Stand Up!: An Interview with Connie Alexander, President of Santa Barbara’s NAACP, Part I of II

Connie Alexander is the co-founder of Gateway Educational Services, advocating for Santa Barbara’s underserved students through education. She is also the current president of the Santa Barbara NAACP. On April 20th, the NAACP is holding the “Black Women’s Health Equity Conference”  in Santa Barbara, a free event for Black women from Santa Barbara, Ventura, Santa Maria & Lompoc. PGI President & CEO Dr. Leonie H. Mattison will be speaking at and participating in the conference. I’m delighted to hear more about Connie’s work in Part I of II of this interview, which is part of the Pacifica Soul Promise Series. 

Angela Borda: I’m honored to be speaking with you, Connie, and I would love to share with the Pacifica community a window into who you are and the work you do. Can we start with the general questions of what your upbringing was like, and what values your family imparted to you?

Connie Alexander: I was raised in the Bay Area in San Francisco. I’m a second-generation San Franciscan, which my family is proud of, and I love telling people it was a great place to grow up. There was such diversity, and that word doesn’t even fully describe what San Francisco is. There are layers on layers of different people and communities. So, the values my family gave me were about being a part of all those communities. I still get excited about Chinese New Year because it’s part of my childhood.

My mom was an active union organizer at the hospital where she worked. She imparted in us the belief that we were to stand up for people when they didn’t have a voice. This was our responsibility because other people had done it for us. So, stand up for people who need help. The values were about uplifting other people and caring for the community. So, being involved was normal for us. The expectation in our family was that we would be contributing to our community.

Angela: From a childhood in San Francisco to president of NAACP and co-founder of Gateway Educational Services is a story that could probably fill an entire novel! What led you to the field of education and equity?

Connie: I’ve always considered myself an activist; education is the vehicle for that activism. Working with students or, for the last 15 years, with Gateway has allowed me to practice and create equity. I’ve always wanted to see students have an easier way than I did. I found my way to college through a happy accident. Meeting Audrey Gamble, my co-founder and co-executive director, and forming Gateway was the next step, giving services directly to kids and changing their trajectories and stories.

About two years ago, Black NAACP leaders in our region came to me and said, “It looks like the NAACP is not going to stay open in Santa Barbara. How would you feel about helping?” It felt like a natural extension of my work. So much of my time with Gateway is helping the parents of black and Latino children learn to advocate for their children. I wanted to help the NAACP become sustainable and get back on its feet. Because there is still discrimination in this community, the NAACP, for 115 years, has been the change agent to end racism and discrimination. Santa Barbara thinks of itself as not having these issues, but not everyone who lives here is experiencing it as that perfect wonderland. There’s a lot of struggle and poverty that puts pressure on families, and it impacts mental health issues and even domestic violence situations. The home becomes a pressure cooker, and our kids are in the middle of that harm.

Angela: Tell me a little about The California vs. Hate Resource Line, which I often see next to your name in online contexts. It was “established to assist victims of hate crimes and hate incidents in the Golden State, received 823 calls from 79% of California’s 58 counties during its first nine months of operation.”

Connie: California vs Hate is through the California Department of Justice, and they run the resource line to address the hate crimes in our state and allow people to report hate incidents and hate crimes.  It was created after 2020. The California Stop the Hate grant, which the California Department of Social Services funds, allows community-based organizations to address hate. Gateway is a recipient of that grant, and through it, we’re doing several programs that allow us to extend our bandwidth to address hate through education. We’re starting to do work in Lompoc schools around the use of hate language.

We just did our first “Stop the Hate” poster contest in partnership with the Goleta Union school district. The students in schools throughout the district created posters about how we should not have hate in our community. We had 140 submissions and an art gallery showing. It was beautiful. We had all these parents and students at the Community Arts Workshop for reception and awards. It was incredible to see the kids’ messages. We don’t listen to children. The shaping of the future world is in their hands. They have something to say.

Gateway believes in equity, which extends to everything. We have children and families experiencing bullying and hate; it’s challenging to learn under those circumstances. Learning to read creates equity. Education is the one thing that can never be taken from you. How do parents advocate when their kids are being bullied? Gateway helps with that. It was also the driving force behind my becoming President of the NAACP because we need a direct way of dealing with this, and the NAACP platform helps us do that.

Angela: For those who don’t know, can you give us an idea of the demographics of Santa Barbara County that inform your work?

Connie: About 2% of Santa Barbara is African American and has been here since the 1920s. Lompoc has the largest population of African Americans. The Latinx population in our schools is over 60%, and there are layers within that, with the indigenous Mexican community, those from Central America, and then those who have been here for generations. I would say the Asian communities are around 2% of the people in our schools, with a large Filipino population.

For Black Californians right now, there’s a feeling of erasure. Many have left California in the last decade due to financial strain. Some went to southern states, some to the Midwest; these are Black families like mine who have been in California for generations.

To read Part II of this interview, click here. 

For more information on the NAACP’s “Black Women’s Health Equity Conference,” visit their site.

And to learn more about Gateway Educational Services, please visit here.

Connie Alexander, Co-Founder, Gateway Educational Services, President, Santa Barbara NAACP

Connie Alexander is Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director of Gateway Educational Services. She has 30 years of experience in education, including teaching and student services. She holds degrees in Political Science and History. Her role with Gateway includes daily operations, curriculum development, training, the College Readiness Program, and Summer Camps.

Connie Alexander has been President of the Santa Barbara NAACP since 2022. She is also a facilitator, trainer, and motivational speaker.


Angela Borda is a writer for Pacifica Graduate Institute, as well as the editor of the Santa Barbara Literary Journal. Her work has been published in Food & Home, Peregrine, Hurricanes & Swan Songs, Delirium Corridor, Still Arts Quarterly, Danse Macabre, and is forthcoming in The Tertiary Lodger and Running Wild Anthology of Stories, Vol. 5.