Until last April, Local 11 of the Hotel and Restaurant Employees and Bartenders Union had been losing members for a decade, evolving into a divided organization with white leaders and an overwhelmingly Latino membership. After an election marred by fraud charges, the union's national leaders brought in Miguel Contreras, 35, to take over the local for 18 months. So far, he's hired 11 bilingual staff members and helped 2,200 of the union's 14,000 members gain amnesty under the new immigration law. Contreras' primary goal for the year: to launch several major organizing campaigns, then return control of the strengthened union to its local members.
Davis, 33, has an ancient passion. Since 1984, she's been executive director of an environmental group working to protect 750,000--year--old Mono Lake, whose water is being tapped by the City of Los Angeles. After years of fighting with the formidable Department of Water and Power, her Mono Lake Committee has persuaded the city to jointly sponsor an independent study of alternatives to diverting water from the lake--and to seriously consider the group's suggestions.
As an outspoken critic of the U.S. Olympic boycott of 1980, Anita DeFrantz of Santa Monica, the 1976 winner of a bronze medal in rowing, was thrust into the politics of amateur athletics. On the eve of another Olympics charged with controversy, DeFrantz, 35, is expected to be highly visible as one of two U.S. representatives on the International Olympic Committee. An attorney and a forceful advocate of amateur and minority athletes, DeFrantz is the first black elected to the IOC from a country that is not predominantly black. She also heads the Amateur Athletic Foundation, distributor of surplus funds from the '84 Olympics.
At Sweetwater High School in National City, Gail Devers was virtually a one--woman track team, and at UCLA, she's won half a dozen events in most meets. But in this Olympic year, she's concentrating on the 100--meter sprint and 100--meter hurdles in hopes of making the U.S. team. Devers, 21, won't rule out a gold medal "if I can stay injury--free, go in fresh and if the Lord is willing." Says coach Bob Kersee:"She's going to be one of America's best, one of the world's best." Devers could become a star in the mold of Valerie Brisco and Jackie Joyner--Kersee, her daily workout partners.
Elachi is a rare scientist: one of those who is not only a visionary, but also a capable administrator. Elachi, 40, was recently appointed assistant director at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where he is in charge of space-science research, but is best known for his role in the development of an imaging radar system for the space shuttle. By using radar waves to produce pictures, the system allows scientists to see through clouds that blanket the Earth as the shuttle orbits the planet, and the system even penetrates the top layer of soil in arid regions, revealing hints of what lies below the surface. His future plans are ambitious: to use such systems to learn about global phenomena in a major study of the entire Earth as an ecological system.
Polly Ward's work with the Studio City Residents Assn. has helped transform that neighborhood group into one of the area's most powerful community organizations. Though she recalls being "dragged kicking and screaming to a meeting six years ago," she stayed on to become amember, then president of the group. Under her leadership, the association has grown to more than 1,100 families spread over three City Council districts. And Ward, 52, is using the clout of those numbers to persuade builders to scale down plans for high-rise projects opposed by residents. A senior financial analyst at Arco, Ward also loans her fiscal skills to nonprofit arts organizations.
FRANK M. REID III, pastor
Frank Madison Reid III believes a church must serve its community, so last winter he threw open the doors of his sanctuary to let homeless people sleep inside. Reid, 36, heads one of Los Angeles' largest black congregations as pastor of Ward African Methodist Episcopal Church near the USC campus. He's at his best in the pulpit, where he combines an intellectual grounding in theology with a charismatic ministry rooted in African tradition. He advises "Amen," the NBC comedy, and he's able to bring in big-name speakers like Jesse Jackson and South African colored leader Allan Boesak (CQ--LV) to help underline his message of community involvement.