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/
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