Community//

“Why it’s always best to try.” with Beau Henderson & Robert J. Apodaca

“People who try to do something and fail are infinitely better than those who do nothing and succeed.”While I can point to many successes in my 50 years of employment and volunteer work in the non-profit sector, the results were not always systemic changes. They were not failures though, even though others who do not […]

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“People who try to do something and fail are infinitely better than those who do nothing and succeed.”

While I can point to many successes in my 50 years of employment and volunteer work in the non-profit sector, the results were not always systemic changes. They were not failures though, even though others who do not get involved with community issues, seem to achieve more financial success and recognition.


As the co-founder of the California Community Builders and The Two Hundred, Robert J. Apodaca has a lengthy professional and civic career that spans the private and non-profit sectors. He has served low-income communities in housing, education, employment training, community philanthropy and public policy for five decades. He is the founder of ZeZen Advisors, which offers business development services in the real estate development and architectural sectors. He also founded ZeZen Alliance, a firm specializing in public and government affairs. He currently serves on the Jobs and Housing Coalition Board of Directors, The Greenlining Institute Board of Directors, California Community Builders Board of Directors and the Casita Coalition, where is he co-founder and treasurer.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

I grew up in Las Cruces, New Mexico, a small but second-largest city (approx. 35,000 population during my childhood). My family has lived in the NM area since 1701. My grandparents raised me in a very modest adobe-built home that was one block off main street. After completing my second year of college at New Mexico State University, located in Las Cruces, I transferred to UC Berkeley and have lived in California and Washington since leaving New Mexico.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

“Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill formally taught me that ‘whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it will achieve.’ I have employed the principles since I was 20 years old and can point to major accomplishments, not necessarily wealth-related. After reading the book, I changed careers several times and experienced significant achievements such as becoming a partner in a financial services firm without an MBA or CFA, credentials that keep many people out of the industry.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

“People who try to do something and fail are infinitely better than those who do nothing and succeed.”

While I can point to many successes in my 50 years of employment and volunteer work in the non-profit sector, the results were not always systemic changes. They were not failures though, even though others who do not get involved with community issues, seem to achieve more financial success and recognition.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

It is a skill that a person has to 1. identify a compelling issue 2. develop solutions/action plans through a participatory process and executes decisively with a participatory process. A person is “woke”, action-oriented, and leads by example.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently facing a series of unprecedented crises. So many of us see the news and ask how we can help. We’d love to talk about the steps that each of us can take to help heal our county, in our own way. Which particular crisis would you like to discuss with us today?

Increased poverty and the growing racial wealth gap.

Why does that resonate with you so much?

California has the highest poverty rate and probably the largest racial wealth gap and the problem is getting worse. Too many families of color who are hard-working are destined to poverty for many generations and the state government contributes to the problem and does not provide relief.

This is likely a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis inexorably evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?

The housing crisis followed by failing public education are the main culprits. Housing demand dramatically exceeds supply and increases the price. Excessive regulations contribute to the higher cost of production that impacts supply. Regulations designed to address (insignificant results) like climate control are viewed more favorably than housing and homeownership. Public education has been an absolute failure for the past 50 plus years.

Can you tell our readers a bit about your experience either working on this cause or your experience being impacted by it?

I co-founded California Community Builders (CCB), a non-profit home ownership builder to demonstrate that affordable rental housing is not the sole solution to the housing crisis. Families need the opportunity to accumulate intergenerational wealth and home ownership has been the primary method.

Can you share a story with us?

The Two Hundred, another organization I co-founded, is an initiative of CCB and focuses primarily on mitigating the growing racial wealth gap through home ownership and home building in California. The Two Hundred has documented and exposed how a group of predominately white activists have been able to effectively wield the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to halt home building in selected neighborhoods. By citing environmental concerns, these activists have systematically filed frivolous lawsuits that have effectively shut down construction sites throughout California. A Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) assisted study revealed that 14,000 housing units were opposed by CEQA lawsuits in the last several years! The Two Hundred has been waging an uphill battle in court to oppose these forces.

Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. Can you please share your “5 Steps That Each Of Us Can Take To Proactively Help Heal Our Country”. Kindly share a story or example for each.

1. Engage meaningfully with family and friends

2. Walk in somebody’s (other ethnic and/or gender) shoes

3. Volunteer in community projects or organizations

4. Participate in civic/neighborhood governance

5. Work and/or conduct business in a productive activity

I feel these steps are pretty self-explanatory, but actually doing them is highly effective!

It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but what can we do to make these ideas a reality?

We can hold our elected officials and business leaders accountable for solving the housing crisis.

What specific steps can you suggest to make these ideas actually happen?

Clearly stated objectives and key results are needed to guide the plan.

Are there things that the community can do to help you promote these ideas?

The community needs to voice their concerns and take action to hold responsible persons accountable.

We are going through a rough period now. Are you optimistic that this issue can eventually be resolved?

I am mildly optimistic that the housing crisis can be solved.

Can you explain?

In the final analysis, the solution has to come from the business sector.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

Early (young age) involvement strengthens values and beliefs. Small accomplishments lead to bigger and more significant accomplishments. Everybody can be a role model for family and friends.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

A private meeting with Bill Gates to learn more about business approaches to addressing compelling human needs.

How can our readers follow you online?

To learn more about our organization The Two Hundred, log on at http://www.thetwohundred.org. Follow us on Facebook @The Two Hundred and Twitter at @The 200 Leaders. Personally, I can be found on Linkedin at linkedin.com/in/robertjapodaca.

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