Rick Gonzales Jr., who has raised more than $250,000 for scholarships for Latino high school students in Yolo County, has been selected as the winner of the C.A. Covell Trophy, the Davis Citizen of the Year.
“Our annual Concilio dinner in the fall” — which raises much of the money that funds the scholarships — “has taken on a life of its own, and has grown by leaps and bounds,” Gonzales said. “The students that we recognize with scholarships are the leaders of tomorrow, and I’m happy we can play a small role in helping them reach their higher education.”
A total of 575 students have received college grants from the Mexican American Concilio of Yolo County in the past 12 years.
The Concilio has been a Gonzales family tradition. Gonzales’ father, Rick Gonzales Sr., co-founded the organization decades ago; he died in 2004.
The younger Gonzales says the Citizen of the Year award is also a recognition of the work his father began. “I think my Pop is looking down. He’d be so pleased that his legacy continues,” Gonzales said. “He’s the reason we do what we do.”
In its early years, the Concilio advocated for social justice and equality. Starting in 2000, the organization began awarding scholarships to graduating high school students.
“That first year, we had two scholarships,” Gonzales said. This year, he has a goal of 55 scholarships, to be awarded to students graduating from high schools in Davis, Woodland, Winters, Esparto and West Sacramento.
Over the years, Gonzales also helped establish the city of Davis Human Relations Commission, which came into being after the racially motivated slaying of Davis High School student Thong Hy Huynh, who was stabbed to death on campus in 1983. The Davis City Council established the commission in response, charging it to build respect and mutual understanding in the community.
Gonzales was a charter member of the commission and an active participant for eight years as it developed a report examining racial issues in Davis, containing 51 recommendations.
Gonzales also has served for three years as a board member with the Yolo Family Resource Center, and was involved in its “Champions for Children” annual fundraiser. He’s also been active with the Odd Fellows of Davis, helping with bingo fundraisers and other activities.
Other involvement includes the Davis Progressive Business Exchange, the Yolo Interfaith Immigration Network, the Davis Joint Unified School District’s Targeted Assistance Group and the Woodland Community College Puente Program. He’s also been active as a youth sports coach and a community mediator.
“Throughout his life, Rick has embodied a civic spirit in his many charitable activities,” Bill Ritter wrote in his nomination letter. “His fundraising skills are legendary. He is dependable and a committed citizen who, when he takes on a task, big or small, sees it through to completion.”
Born in San Francisco, Gonzales was raised in Woodland, and graduated from Woodland High School. He then joined the U.S. Army, serving in Vietnam and Germany. Returning to California, he attended Sacramento City College and Sacramento State. He then became a teacher (and in some years a vice principal) in the Sacramento City Unified School District, teaching at Sacramento High, Luther Burbank High and several elementary schools.
Gonzales and his wife Erlinda moved to Davis in 1975, and their children attended local schools. Over time, he became more and more active in the Concilio, and advancing the cause of minorities in what is generally seen as a predominantly white college town.
Gonzales recalls volunteering to organize a minority career day at Holmes Junior High, which his children attended, in 1990. “The vice principal at that time told me that there weren’t enough minority people in professional positions to make for a good career day,” Gonzales remembers. “So I produced 50 people of color to fill that career day. It was a very succesful event.
“The biggest motivator for me,” he added, “is when somebody tells me I can’t do something. Then I feel I can prove otherwise. I’ve done that over and over again.”
Gonzales retired from teaching several years ago and devoted himself to expanding the Concilio’s scholarship program, and closing the achievement gap between different ethnic and demographic groups in the local schools.
“I hope that one day we produces a document on how we closed this gap,” he said. “This is such a shame that we still have a big achievement gap in Davis. It’s almost incongruent — we have high test scores, but we still leave out a group of students, for whatever reason. That gap needs to be closed.”
The C.A. Covell Citizen of the Year Award has been given annually since the 1940s, and Gonzales appears to be the first recipient from a Hispanic/Latino background.
“I’m honored to be chosen,” he said. “I hope to be a good ambassador representing the city of Davis in my many endeavors and committee work. We’re all on this journey, and my journey has taken me throughout Davis, meeting people along the way. I feel that every board I’ve served on, I’ve come to the table with ideas and input. I feel good about moving a committee forward. I am action-oriented; I have some energy.”
— Reach Jeff Hudson at [email protected] or 530-747-8055.