Renata Simril is the president and CEO of LA84 Foundation, which supports youth sport programs and public education around sports and youth development. Previously, she has worked with the Los Angeles Dodgers and at the Los Angeles Times. Before taking the stage to moderate Zócalo’s 2022 Book Prize event “Will Americans Ever Be In This Together?” with Heather McGhee, she sat down in our green room to talk sports, community building, and where to find the best tacos in L.A.
Who is your favorite athlete—dead or alive?
The first one who came to mind is Rafer Johnson. Rafer Johnson is an Olympic decathlete. He won the silver medal in Melbourne in 1956 and the gold in Rome 1960. In 1960, he was the first Black man to carry the flag, bringing the U.S. team into the Olympic stadium. He was also the man who ran 99 steps up to light the torch for the 1984 Olympic Games. And he’s a founding board member of my organization. He passed away three years ago. Everyone should know Rafer Johnson. He’s the epitome of building community and seeing the humanity in everybody.
What is a tell-tale sign of being an Angeleno?
Knowing where the best tacos are.
Where are the best tacos?
Because I live in the Valley: Casa Vega. They have the best hard-shell chicken tacos.
Any memorable Dodger games you’ve been to?
The last game before the pandemic, when they played the World Series. We still didn’t win the series, but sports brings people together; there’s a sense of community and a sense of belonging, shared purpose; people from all walks of life coming together cheering for that team. It was just really heartening—you could feel the culture of the team.
Did you play any sports growing up?
I played softball recreational. I played street football with the guys on my block. And then I played basketball and tennis competitively.
What are you reading these days?
The Sum of Us! I just finished it. It’s the most dog-eared and underlined book I’ve had in a long time. Also, my friend just gave me a gift of the Zora Neale Hurston series of books, so I’m on a quest to go through all of them. I also have The Love Songs of W.E.B. DuBois—it’s just on my bookshelf; it’s aspirational.
What is your favorite month in L.A., and why?
I like the spring, because I planted a garden on my hillside. It’s the perfect temperature, a little bit of chill in the air. The flowers, the hummingbirds, the bees: I have a whole ecosystem. And the deer aren’t eating my roses. I’m rockin’ the spring these days. The season of renewal.