Alumni Spotlight: Omar Brownson

Coro Southern California Fellows Program in Public Affairs alumnus Omar Brownson (FPPA ‘97) is the co-founder and Executive Director of River LA. River LA is a nonprofit organization dedicated to integrating design and infrastructure to bring people, water, and nature together. As a convener, River LA brings public, private, and philanthropic partners together to enhance the quality of life across our region.

Four years ago, River LA launched the Greenway 2020 to connect all 51 miles of the Los Angeles River, from Canoga Park in the San Fernando Valley to Long Beach, by the year 2020. Omar and his team have partnered with local architect Frank Gehry to create an integrated vision for the 51-mile river in order to increase recreational green space, create public access, and support healthier communities. Last year, River LA released the first phase of work, a data-driven design analysis, the LA River Index, and broke ground on three Rio Vista Parks to transform derelict street-ends into enhanced community access points along the LA River.

Raised in Los Angeles, Omar spent a lot of his childhood in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest where a love of the outdoors was born. After the 1992 Los Angeles civil unrest, Omar attended the University of California, Davis with a keen interest in addressing social justice issues. Upon graduating, he served as a Public Allies Americorps teacher in East Palo Alto and then became a Coro Fellow in Public Affairs. He also holds a joint-Masters in Public Policy and Urban Planning from the Harvard Kennedy School and Graduate School of Design. Omar enjoys seeing his daughters discover all the LA has to offer.

When asked to describe the value of Coro, Omar said, “One of my key learnings from Coro was to look at the world through many different perspectives. This has helped me to reconcile the paradoxes of social change, identify pragmatic solutions, and value opportunity for all. Democracy is messy, and Coro taught me how to roll up my sleeves and participate.”