Called "the most effective Latino grassroots organizer in the country today," Ernesto Cortes Jr. knows how to energize and empower people to fight for issues that matter to them, whether its bringing drinking water to poor communities in south Texas or increasing the minimum wage in California.

Awarded a MacArthur "genius" award for his work, Cortes will be the keynote speaker at the fifth annual UC Santa Cruz Center for Justice, Tolerance and Community spring lecture on Tuesday, April 13, at 7 p.m. in Holy Cross Hall in Santa Cruz. The event is free and open to the public.

During his talk, entitled "Building Community Across Regions: Organizing, Networks & Power in a Changing America," Cortes will discuss individual participation in American politics and the importance of agitation, confrontation, and compromise in the democratic process.

Cortes is the southwest regional director of the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), a network of community organizations that fights for social justice by waging campaigns for living wages, equitable public investments, effective public school reform, and other causes.

Rooted in faith-based and other community institutions, IAF organizations work together regionally and at the statewide level to revitalize local democracies. The goal is to help "ordinary people" develop the competence, confidence, and leadership to be, as Thomas Jefferson said, "participators in the affairs of government."

The Southwest IAF Network includes groups from California to Texas and Iowa and is estimated to have a combined leadership of more than 25,000 people and to represent more than 250,000 families.

A native of San Antonio, Texas, Cortes is a graduate of Texas A&M University, where he majored in English and economics and graduated at the age of 19. Now based in Los Angeles, Cortes is invigorating the IAF organization in that area.

In addition to being named a MacArthur Fellow in 1984, Cortes received the H. J. Heinz Award for public policy in 1999. He was a fellow at the John F. Kennedy School of Government's Institute of Politics at Harvard University in 1993, and he was the Martin Luther King Jr. Visiting Professor in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1999.

His visit to UCSC is being cosponsored by the Center for Justice, Tolerance and Community and numerous campus organizations and academic departments, including the Cowell College Chapman-Smith Lectureship and Communities Organized for Relational Power in Action.