Our People

Meet our team.

Antonio Hernandez

Organizing Fellow

Ariel Halstead, MPH

Administration and Operations Director

Carla Alvarado

Community Organizer

Cindy Guardado

Community Organizer and Parent Organizer

Diana C. Martinez

Communications Coordinator

Elsa Mei Tung

Land Use Program Manager

James Suazo

Executive Director

Joanna Diaz

Civic Engagement Program Manager

Khalil Zeigler

Development Manager

Leakhena Ou

Community Organizer

Lidia Flores

Early Childhood Program Coordinator

Marlene Montañez

Associate Director

Melissa Morgan

Communications Director

Nubia Flores

Associate Director

Peter Madsen

Operations Coordinator

Rudy Cardoso

Communications Coordinator

Rudy Cardoso

Communications Coordinator

Rudy Cardoso (he/him/his) serves as Communications Coordinator, where he helps co-develop and carry out organizational communication strategies while managing and providing communications support for initiatives, campaigns, and collaboratives supported by Long Beach Forward.

He is a homegrown Long Beach resident that graduated from California State University, Long Beach as a major in Journalism with a minor in Entrepreneurship. His passion with social justice in Long Beach sparked off in high school when he began to do volunteer work with DAYS Long Beach’s summer camp that allowed him to engage with local at-risk youth to develop their leadership skills to build lasting relationships and better living experiences. This was further reinforced with his reporting and mentorship with the youth-led media initiative, VoiceWaves. Rudy’s exposure to the local political scene further strengthened his sentiment towards equity for all as he interviewed folks from different walks of life such as homeless individuals, business owners, community organizations and leaders.

Rudy enjoys bike riding, photography, bird watching, gardening, and is a huge anime and music nerd. He also has a huge collection of vintage clothing, records, video games, and other cool gadgets that his closet and garage have no more space for.

James

Selected Media

Long Beach Post: Organizing Communities During a Pandemic Live Chat

KLBP – Let’s Cope: A Moral Statement of Priorities: The People’s Budget

Palacio Podcast: James Suazo Credits His Family for Mission as a Community Organizer

James Suazo

Executive Director

James Suazo (he/him/his) serves as Executive Director where he collaborates with the organization’s Leadership Team and Board of Directors to oversee community-centric fundraising, organizational administration, staff development, and strategic planning. James is an avid reader, writer, artist, organizer, and abolitionist, who identifies as queer, Latinx, and Native American (Jicarilla Apache).

James’ passion for social change began growing up in Santa Ana, California where he started organizing low-income bus riders throughout Orange County in 2008. Since then, he has worked for elected officials in local government; managed electoral campaigns; and organized with students, community-based groups, and labor unions throughout Orange County, Los Angeles County, and Long Beach. James has also learned from, trained, and mentored organizers locally and nationally as part of his commitment to building a better world.

James first joined Long Beach Forward as the Hub Coordinator for Building Healthy Communities: Long Beach in 2014 and played a key role in helping sustain and grow multiple collaboratives, develop the undergraduate internship program, and build up the strategic communications arm of the organization. As the organization grew, James stepped into the Associate Director role for three years to oversee the organization’s multiple initiatives, campaigns, and collaborative efforts, including the organization’s rebranding efforts from the Building Healthy Communities: Long Beach Hub Organization to Long Beach Forward. James was selected by the Advisory Board to serve as Executive Director beginning January 2021.

Living in Long Beach for the past decade, James also organizes locally with the Long Beach chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. Engaging in organizing as liberation work, he enjoys working on narrative strategies and teaching others organizing as a way to build movements and move hearts and minds. James graduated from California State University, Long Beach in 2013 with a Bachelor of Arts in English Education with an emphasis in Language and Linguistics and a minor in Comparative World Literature. He currently serves as a voting member of the Long Beach Immigrant Rights Coalition (LBIRC) Advisory Board and the Long Beach MemorialCare Community Benefit Oversight Committee (CBOC).

Ariel Halstead, MPH

Administration and Operations Director

Ariel Halstead (she/her/hers) serves as Administration and Operations Director for Long Beach Forward, where she leads People and Culture work, and provides administrative and logistical support in order to ensure effective and efficient operations within the organization’s multiple initiatives and campaigns.

She identifies as a strong Latina woman who is passionate for social change for a healthier and equal opportunity for all residents. She brings with her years of working with low-income families and communities of color with different non-profit organizations within Los Angeles County area. Ariel obtained a Masters in Public Health and Graduate Certificate in Latino Health and Nutrition Studies from California State University, Long Beach.

Carla Alvarado

Community Organizer

Carla Alvarado (She/Her/Ella) serves as a Community Organizer for Long Beach Forward. Carla is unapologetically proud to be the daughter of hardworking undocumented parents. This has inspired her passion for creating safe, connected, and equal spaces for all low-income community members, regardless of where they are born. Carla’s social activism began during her first years of community college where, while being a part of the “Latino Student Union,” her desire to become more involved within her community flourished. She has organized Christmas Toy Drives for local domestic violence shelters, as well as participated in annual Christmas and Thanksgiving turkey drives for local homeless shelters. After graduating from CSULB with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology, Carla began working as a special education aide in local school districts. During this period, she learned how to advocate for, and meet the evolving needs of students with varying backgrounds, learning styles, and special needs.

Currently Carla volunteers with the “Greater Long Beach Mutual Aid,” where she contacts community members interested in receiving weekly groceries as well as communicating relief-resources available. Furthermore, she also volunteers with “Long Beach Immigrant Rights Coalition,” where she assists in things such as call to action steps for undocumented Long Beach residents facing deportation, while also helping Spanish speaking community members navigate online websites. She also recently finished her training to become a volunteer Crisis Counselor for the “Crisis Text Line” organization.

On her time off Carla enjoys hiking, camping, cooking, and spending time with her Xoloitzcuintli (Mexican Hairless Dog). Carla’s background and experiences fuel her passion for creating empowering and trusting connections with our community members. She aspires to diminish the disproportionate burden that COVID 19 has placed on our low-income community members

Cindy Guardado

Community Organizer & Parent Organizer

Cindy Guardado (she/her/ella) is currently a Community Organizer and Parent Organizer. She is a proud first generation Latina of Central American immigrant parents. Currently, Cindy is a student at California State University, Long Beach majoring in Psychology with a minor in Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies. Before becoming a student at California State University, Long Beach, Cindy was a student and Corps member for the Conservation Corps of Long Beach. During her time at the Conservation Corps of Long Beach, Cindy was an intern for the Long Beach City Hall and Long Beach Environmental Service Bureau office. After graduating from the Conservation Corps of Long Beach in 2015, Cindy started attending Long Beach City College and obtained her Associate of Arts Degree in Psychology and Sociology in 2019. During her time at Long Beach City College, Cindy was part of both the Honors Program and Phi Theta Kappa Honors Society and worked as a student assistant receptionist for both the Human Resources and CalWORKs offices.

Cindy has been an active parent volunteer for the Long Beach Area Council, Scouts BSA since 2015. She has taken many roles as parent volunteer, but the one she most enjoys is the annual Thanksgiving Drive her son Juan puts together to be able to provide a warm meal to the less fortunate in Skid Row and being able to provide school supplies for children in need. Cindy has also been a volunteer for Long Beach BLAST since the Fall of 2017. As a first generation Latina, Cindy is passionate about helping her community and those around her. When the pandemic first began, Cindy made an effort to help her community by translating documents, helping community members fill out applications and forms, and making appointments for community members to get tested for COVID-19, and purchased masks for those that needed them the most. During her free time, Cindy enjoys hiking, cooking, baking, and spending uninterrupted quality time with her son Juan.

Diana C. Martinez

Communications Coordinator

Diana Carolina Martinez (she/her/hers) is the Communications Coordinator where she manages multiple campaigns, initiatives and collaboratives such as Best Start Central Long Beach, We Count LB and more.

Diana began her interest in social change during her Undergrad at California State University, Long Beach where she worked on a campaign for With Purpose, a nonprofit that focused on advocating for more research funding for childhood cancer. Diana identifies as a first-generation Mexican-American with a love for storytelling, photography and traveling. She graduated from California State University, Long Beach as a major in Journalism and Public Relations with a minor in American Studies.

Elsa Mei Tung

Land Use Program Manager

Elsa Mei Tung (she/her/hers) serves as the Land Use Program Manager, where she oversees issues and partnerships related to healthy, equitable land use, including housing justice, environmental justice, and equitable community planning and development. She brings strategic research and policy advocacy talents to the multiple community-based collaboratives that Long Beach Forward supports, including the Housing Justice Coalition, Just Environment Long Beach, Cambodia Town Thrives, and the People’s Budget.

Elsa is a public policy professional with 12+ years of experience at all policy levels—from global to local, from government to nonprofit. Early in her career, she served for five years as Senior Legislative Assistant and Deputy Press Secretary in the Washington, DC office of Oregon Congressman David Wu. Most recently, she served as Policy and Research Manager at the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust, where she oversaw park equity policy advocacy at the city, county, and state levels. Elsa earned her bachelor’s degree in politics from Mount Holyoke College and her master’s degree in international environmental policy from The Fletcher School at Tufts University.

Joanna Diaz

Civic Engagement Program Manager

Joanna Diaz (She/Her/ Ella) has worked on grassroots campaigns in Long Beach for over 12 years. She began her involvement through Cal State Long Beach and the Long Beach Immigrant Rights Coalition as a volunteer and intern. Joanna was part of the inaugural cohort of Centro Shalom’s Advanced Organizing Institute in 2012 where she then continued her journey as a grassroots organizer focused on immigration, policing, towing/impounding, as well as parent and education organizing.

In her years as a grassroots organizer with the Greater Long Beach Interfaith Community Organization, Joanna successfully led campaigns with numerous community partners and parents. Working together they secured a school bus for the students of Roosevelt Elementary School and removed a rogue Sheriff’s Deputy who was racially discriminating against the Latinx and immigrant communities by towing and impounding their vehicles.

Joanna graduated from California State University, Long Beach with a double major in Anthropology and Sociology. Her values are rooted in transformative grassroots efforts that help guide our communities to embrace their power as local experts in their lived experiences within our neighborhoods and social institutions. She is a proud Mexican-Puerto Rican feminist who advocates against gender violence and femicide. She also works towards hurricane recovery, rebuilding efforts, and self-determination in Puerto Rico with communities on the island and in the diaspora.

¡Pa’lante!

Peter Madsen

Operations Coordinator
Peter Madsen (he/him/his) is proud son, uncle, nephew, and cousin. He received his B.A. in Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity, and a Certificate of Achievement in Commercial Music. Before joining Long Beach Forward, he organized senior renters living in Section 8 developments in Long Beach, and served as a team trainer in the service industry. Peter provides administrative and operational support to the team at Long Beach Forward to ensure our programs, campaigns, and community partners are well equipped for success.

Khalil Zeigler

Development Manager

Khalil Zeigler (He/Him/His) serves as Development Manager, nurturing relationships with individual donors, being a leader in the fundraising efforts, and being a steward of Long Beach Forward’s Culture of Philanthropy.

Hailing from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Khalil graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a major in English Writing. For the past few years, he has spent his time working as an advocate for the arts and independent filmmakers of color. During this time, he curated, produce, and marketed over 150 free and educational arts programs, including a virtual Pan-African film festival in 2020.

He is a new resident of Long Beach, spending his time balancing work, life, and pursuing his MBA at Chapman University. During his free time, he enjoys reading poetry and fantasy fiction, running, video games, and anime.

Leakhena Ou

Community Organizer
Leakhena Ou (she/her/hers) was born in Cambodia, she moved to Long Beach in 2017. Now she serves as Community Organizer for Long Beach Forward in support of Best Start Central Long Beach.

Lidia Flores

Early Childhood Program Manager
Lidia is the Early Childhood Program Manager at Long Beach Forward. Having begun community college with the goal of becoming a veterinarian and later learning about Child Development and Elementary School Teaching, Lidia has acquired a background in various helping professions. As a graduate of Cal State Long Beach with a major in Human Development, Lidia applies their passion of helping to their work with the Long Beach community. Lidia works directly with Long Beach parents of young children and plays a significant role in managing and guiding projects and activities within the Best Start Central Long Beach (BSCLB) network. By working collaboratively with parents and caregivers, community organization representatives, community leaders, the Best Start team, and other internal LBF teams, Lidia works hard to make Long Beach a community where young children and their families can thrive.
 

Marlene Montañez

Associate Director

Marlene Montanez has 16 years of experience in grassroots organizing, civic engagement, and leadership development in immigrant rights, workers justice, land use, and youth ministry. As a community organizer she has a background in popular education, coalition building, and political strategy.

Marlene has been on the forefront of creating systemic change by growing labor and community partnerships. Her role in organizing several successful policy campaigns led to the passage of groundbreaking policies that include a living wage for Long Beach workers, the passing of Measure WW, and the Long Beach Justice Fund. She prides herself in nurturing a number of interns and fellows that are now organizers throughout the county and state.

Marlene migrated with her family from Zacatecas, Mexico at the age of three and was raised in south central Los Angeles and Fillmore, California. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Women Gender Sexual Studies and Political Science from California State University, Long Beach. During her time at CSULB she was co-chair of FUEL, and contributed to the passage of the California DREAM Act. She participated in the first cohort of Dream Summer and interned with the Long Beach Immigrant Rights Coalition in 2011, and the CLEAN Carwash Campaign in 2012. In her free time, she loves gardening and reading.

Melissa Morgan

Communications Director

Melissa Morgan (she/her/hers) serves as Director of Communications for Long Beach Forward. Since moving to Long Beach in 2001, she has focused her professional and personal work in areas related to diversity and inclusion, civil rights, racial justice, economic equity, education, and youth-serving initiatives, primarily in communities across Southern California.

Melissa is unapologetically Black and believes that race and income should not determine one’s future in Long Beach. Her passion for social justice and equity come from her roots as a biracial person growing up in the South, where she engaged people in community service and leadership development to build relationships and empathy for others’ experiences.

Melissa graduated from the University of North Florida with a bachelor’s degree in Graphic Design and a minor in Spanish. Upon graduation, she served as a Rotary Cultural Ambassadorial Scholar of Good Will in Merida, Venezuela, before making California her home. She has worked at the Anti-Defamation League, Orange County Human Relations Council, the Heart of America Foundation, the City of Long Beach Human Dignity Program, and the Long Beach Center for Economic Inclusion. She currently co-leads B-Well, a Black-centered mental health and education volunteer collaborative.

Melissa is a graphic designer, a creative, a youth advocate, a learning ally, and the mom of two awesome daughters. Melissa enjoys thinking out of the box, creating art, facilitating dialogue, public speaking, laughing, connecting people, giving voice to the unheard, and amplifying important messages.

Nubia Flores

Associate Director

Nubia Flores (she/her/hers) is Associate Director at Long Beach Forward, where she helps guide community and coalition work, while also supporting community leaders and partners within the Best Start Central Long Beach (BSCLB) network to create the best possible community for young children and their families to thrive.

Her leadership braids parent organizing, public school advocacy, and work with school communities. Inspired by her son who is a student in special education programs, her focus of work has been centered in our Long Beach public schools, advocating that they do indeed serve ALL kids while also engaging ALL parents, teachers, and community members as partners to ensure our kids have a path to success in the classroom and beyond. An experienced parent organizer, parent advocate, and educational leader, she has a proven track-record of creating equitable change in the Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD).​

Nubia carries over a decade of experience in communications and has been a part of Long Beach Forward since 2020, where she’s served as a Lead Parent Organizer, then a Communication Strategist, and now our second Associate Director. She carries 11 years of experience in parent advocacy and community organizing in our schools. She has worked with parents and LBUSD leadership on initiatives like the Inclusion Resolution that set our standards for our schools on including and representing students with disabilities. She’s partnered with community advocates to write the Disability History Resolution, and has been part of the team that helped write LBUSD’s district-wide Equity Policy. Nubia has worked alongside parents in PTAs, school site councils, and at the district level in the Community Advisory Committee where parents advise on policy in special education.

Nubia believes in the promise public schools make – to provide all kids a quality public school education, regardless of their zip code – because she has seen the impact such an education had in her own life. She attended public schools throughout her childhood and earned a BA degree from UC Santa Barbara where she majored in Political Science and Film. She enjoys spending her time reading, running/walking in her neighborhood of North Long Beach, gardening, cooking with her son, and watching movies… a lot of movies.

Antonio Hernandez

Organizing Fellow

Antonio Hernandez (he/him/his) was born and raised in South Central Los Angeles (to Mexican-immigrant parents). He moved to Long Beach to attend California State University, Long Beach and graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Chicano and Latino Studies in 2020. His passion to serve communities of color stems from witnessing the aspirations and talents around him growing up, yet not enough resources to support them. Antonio is a former mentor, and alum, with USC Leslie and William McMorrow Neighborhood Academic Initiative, guiding high school students to pursue higher education as first-generation college students. Antonio currently serves with Greater Long Beach Mutual Aid to provide families food security in response to the pandemic.

Antonio studied abroad at the Universidad de Salamanca in Spain, where he built upon his passion for distinct cultures and foods. He believes that food is a gateway into cultures and builds community.

¡Adelante!