KHA Q&A: Meet Sara Padilla

In this KHA Q&A, Senior Program Associate Sara Padilla shares the role racial equity has taken in her life, from the time she was born to the work she does now.

Senior Program Associate Sara Padilla

Senior Program Associate Sara Padilla

KHA: What was your path to KHA?

SP: I was working for a national non-profit organization, the Community Food Security Coalition here in Portland, when I met Keecha. I was a project manager for a CDC-funded grant that funded Communities Putting Prevention to Work, a public health initiative focused on physical activity and healthy eating. We received a two-year grant to deliver technical assistance to communities across the country and knew we had to hire an evaluator, so we released an RFP and ultimately selected KHA to be the lead evaluator for the project.

Keecha and Carmen composed the evaluation team, and they worked with us closely for two years to evaluate and inform our work. At the end of the grant, unfortunately, the organization closed, and the staff was laid off. Keecha reached out to me maybe a month or so later, and asked what I was doing. Well, I was looking for a job!

She had a project for me, and I started doing occasional part-time project work for her and the company. Eventually, I was offered a full-time position.

KHA: What’s been the most rewarding part of your work here?

SP: I would have to say it’s two things: the relationships among our team and the opportunities to learn and grow. I’ve learned a great deal in terms of content and effective project management and also through strong relationships, not only with our staff but also with our partners and clients.

We have a fantastic team of people, from top to bottom, and we work hard to be successful. Everyone is committed to the work, and we have fun. So for me, those two pieces make it a great place to work.

KHA: Why should organizations care about racial equity?

SP: I believe that, from a fundamental perspective, a humanity-centered perspective, that organizations should care about racial equity because it’s the right thing to do.

Particularly in the U.S., we have a tremendous problem with racism, and we are not living in an equitable society. When organizations are building and evolving their internal culture, they should ground themselves or at least recognize that racial equity plays a role in every aspect of their work and throughout their organizations. Racial and ethnic equity issues impact all of us, personally and professionally, so centering it can only strengthen organizational culture.

KHA: Why do you care about racial equity?

SP: I’ve cared about racial and ethnic equity all my life. My parents put it at the center of our lives as a family. My father is an international human rights attorney, so my whole life has been shaped by a commitment to human rights, learning about what that really means, and treating everyone with respect.

I’ve worked in public health on a number of issues that disproportionately impact vulnerable populations, including those that are socioeconomically vulnerable, and in communities of color. My great-grandfather was a Mexican immigrant, undocumented and poor. There are so many layers that we bring to this work.

I think racial equity is essential to positive growth, for families, for communities and for our country.

KHA: If you could recommend one book, related to your work, what would it be and why?

SP: Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson is relevant, even though it’s focused on the criminal justice system. It centers racial equity and how it has impacted communities over hundreds of years in real-life stories of trauma and injustice.

I think the people that need to read this book include people in policing and law enforcement and also people in communities that are far removed from the issue of prisons or prison reform. People who don’t have family or friends in prison are far removed from the whole situation, and there’s this huge population in our country whose human rights are not being protected.

What you’ll hear in this book, which is perhaps even more impactful, is that there was an innocent black man who was sent to death row for several decades. It’s a tough read, but it really makes you think about privilege and how it’s either applied or not applied to men and women in our country, because of the way they look or because of the communities in which they live.

KHA: What’s something about you people might be surprised to know?

SP: I think people might be surprised to know that I get actually really angry about injustices and things (or people!) that are preventing us from moving toward justice. I have a pretty even temperament, but I am passionate about this work.

Also, for a long time, very few people knew that I was writing a book. I’m working on two memoirs -- my father’s, and one of my own.

KHA Q&A is an ongoing blog series highlighting the Keecha Harris & Associates team, to help you get to know our KHA family better.