association of Human Relations Organizations, held its biennial conference Oct 27 & 28 at San Jose State University. Human relations commissioners and staff, public officials, students, educators, activists, and community members from across California came together for two days of talks, workshops, and organizing activities on economic human rights, discrimination, and effective practices for realizing human rights in the work- place and our communities at-large.

One of the highlights of the event was the presentation of an award to OC Human Relations Executive Director, Rusty Kennedy. CAHRO’s introduction of Rusty read as follows:

CAHRO is honoring Rusty Kennedy, Executive Director of the Orange County Human Relations Commission, serving there for over 40 years.  Motivated by a passion and commitment to ensure that all people live free of prejudice, discrimination and harassment, Rusty has brought people together from all walks of life and ages to learn the value of diversity, respect for others and equality for all. Over the past several decades, Orange County has quietly become one of the most diverse communities in California, belying the misconception that Orange County is a bastion of wealthy white people. As demographics were dramatically shifting, few resources were being dedicated to creating unity amid the rapidly changing population, but Rusty, and the OCHRC has met this challenge.

Kennedy’s vision of a broad-based organization unifying these emerging communities into an empowered voice grew out of his work as a former United Farm Workers community organizer in the 1970’s. As an extraordinary community builder, Kennedy has led his team to successfully develop and implement cutting-edge approaches to some of society’s most entrenched challenges, often in the face of wide-spread opposition by those intent on keeping the status quo. Through years of relationship building, Kennedy’s organization has become THE trusted and respected institution to address Orange County’s human relations issues, trusted by both police and community groups to mediate and peacefully resolve police-involved shootings and community violence.  Rusty is regularly called upon by community and political leaders, police chiefs, business leaders, religious leaders, representatives from various racial or ethnic groups, educators, universities and many others to share his expertise and perspectives on current human relations issues and strategies for bringing people together.

Kennedy also has played a pivotal role as a long-term member of the Board of Directors of the California Association of Human Relations Organizations (CAHRO), helping establish protocols, developing networks, and serving in an advisory role to public entities and community organizations seeking to build human relations organizations throughout the state. He also has served as a mentor to many young leaders at other nonprofits, helping them to create equitable and respectful work environments.

To exist and thrive as a society, we must learn to embrace our diversity as a strength and resolve our differences in safe and productive ways. This is at the heart of Kennedy’s work in our communities.  Rusty has dedicated his professional and private life to this work to create a safer, more equitable and inclusive community for everyone.