When James Alva was eight years old, he was riding in a car with his mom and grandmother and saw someone walking down the street wearing a Harvard University sweatshirt.
The inquisitive kid asked his mother what Harvard was; she explained it was a college and that he’d need really good grades to go there.
Alva, the newest member of the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Board of Directors, never forgot that conversation as he worked his way into being accepted into both Harvard and Stanford universities. He chose Stanford, where he twice served as president of his class and became a first-generation college graduate.
“I was hellbent on changing the narrative for my family,” recalled Alva, a native of Hacienda Heights. “Education was always big for us as a means to a new opportunity—a transformative opportunity. There’s always been this sort of inner drive in me that’s been there since the time I was very young.”
He inherited a hard work ethic from his parents, who ran their own small business for 35 years.
After college, Alva worked his way up to becoming the lead of Citi’s corporate philanthropy division for Southern California and Texas. He manages a multi-million-dollar philanthropic budget to help expand financial inclusion in underserved communities.
Alva has helped to establish numerous small businesses and other organizations including a community bank in Los Angeles, a technology accelerator in San Francisco, and the Los Angeles County Center for Financial Empowerment. He also worked at the non-profit organization Small Business Development Centers. At the beginning of his career, Alva worried that being openly gay might hold him back professionally.
“It kind of put me back into some of those ugly feelings of wondering, ‘Am I less than?’” he recalled. His initial self doubt resulted in an epiphany that has since served him well: “I’m
a professional who also happens to be Latino, and also happens to be gay, and I deserve to be in this room as much as anyone else.”
“That sort of drive has really motivated me for a long period of time: to demonstrate to others that they shouldn’t assume that because of who someone is, our abilities are inferior,” he added.
In addition to being Senior Vice President & Market Manager at Citi Community Development, Alva was recently elected chair of Southern California Grantmakers’ Board of Directors. He also serves on the boards of the Foundation for the Los Angeles Community Colleges and the California Latino Economic Institute.
Despite the full plate, Alva could not pass up the opportunity to also be a part of the board of the Center, which he became acquainted with through his work at Citi.
“The big part of my identity which I hadn’t integrated with a board was the LGBT part,” said Alva. “The Center has really stood out to me for quite a bit of time. I’m thoroughly impressed with the leadership and the staff. There’s a really good sense of community and dignity at the Center—I’m drawn to that.”
Alva and his husband Eddie, an educator, live in Los Angeles with their dog and cat.