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Latinx students smiling in the hallway.
Ideas and Solutions

Working to Expand Opportunities in the Latinx Community

For Latinx Heritage Month, we celebrate bold organizations that are building opportunities, coalitions, and interconnectedness during a time of divisiveness.

September 16, 2019

The TFA Editorial Team

The TFA Editorial Team

Advocacy is deeply woven into the fabric of Latinx identity and culture. At a time of widespread divisiveness in our country, leaders within the Latinx community are working to elevate voices of empowerment and uplift, whether it's in health care, the boardroom, or the classroom. 

We spoke to three Teach For America partners about the critical issues facing the Latinx community. Together, they shared their thoughts on barriers facing the community and what they are doing to expand opportunities and help future leaders thrive in the classroom and at the executive level. 

It is in the face of adversity that the Latinx community continues to grow stronger and united, says Candelario Cervantez, Senior Managing Director of Teach For America’s National Latinx Alliances. “At this moment we are creating history that future generations will look to for inspiration,” he says. “It is through working together, in true partnership and collaboration that we will be able to achieve One Day and ensure all community members achieve their full educational, economic, and social potential.”

Underrepresentation & Systems Change in the Classroom

By 2026, Latinx students will make up 30 percent of the school-age population in the United States. Yet fewer than 4 percent of school leaders are Latinx, with even fewer Latinx women in these positions. Formed in 2003, the Association of Latino Superintendents and Administrators (ALAS) is committed to identifying, recruiting, developing, and advancing Latinx school administrators to improve the educational accomplishments of Latinx youth.

“ALAS understands the importance of familia,” says ALAS executive director, Dr. Nancy Lewin. “We’re about creating a network that’s going to support each other.” 

“When students see people who look like them in leadership roles, in roles that show that our people can go to school and can graduate from college, it gives kids hope. It gives the families hope.”

Dr. Nancy Lewin

Executive Director, Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents (ALAS)

Dr. Nancy Lewin (Far right) at the 2019 Teach For America Latinx Summit.

ALAS nurtures Latinx school leaders through a few initiatives. Among them are its National Education Summit and Leadership Summit and the ALAS Superintendents Leadership Academy (SLA). The latter provides mentorship and support to emerging school system leaders so they can assume high-level roles, especially in high poverty and minority-serving school systems. Of SLA’s graduates, 54 percent hold leadership roles as superintendents and deputy superintendents, as well as executive directors at various organizations.

ALAS also serves as a critical network where other Latinx school leaders can connect and share resources, tips, and a common understanding of best practices. “When you’re in the top leadership role, the people who you can talk to and maybe just share or get feedback from is very small when you’re in a school district,” Lewin says. “Especially if you’re one of the only Latinos in the school district.” 

Removing long-standing barriers and embracing a more inclusive environment that champions diversity means understanding the students, the community, and systemic issues within the school system itself, according to Lewin.

“If we don’t change the structures from where they were to now, we’re not going to get to meet the needs of our Latinx youth. But we need to make sure we do that through some of the leadership role changing, and school boards really need to look at making a difference there and being honest with themselves about not meeting the needs of their communities,” Lewin says. “When students see people who look like them in leadership roles, in roles that show that our people can go to school and can graduate from college, it gives kids hope. It gives the families hope.”

Leadership Development

The Latinx community continues to be one of the fastest-growing minority groups in the country. And as such, ensuring that members of the community are able to achieve their full educational and professional ambitions becomes not just a societal benefit but an economic one as well. 

Prospanica started in 1988 as a way to connect and support the Latinx MBA community. Since 2016, the organization has expanded its mission, and it now helps empower Latinx professionals of all backgrounds and professions to achieve their educational, economic, and social potential. To date, Prospanica has given over $8 million in scholarships for graduate education, and many of those recipients have gone on to serve in one of the 48 professional chapters and university chapters across the U.S. and Puerto Rico.  

Prospanica believes the entire country will be stronger as a result of greater participation from the Latinx community. Because of this, it believes in increasing diversity and Latinx participation across all industry sectors. “We aspire to put leaders everywhere and not just the Fortune 500. Universities, other nonprofits, anywhere where there’s key leadership, impactful organizations. We’ve done a great job with that,” says Prospanica CEO Thomas Savino.

Thomas Savino (third from the left) at the 2018 Texas LEAD Conference.

Whether it’s through one of its national conferences, 48 chapters, board leadership, scholarship programs, or other robust initiatives, Prospanica has successfully connected Latinx members to companies they might not have had access to through normal channels.

Recently, the Business Roundtable released a comprehensive report detailing how America’s largest employers are making diversity and inclusion a top priority. A former analyst and internal consultant for McKinsey & Company, Savino has long seen global business leaders cite the wonders of diversity. While education, health care, and training remain barriers within the Latinx community, Savino believes overcoming barriers also means eliminating deep-seated ideologies and the idea that there is one standard trajectory that begins in civil service or drops off in middle management.

“This country is large and has been growing so fast that it overwhelms stereotypes. We must have this group perform well educationally and in business—and contribute to this country—if the country is going to actually excel,” Savino says.

Healthcare & Policy

Opportunity is at the heart of UnidosUS’ mission. Since its founding in 1968, UnidosUS has championed—and broken barriers on behalf of—the Latino community. Together with its network of nearly 300 national affiliates and partner organizations, the organization provides services ranging from education to healthcare, housing, immigration, and more.

While it provides support to millions of communities nationwide, much of UnidosUS’ work is done behind the scenes at the federal level, helping to usher in new policies that offer the Latinx community a chance at a healthy life and upward economic mobility. “We are the largest organization that simultaneously challenges the social, economic, and political barriers that face Latino communities. We work in a few different key areas and we have a proud record of impact,” says UnidosUS CEO and president Janet Murguía.

“We know that in order to move the needle on education equity, a very tall order, no one organization can achieve this alone ...”

Janet Murguía

CEO and President, UnidosUS

UnidosUS CEO and president, Janet Murguía with Teach For America CEO, Elisa Villanueva Beard.

UnidosUS worked closely with the Obama administration to expand the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Through its advocacy work, the organization helped an additional 4 million Latinx families gain health insurance, who otherwise wouldn't be covered. Today, the organization is working with lawmakers to expand Medicaid coverage in states such as Florida and Texas, where many in the Latinx community remain ineligible for coverage through the ACA marketplaces.

According to Murguía, while there are resources to be found in the Latinx community, significant barriers to healthcare access include the lack of information being provided through the right channels, language differences, and fear. 

“There’s often confusion around whether they can benefit from a program without it hurting their chances to become citizens. A lot of times, out of fear, people will not apply to programs, so we work hard with our partners, through our affiliate network, to make sure we’re getting information to the right families, in the right places, in the right way,” Murguía says. “It’s a challenge, not just in healthcare but in the other programs that our community can take advantage of. But they don’t know how or that those programs exist.” 

Beyond the healthcare realm, UnidosUS also sees educational access as a major issue affecting the Latinx community. Among its various initiatives, UnidosUS is working at the federal level on the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act and with the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the Higher Ed Civil Rights Coalition, and the College Affordability Coalition.

“We know that in order to move the needle on education equity, a very tall order, no one organization can achieve this alone. Coalition building—it’s in our DNA. It’s how we get things done. By working with partners and presenting a united front for social justice and civil rights. That’s our approach,” says Murguía.

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