Richard L. Zaldivar

Richard L. Zaldivar is the founder and executive director of The Wall Las Memorias Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting wellness and preventing illness among Latino populations affected by HIV/AIDS by using the inspiration of The AIDS Monument as a catalyst for social change. Combining HIV/AIDS education and prevention, sensitivity to the spiritual needs and religious beliefs of its clients and supporters, along with a commitment to social justice, The Wall Las Memorias under Zaldivar’s leadership has been in the forefront of the fight against HIVAIDS in Los Angeles and beyond.

As executive director, he oversees programs that reach out to Latino populations in the Los Angeles area, including men who are gay, bisexual and MSM, communities of faith and the general public. The Wall Las Memorias Project is noted for several highly visible endeavors, including the construction of the nation’s first publicly funded AIDS monument in the U.S., hosting Strike Out AIDS, the first-ever AIDS awareness day at Dodger Stadium, and leadership in the fight against crystal methamphetamine use in Los Angeles County.

A native of Los Angeles, Zaldivar began his career in public service at the age of 17 when he served as president of a local youth group, he organized community meetings to help youth learn more about issues of substance abuse, develop leadership skills and get involved in their community. He went on to work in the office of legendary City Councilman Art Snyder as a field deputy, carrying on that tradition of community service for many years. It was there that he led and coordinated the effort to save Cathedral High School from closure and demolition.

He later served as a community liaison for then Los Angeles City Attorney James K. Hahn. At the same time, he organized youth and senior citizen support groups, and co-produced a local radio talk show. Recognizing his leadership skills, he was elected as one of the youngest appointees to the National Democratic Convention Platform Committee in 1980, participating in the Latin America Foreign Policy subcommittee.

Zaldivar’s passion and determination in the fight against HIV/AIDS is fueled from a lifetime of public service, community empowerment, and mobilization. His personal battle with addiction lead to his commitment to sobriety strengthening his passionate and creative drive to address the shame, silence and denial that lead to the disparities in HIV transmission, homophobia and social injustice.

It was his vision and singular voice that organized and led a community to fight city hall and prejudice to construct the nation’s first publicly-privately funded AIDS monument.

In 1993, recognizing the lack of effort being made to educate Latinos about HIV/AIDS, Zaldivar organized the first annual Noche de las Memorias or Evening of Memories on World AIDS Day. Challenging what seemed insurmountable, Zaldivar created a space to begin addressing the cultural barriers that made education and outreach efforts possible. That night, he brought together friends, family, community residents, civic leaders and clergy to share with them his vision for an AIDS monument to memorialize those lost to AIDS by offering a place of remembrance and healing.

More than ten years later in 2004, staff, board members, and supporters of The Wall Las Memorias Project brought together 1,400 people to celebrate the unveiling of the monument with names etched on its granite walls. Designed in the shape of Quetzalcoatl, an Aztec serpent and symbol for rebirth, The Wall Las Memorias AIDS Monument became a reality. Located in Lincoln Park the 9,000 square foot monument is composed of a stainless steel archway, eight panels six of which contain murals by Southern California artists and two granite panels that will eventually display the names of 8,000 people lost to AIDS.

Under his leadership, The Wall Las Memorias Project has developed innovative programs to reach out to key Latino populations and institutions. He developed an AIDS prevention program, the Latino Men’s Group to give gay and bisexual men a supportive environment to discuss the issues facing them, explore their identity, build confidence and most importantly develop self-esteem. To date, the Latino Men’s Group has had a profound effect on the lives of more than 1,500 men.

Zaldivar has long recognized the role that faith and spirituality plays in the lives of many individuals and families affected by HIV/AIDS. The organization’s Project Faith reflects his sincere belief that communities of faith must be a part of the prevention, education and treatment equation. Through his and others’ grassroots efforts, Latino faith-based institutions in Los Angeles have been and are continuing to be organized and mobilized in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

Because of his professional achievements and triumphs, Zaldivar is often invited to participate as a motivational speaker and presenter at conferences, workshops and universities on topics ranging from HIV/AIDS, organizing and mobilizing communities, overcoming personal obstacles to making personal dreams come true. He was named as the Master of Ceremonies at the Global Village at the International AIDS Conference in Washington DC in 2012. He was the highest ranking Latino participant at the conference.

Zaldivar has continued to serve his community on several advisory boards including the Training Advisory Board of the National Council of La Raza-Cal State Long Beach Center for Latino Community Health, Education and Leadership, Capacity Building Division Advisory Board of the U.S. Office of Minority Health Resource Center and the RAND Corporation’s Urban Congregations & HIV/AIDS Project. In 2000, he served as Co-Chair of the National AIDS Prevention Summit and is the former co-chair of the Los Angeles County HIV Prevention Planning Committee where he served six years as a member. Zaldivar has recently been selected to serve on the Los Angeles County Commission on HIV in 2013.

His leadership on HIV/AIDS advocacy has been recognized by local, national and international institutions for more than a decade. He was named one of the "100 Most Influential Gay or Lesbian Persons" in 1997 by Out Magazine. In 2005, KCET Television and Union Bank for his leadership in the community. Later in 2005, he received a sabbatical award from The California Wellness Foundation in recognition of his leadership in HIV/AIDS awareness.

In 2009, Richard was selected to serve a three-year term as "Consejero por Meritos y Trayectoria" to the Instituto de los Mexicanos en el Exterior (IME). He was then elected on April 24, 2009 as Coordinator for the Commission on Health for the Instituto de los Mexicanos en el Exterior at a ceremony in Mexico City, Mexico. The following year, Richard received the "2010 Spirit Award" by the California State Latino Legislative Caucus. Most recently, he was elected Chair of the National Latino AIDS Action Network (NLAAN). He has been highlighted as a "National Hero of American Latino Television" by ABC Television Network, featured on KTLA’s "Heroes At Home" in April 2011, and was honored in the special edition of the L.A. Weekly entitled, "People of 2011: A Celebration of Our City’s Finest." In January of 2012 he was appointed to the Advisory Council for the California HIV/AIDS Research Program. He is also the honoree of the 2013 LA Pride Connie Norman Spirit Award presented by Christopher Street West, and the recipient of the 2013 LGBT Pride Recognition Award from the California Legislature.