by Joi Wilson

On Friday, November 9th, the Alameda Health Consortium and Community Health Center Network hosted an event to honor and celebrate the contributions of Jose Joel Garcia to the community health care movement. Joel recently transitioned from his role as CEO of Tiburcio Vasquez Health Center but was very adamant in saying that, “a person can retire from a post, a position, a board, an organization, but you can never ever retire from a cause.”

The evening’s events were emceed by Dr. Roberto Vargas, Principal Consultant at New World Associates, and longtime friend of Joel. Several people were on hand and spoke of their experiences working with Joel over the years. Ralph Silber, AHC & CHCN CEO, related to the crowd that Joel was more than just a colleague; he was a teacher and a mentor. Joel’s old college friend, Dr. David Hayes-Bautista, Professor of Medicine and Director of the Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture at UCLA, informed the crowd that Joel began influencing social justice even as a young man by helping to form MEChA (Movimiento Estudantil Chicano de Aztlan) at UC Santa Barbara in the late 1960s.

Sherry Hirota, Asian Health Services CEO, Jane Garcia, La Clinica de La Raza CEO, Marty Lynch, LifeLong Medical Care CEO, Martin Waukazoo, Native American Health Center CEO, and Dr. Robert Cooper, West Oakland Health Council CEO, were also on hand to share their appreciation for Joel. We learned that not only was he a founder of La Clinica, he played a key role in guiding the Gray Panthers in establishing the Over 60s Health Center and Berkeley Primary Care, both of which later became a part of LifeLong Medical Care. At the conclusion of the Board Members’ presentations, Martin Waukazoo draped Joel and his wife Judy with a beautiful teal Native American designed blanket.

To close the presentation portion of the evening, Dr. Vargas guided the audience into a large Honoring Circle where white sage was burned in a traditional ceremony to mark that the night’s events were significant and sacred. The crowd faced the different points of the compass as Rebecca Mendoza burned the white sage and fanned the aroma into the room while Dr. Vargas said traditional prayers that would help to invite the ancestors in to the ceremony as well. Participants were then asked to share Joel’s gifts to the community; knowledge, loyalty, and unwavering commitment were just a few.

Finally, after all the speech’s had been given, the Q-Vo band began to play and guests filled the dance floor. Carmella Castellano, President of the California Primary Care Association (CPCA), performed double duty that evening; she sang with the Q-Vo band and also spoke to the crowd about Joel’s influence on her and CPCA. She summed him up best when she said “Joel is deep.” Joel’s deep well of knowledge and experience will continue to be an asset to the health care community.