Bay Area high achievers on our radar this month include household names and the next generation shaking things up.
Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez
When KQED reporter and producer Joe “Fitz” Fitzgerald Rodriguez got a panicked call from his friend Jeffrey Fang on February 6 saying that his car was stolen with his two young children in the back seat, Fitzgerald Rodriguez snapped into breaking news mode. He describes this state of mind to the Gazette as a controlled adrenaline, “almost like you can see your spiritual energy flowing into certain pools, and you know what it’s being used for,” he says. Fitz took to Twitter. He contacted local journalists and TV stations. And he encouraged others to do the same. Within hours, Fitz helped galvanize an entire community to keep their eyes out for the silver minivan that held Winnifred, 4, and Sean, 1. By February 7 at 1 a.m., the Fang kids were found unharmed by police officers from the Bayview Station. “I could not quite process how beautiful everyone was and how many people said that they would help, how many people said that they would walk out their doors that second,” says Fitzgerald Rodriguez of the outpouring of support, which resulted in raising more than $150,000 through a GoFundMe account Fitz set up for Fang and his family. “For the family’s healing’s sake, it’s a tremendous thing.”
The Super Bowl commercial that people may remember the most from February is not Timothée Chalamet as Edgar Scissorhands nor Bruce Springsteen riding around rural America in a new Jeep, but instead, the five-second blip of Reddit’s first-ever Super Bowl commercial. Made in under a week by an agency guided by Reddit Chief Marketing Officer Roxy Young, the commercial was among the most effective of the entire broadcast, according to the Kellogg School Super Bowl Advertising Review. Channeling — and celebrating — the same renegade spirit as Reddit’s WallStreetBets forum, which disrupted Wall Street in January by investing heavily in GameStop stock, the ad read, “One thing we learned from our communities last week is that underdogs can accomplish just about anything when they come together around a common idea.” Young, in an interview with The New York Times, notes, “I felt like, with all the conversation around Reddit, we had really earned the right to be in that Super Bowl moment, where there are millions of people tuned in to a singular event.”
Janet Napolitano is spearheading a new center at UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy that is dedicated to connecting the discourse around climate change, social media disinformation and foreign interference in elections called the Center for Security in Politics. “It is an integration of academic research in areas, particularly those that are technology-based, with practical policymaking and politics,” Napolitano says of the center’s mission in an interview with Cal’s Berkeley News, with a central goal being, “How do we blend those two better?” Napolitano, who is currently a professor at the Goldman School, is particularly suited for the job of director, with her background as governor of Arizona from 2003 to 2009, head of Homeland Security from 2009 to 2013, and former president of the UC system. “Science, data and facts — and having a stronger voice for them in our politics and in our policymaking — that’s one of the motivations behind the center,” she says.
John Lynch spent early February responding to many a congratulatory tweet. After eight consecutive years making it as far as the final selection process, Lynch, general manager of the 49ers and former Stanford Cardinal, is (finally!) being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The safety’s storied NFL career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1993 to 2003) and the Denver Broncos (2004 to 2007) earned him a reputation as an aggressively devoted player who showed no weakness — and was respected on and off the field. “Opponents knew him as a smart and physically intimidating player, while his coaches and teammates knew him to be a tremendous leader,” says Niners CEO Jed York. As for Lynch, after nearly a decade of almost making it, he’s happy to be enshrined among the greats. “I’m humbled. I’m honored. So many people to thank, and we’ll have plenty of time. To all the fans, thank you for always having my back and expecting greatness from me and my teammates,” he said in a video posted to Twitter.
At the 2021 Sundance Film Festival last month, San Francisco–based filmmaker Natalia Almada won best director in the U.S. documentary category for her personal essay-meets-documentary, Users. About a woman who is competing with technology in her quest to conquer motherhood, Almada’s film has been praised for breaking boundaries in the form, and having us reconsider what a documentary — or essay film — can be. In a recent interview with Women and Hollywood, she notes that parenthood changed her perspective and inspired her work. “I was suddenly having to make a lot of banal decisions about technology. I wanted to engage with these questions deeply and imagine how the world would be for my children and how they would be shaped by the choices I made,” Almada says. The Mexican American filmmaker’s previous works include Retiro (2019), Everything Else (2016) and El General (2009), among others.