Mitchell Salazar, one of the legendary cornerstones of the Real Alternatives Programs, passed away on March 11, 2022 surrounded by his family and loved ones.
In various capacities, Mitchell served the San Francisco community for over 40 years, and at the end of the day, Mitchell gave from his heart and had a calling to help ALL people no matter their culture or origins. The legendary Community Warrior left San Francisco and this world in a better shape than he found it.
Mitchell Isaiah Salazar was born in Clovis, New Mexico on November 21, 1961 to Isaiah Salazar and Anita Powell. He spent his childhood there until his mother moved him and his siblings to San Francisco in 1972. Mitchell was raised in Bernal Heights on Andover Street off Courtland, one block from his future wife Cathy Velez (Salazar). Mitchell attended John O’Connell High School.
At 16, Mitchell was a DJ and organizer of the fondly remembered “You and I Dances” in the Mission District between 1978 and 1982. He created a monthly safe space for youth and provided the opportunity for them to socialize and spend time with their neighborhood friends in a positive environment. The dances focused on an “Oldies But Goodies” theme inspired by the growing Lowrider culture and the movie “Boulevard Nights” from the late 1970s.
By 1980, at the age of 18, Mitchell had a PhD in ‘Streetology’ from the ‘School of Hard Knocks’ and was recruited as a Youth Organizer for the Real Alternatives Program (RAP). The community-based youth organization located in San Francisco’s Mission District advocated for youth in the areas of social justice, youth empowerment, and institutional change for children, youth and families impacted by poverty.
This began his journey to do community work at RAP which was located on 23rd and Florida at that time. He and his future wife Cathy were both hired by RAP on the same day. During his 20-year career at RAP, Mitchell worked in a variety of positions, including serving as the executive director for 15 years.
Under his tenure at RAP, Mitchell developed a host of youth services.
They included La Casa, a transitional housing for youth; the Schlage Lock youth employment program; Juvenile Justice Court Advocacy and Intensive Home Based Supervision for probation youth; Case Management and Mental Health services with Instituto Familiar de la Raza; R.A.P. High School, a four year alternative educational program in partnership with SFUSD; the RAP High School R.F.K Teen Clinic, Por Vida, a substance abuse and HIV outreach program; CALLES, a street outreach violence prevention and intervention program; Casa de Los Jóvenes program for monolingual Spanish speaking undocumented youth; KMEL Peace Possee Street Soldiers, the Second Chance Tattoo removal program in collaboration with CARECEN SF and Department of Public Health; and the MUNI Safe Passage Program.
Mitchell was also instrumental in developing partnerships with San Francisco State University’s SCORE Tutorial Programs, Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Fellowship, and the SF General Hospital’s Trauma Unit.
One of his proudest moments came when he started the Community Peace Initiative (CPI), a city-wide and cross-cultural effort to address and find solutions to community violence. Mitchell’s leadership and vision included formalizing collaborations with city departments, public health, government leaders, the business community, community based organizations, radio stations, artists and community members. Mitchell’s structuring of CPI was used as a model for today’s Roadmap To Peace program.
After the closure of the RAP Agency, Mitchell served as a Fellow with Annie E. Casey Foundation, worked as the Director for Community Based Programs for the San Francisco Attorney General’s Office under Terence Hallinan, as the Workforce Development Director for Mission Neighborhood Centers and lastly as the Manager of Apprenticeship Programs for the Department of Public Works.
Mitchell was instrumental in the creation of the SF Equity Group, a marijuana dispensary advocacy partnership composed of long-time SF residents and was the Board President of TURF, Together United Recommitted Forever, a young adult advocacy program in the Sunnydale Neighborhood.
Mitchell is survived by his wife of 39 years, Cathy Velez Salazar, his three children Christina, Mitchell II, and Angel; his seven grandchildren, Marvin, Isaac, Thalia, Giovanni, Rufino, Mitchell III, and Mariah, his great grandson Marvin III; several nephews and nieces, his loyal dog “Money Salazar,” and his siblings Patricia Gonzalez, Sammy Salazar, and James Salazar.
He is preceded in death by his parents Isaiah Salazar and Anita Powell; his brother Danny Salazar and sister Jennifer Powell.
Even though Mitchell will forever be honored and remembered for all the goodness he gave to the community, his family was his number one priority. He loved them profoundly with all his heart and soul. He was a good husband, father, and an amazing grandpa who was always looking for the best for his family. He loved to spend time with them, especially his grandchildren, whom he shared laughter, stories and his wisdom to help guide their lives.
In his final months, Mitchell continued to advocate on behalf of four projects that he felt personally connected to: United Playaz, a youth violence prevention program in the SOMA District; SALLT, an association of six Pacific Islander community organizations consolidated to maximize resources; Fire in the Ring Inc’s Youth boxing program, and the RAMA Blueprints Podcast that documents and preserves the historical legacy of the Real Alternatives Program and its impact on community empowerment throughout the city.
Mitchell had two favorite sayings and used them often to share his wisdom: “There are two things in life you can’t buy and that is experience and history.”
“Driving is a privilege not a right.”
He spent his last days wisely, thoughtfully and courageously. His loud booming gravel voice was in stark contrast to the humility, gratitude, and affection that he showed to many.
Forever May He Rest In Power!