Local News

Fearless Gentle Giant Falls

A giant fell in Fullerton as we celebrated the new year.  Michael Miles Clements was a big man with a big heart and an infectious smile. He passed away at home from complications of pulmonary fibrosis; he was 76 years young. He brought out the best in people, inspiring us to speak out for justice every day.  My father Ralph Kennedy introduced me to Mike when he led the Gary Center in La Habra in the 1970s. As a man he was admired for speaking truth to power.  Mike realized his vision for the Gary Center was to give voice to the low-income Latino community.  This was one of several careers where this would-be priest tilted the arc of society towards justice.

He was a loving husband to his activist partner Enedina; engaged father to his daughters Marisol, Rebecca, and Mercedes, and his son Steven; inspired parent to his grandchildren Mattie, Destiny, Jerry, Jessica, Amber, Terence, Taylor, and Tatum; and a doting great grandfather to Adrian.

Mike led the initiative that brought Alinsky-type grass roots community organizing to Orange County, Los Angeles, and later Houston.  As the organizer of the OC Sponsoring Committee, he founded SANO (Santa Ana Neighborhood Organization), which became OC Congregation Community Organization (OCCCO).  And in Los Angeles he convened the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) Sponsoring Committee that began United Neighborhood Organization, South Central Organizing Committee, East Valleys Organization as well as other IAF affiliates across the country.

As a devout Catholic, Mike was influential in shaping the church’s immigration policies.  Never satisfied with half efforts, Mike would study, strategize, and organize circles around reluctant institutions.

When it came time for Clements to step down from his organizing job, he turned to something that, upon reflection he related, connected him to his father.  He and his friend Nat Chavira founded Justice In Education, becoming one of the great enablers of immigrant parents’ advocacy for their special needs children.

Longtime supporters of the United Farm Workers, Mike and Enedina were active from the fields of central California to the grocery stores of Orange County.

Suzanne Darweesh, longtime coordinator of the Orange County Interfaith Committee to Aid Farmworkers, spoke of how “Mike and Enedina held deep passions for issues of justice ranging from farm workers to immigration to homelessness to so much more” and his “organizing talents were amazing and unequaled.”

Democratic Party activist Jim Wisely said of his passing that, “His booming voice and give no quarter attitude, will cause the stars to dim a bit.”

Fred Ross Jr., Labor Organizer, called Mike, “A warrior for justice and a kind and generous friend.”

Larry McNeil, IAF West Coast Director, spoke of Mike in these words: “He would put himself into complicated situations and make something happen.  And he would do it in a way that the people around him felt that the success was theirs.  I am deeply thankful for the places of the world we traversed together.  The world is, indeed, a more just place because Mike was in it.”

Cecelia Barragan said, “What a blessing to have been working alongside this gentle, humble, real human being whom I would also call a Saint. Thank you, Mike. You are loved as you so loved.”

Enedina Clements said that a memorial service was being planned for April.

Here is a link to OCCCO’s Color of Justice award video on Mike Clements: https://fb.watch/aIgeV39sAL/

6 replies »

  1. Wonderful tribute. We closed our Feb 1st city council meeting with a moment of silence in Mike’s memory. Mike will be missed but his work and legacy will live on.

  2. So well stated, Rusty, and thank you. I too was someone whose humble best was brought out by Mike and he has been a running thread throughout my life, pushing and pulling me along the path of social justice and the gospel of service. Two great honors of mine are bookended by Mike: being his acolyte and learning by his side to ultimately succeed him at the Gary Center and then, decades later, being asked to introduce him upon receiving the OCCCO Color of Justice Legacy Award. His smile in the accompanying photos says it all about him, a man in gratitude of being in service and justice to the community and all of God’s children. You are right Rusty, a giant, though often unseen, always a presence. God bless you Mike and all of us who you were present for.

  3. Thank you so much, Rusty. This is such a wonderful tribute to my brother, Mike. In one of our conversations last October, Mike, knowing that his time was near, said he “wanted to be of service” for as long as he possibly could. And that’s what he did, supported by and along with Enedina. He was brother, mentor, inspiration and friend to everyone in our family. Rest in power, brother. We love and miss you.

  4. Thank you Rusty. You nailed it! He was such a great leader and mentor to all. He will forever be in our hearts ♥️. We love and miss you dad. May you Rest In Peace and keep watch over us all. #loveyou #missyou

  5. Yes and Mike was such an important person in Los Angeles, Houston, the Rio Grande Valley and across the state.
    He inspired so many of us to do more.
    Like his last work organizing the Tri-Parish Council on homelessness with Fr Dennis and Enedina and so many others

  6. Among the many lovely things said by Rusty Kennedy above, another, important here, is that except for seminary / college, Mike was a lifelong Fullertonian. He was truly one of your own.