The California Community Foundation is dedicated to finding systemic solutions to Los Angeles County's biggest issues by addressing the root causes.

The foundation gives grants to nonprofit organizations throughout LA that help with poverty, homelessness and racial inequities.

As its president and CEO, Antonia Hernandez is uniquely equipped to handle her role.

"I am those people, not 'I was those people,'" she said. "I am those people. That's No. 1."

In this episode of "LA Stories with Giselle Fernandez," Hernandez opens up about challenges she faced growing up in LA.

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Hernandez was raised in the Maravilla projects and helped her family pick fruit in the summers to make ends meet. She said that in school, she was called a derogatory term originally used to describe Mexicans who illegally entered the U.S. by swimming across the Rio Grande, and a teacher once told her she wasn't college material.

According to Hernandez, it was all because she came from Mexico. Determined to prove everyone wrong, she went on to graduate from UCLA's school of law.

"I'm an example of living the American dream," she said. "But today, it is fading very fast, and we've got to change it."

In the '70s, Hernandez made headlines for defending Latinas in LA subjected to involuntary sterilization. She served as the head of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund before becoming the first Latina staff counsel to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee under former Sen. Ted Kennedy.

No matter where she was, Hernandez was always dedicated to serving her community and defending the rights of all Angelenos.

"My mission is very simple: to improve the quality of life, to open the door of opportunity to those whose doors have been closed and to show the potential of humanity."

Watch "LA Stories with Giselle Fernandez" at 9 p.m. every Monday on Spectrum News 1.