Steve Neal is a man of many leadership hats.
He was the Ninth District City Councilman from 2010 to 2014, and is currently vice president of the Harbor Commission, Chair of the Measure A Citizens’ Oversight Committee, board member of the Pacific Gateway Workforce Investment Network, Long Beach Transit, and The Guidance Center.
So it should come as no surprise Neal co-founded the Economic and Policy Impact Center (EPIC), with a focus on community leadership. EPIC is in the process of recruiting its second Field Fellowship leadership program class.
And Neal has a story to tell that class. It happened when he bought his house in the Starr King neighborhood of North Long Beach.
“When I first moved here — and after I bought my house — I found out that between 400 to 600 houses were slated to be razed to make way for the 710 Freeway expansion in the early 2000s,” Neal said. “And one of the houses was mine. No one told me that before I bought the house.”
Neal said he had to do something.
He helped neighbors get together and make their voices heard to advocate for change. The result — the 710 project was revised and houses in three council districts were saved.
Two years ago, Neal, who is a senior pastor for LIFE Gospel Ministries, co-founded EPIC, an organization that works to provide economic and political opportunity through civic engagement and leadership development.
“The way we move the needle is to get more people involved,” Neal said. “Ideas need to get shared.”
The organization launched its first leadership program in 2019 with 25 participants. That group included Dr. Suely Saro and Erik Miller.
Two years later, Saro is the Sixth District city councilwoman and Miller is the newest Long Beach Unified School District Board of Education member.
Saro, the first Cambodian-American on the City Council, said the EPIC program allowed her to have meaningful exchanges with others in her cohort and to think about issues that weren’t previously on her radar.
“I’m always interested in developing myself and how I can better contribute to my neighborhood,” she said. “I really think I can never say enough how important it is to have leadership development. People who do the day-to-day work need to continue to be nurtured and encouraged to do more. That’s how we change; getting people engaged and involved.”
Neal said in a release the agency is looking for more people to get engaged and involved and so it is forming a second leadership program.
“We are reaching out to people in every district because I strongly believe politics are local,” Neal said. “If we can develop leadership, neighborhood by neighborhood, then we can get more people involved. By the end of this iteration, the students should have skills and knowledge to really advocate for their community and, in a broader sense, Long Beach in general.”
Neal sees a future filled with graduates who will be able to make policy recommendations to the city council and that his non-profit will play a bigger role in the economic advancement of the city.
“We want to help facilitate an economy that works for all,” he said. “We want people to recognize that you have a voice. A certain type of person is called to this and we want to help prepare them for a career and give them a career that is rewarding to them. That is what EPIC is about.”
EPIC is accepting applications until March 16. Tuition is required, but a limited number of scholarships are available. Information about the program and how to apply can be found on the EPIC website at www.epicsocal.org/epic-fellowship/. Donations can be made at www.epicsocal.org/donate-now.