Editor’s Note: To celebrate Women’s History Month, South Kern Sol is highlighting notable women in Kern County who are working to create positive change in their community.
Lori Pesante Has a heart for making a change. From going to law school to being an attorney to now being a community organizer Lori Pesante is devoted to standing up for people and helping others use their voice.
While Lori is now a community organizer with a Dolores Huerta foundation she started off getting her Bachelors in Philosophy at Seattle University.
She had the opportunity to travel to other countries at the end of college and when she was in Germany she realized she wanted to do whatever she could to make the world a better place. She visited a concentration camp that has an arch installation over the lowest point of the Earth.
“I don’t know what happened but it was when I was standing in that lowest point, closest to the Earth that I realized making sure that nothing like what happened there could ever happen again. And if it is happening now I need to be a part of stopping it” said Pesante.
Realizing that it would be daunting and she is only one person did not discourage her from wanting to make a change.
“Even if I could have just the tiniest bit of impact I wanted to dedicate my life to that,” said Pesante.
When she got back to the states she taught for two years in Delano before going to Hastings law school.
She was the first person in her family to make it through law school and it was nowhere near easy, especially as a woman. A big reason she was able to make it through was that she had a group of other women she’d get together once a week to study, vent, and relate with. She advises every woman in a similar position to do the same thing.
“Find yourself some really strong close friends and mentors if you can find them. Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do it because whatever obstacles you’re facing don’t have anything to do with you and your abilities,” said Pesante.
Pesante went on to work in law for seven years. Her last job in law was working as a public defender. She would be working around 70 hours a week and waking up early with several trials to do for that day. While she loved every moment of this she also had a realization that made it clear it was where she was meant to be.
“Something became abundantly clear to me. That’s that while working with individual clients is absolutely making a difference for them, the broader systemic problems are so vast,” said Pesante. “They become so clear when you’re working within the system that it became intolerable for me to stay working in the system as it currently was because it was going to drive me into the ground. It was going to burn me out.”
Pesante knew that getting to the point of burnout there would not do anyone involved any good. It was then that Passante decided to leave law to focus on herself and decide what she wanted to do. In the meantime, she was a teacher again.
“It’s always been kind of my touchstone to come back to teaching. I love teaching, it fills my soul to keep one foot in the classroom,” said Pesante. “By teaching others it helps me to clarify things for myself and to make sure that I’m digesting the content that I need to digest to stay really sharp and stay up to date with things.
In 2017 Pesante got a phone call that set her on the path to be the advocate that she is now. Her son‘s principal called her to tell him that he had been the victim of an anti-LGBTQ hate crime.
Someone had sent a letter to the parents of the school saying horrible things about the principal leading to the news showing up to speak to him. This situation made Pesante have to look at what advocacy really was and how to go about it.
“You’re standing with the person. You’re going through it with them. You are feeling the flames on your face with them,” said Pesante. “If you’re not feeling the burn, you’re not advocating. If you’re not taking the risks right along with people then you’re not advocating.
During this time the principal called Pesante saying reporters were outside the school and he needed someone he could trust out there speaking to them. As much as it was not the type of thing she wanted to do she knew there was nobody else who could. Pesante knew she had exactly the right background and expertise to get it right.
“So I turned the car around and I called a friend of mine who has experience with media and I said girl you got three minutes to prepare (Pesante) to speak in front of a camera,” said Pesante.
Next thing Pesante knew she was handing her baby over to an administrator at the school and was walking across the street to talk to the media.
After helping the principal through this time and leading the efforts to show him support, others in the school started leaning on her for other issues in the school.
Pesante had gotten word that the trees at her son’s school were going to be cut down to put solar panels in their place. Once again she stepped into the leadership role.
These situations helped make it clear to Pesante that advocacy was where she wanted to be and started applying to jobs, one being a community organizer with the Dolores Huerta Foundation.
“I’ve been humbled enough in life to realize that starting at the bottom is a gift it really is and in this case, it was the gift of training and organizing with Dolores for six weeks,” said Pesante about starting over in a new career.
As a community organizer, Pesante helps people find their voice and gives direction on how they could get involved in the community.
Working with the Dolores Huerta Foundation quickly showed to be a perfect match for Pesante and others around her can see it as well.
“Lori is a very informed and well-educated person and is always going to be available to help someone,” said Fernando Torres who used to work at Dolores Huerta Foundation.
While being an attorney and community organizer Pesante has also enjoyed teaching along the way. Her first job after her Bachelors’s was teaching in Delano where she met her husband and since has worked several other teaching positions before her current role as an adjunct professor at Bakersfield College.
Although all of Pesante’s working positions require a great deal of talking and interacting with people she considers herself an introvert. Outside of work she enjoys being with her family and spending time alone with her books.
Pesante enjoys mainly reading non-fiction books even with her children. She is currently reading Sitting Bull with her 11-year-old son.
She finds it very important to have open conversations with her children about the community, the history of other cultures around them, and how important equity is.
“It’s almost like when you’re baking bread or cookies you’re asked to fold ingredients in. I fold certain things, certain elements of life into stuff,” said Pesante.
For other young women navigating through starting a new career, Pesante encourages them to follow what she has learned from the young women at the Dolores Huerta Foundation.
“Don’t look at if you’re qualified for something. Just do like a man would do. Just apply for it then figure out how to do it,” said Pesante.