Spotlight on Latinx Achievement
Q: Tell us a little bit about your background.
A: I’m 17. I’ve been living on my own since 13. I was born and raised in south Minneapolis, the middle son of parents who were undocumented immigrants from Mexico City. When I was 7, my dad was imprisoned and later deported to Mexico. My mother was deported when I was 13, taking my 4-year-old brother. She left me and my 16-year-old brother our apartment and some money for living expenses. She gave me the choice of whether or not to go with her. I decided to stay to continue my education. We didn’t know how to manage money and soon weren’t able to pay our bills. We went months without heat and light. We had to shower with cold water in the winter. We barely had any food at times. We were eventually evicted and became homeless. My brother and I spent months of couch hopping with friends to keep a roof over our heads. All of this, and the loss of my family, made me very depressed.
About a half year after my mom left, one of my aunts was able to take me in. It wasn’t the best environment, because she was dealing with a drug addiction. It was hard to see her ruin her life, but it was better than being homeless. Around the time I turned 14, she got breast cancer and was no longer able to work. I found work at a McDonald’s. About two months later, my mother in Mexico also got breast cancer and wasn’t able to work. I became responsible for her and my little brother’s expenses. I had to get a second job at a car wash, working 64 hours a week as a 9th-grader. I couldn’t keep up that pace. I left my first job, and kept working at the car wash part-time until it closed this March.
I’ve been getting the mentorship and support I need and am now in a much better place. My mom and aunt have been cancer-free for over a year. I’ve tried very hard to balance school, work, student leadership activities, and preparing for college. I continue to work very hard to change my life. Since I was very young, I’ve been passionate about changing America, and over the past two years, I’ve been leading advocacy groups to build youth leadership and fight for youth voice.
Q: How has COVID-19 impacted you?
A: COVID has impacted me in many ways. The biggest being losing my job at the car wash, which closed.
Q: Can you share with us about your internship at the Minneapolis Foundation?
A: At the Minneapolis Foundation, I am the executive intern working directly with R.T. Rybak. My work includes three projects: Since April, I’ve been co-leading a statewide advocacy campaign, led by youth and with the support of several influential community organizations, to enable Minnesota high school students who lost work this year to receive unemployment benefits during the pandemic. Minnesota is one of the only states that doesn’t allow working students to access these benefits, which help many of them and their families put food on the table and cover basic living expenses. We believe that working high school students should keep the money they’ve earned. I’ve helped lead several meetings with key legislators, key members of Governor Walz’s administration, the media, and helping other youth share their stories. Second, I’m developing a new mentorship program called Bridgemakers for young leaders working to make change in the Twin Cities. I’m also helping the Foundation on a new initiative that reimagines education by engaging student voices.
In addition to my work at The Minneapolis Foundation, I am leading a new initiative, YouthLead Minnesota, which is partnering with and mentoring young Minnesotans in 2020 on the as they campaign for equitable pandemic unemployment assistance and develop and promote a youth policy agenda to help engage young voters during the elections, especially youth of color and economically disadvantaged youth. YouthLead Minnesota is funded and supported by the national Civic Spring initiative and works in partnership with Youthprise and other organizations.
Q: What is your leadership development program you’re creating and what inspired you to create this?
A: Bridgemakers is a youth-led nonprofit organization committed to mentoring and supporting the voices and leadership of young people as they break the cycles of poverty, violence, and miseducation. Bridgemakers engages the passion, creativity, and full potential of marginalized youth as they drive innovative solutions that reimagine schools, communities, and democracy.
Beginning in January 2021, Bridgemakers will launch a six-month fellowship for diverse high school and young adult leaders ages 14-22. Fellows lead school or community transformation projects. Each fellow will be paired with a community professional who will provide intensive mentoring. The fellowship includes monthly convenings, overnight retreats, study visits, and a professional internship. Sessions will include training in leadership, advocacy, and organizing.
Bridgemakers has secured initial funding from Youthprise, The Minneapolis Foundation and The Rensselaerville Institute in New York, and has recently been selected by the National Mentoring Resource Center to receive 50 hours of pro-bono technical assistance.
What inspired me to do this work was a dream I had as a young child. I always dreamed of changing the world and helping others. I grew up in the projects in south Minneapolis and was always around many different cultures. I quickly learned about our society and our communities and why they are the way they are. I noticed the poverty, violence and injustice that hurt so many people in our communities, including me and my family. I told myself I want to do something about it when I got older. This is what lead me to do the work I am doing today.
Q: Are you currently in school? What would you like to major in and why?
A: I am a rising senior at the High School for Recording Arts in St. Paul. I am interested in growing and learning in many areas, personally and academically. I am particularly interested in learning deeply about astronomy, community organizing and leadership development.
Q: What are your aspirations in the next 5 years? Long term?
A: I am eager to grow Bridgemakers into an inspiring national model of youth leadership development. My vision is to expand across the country into many communities working with thousands of young students. Eventually I want to expand internationally to Mexico and other places if possible. I’d also like to receive an outstanding college education while I help lead Bridgemakers. Over the long term, I eventually want to help the community in other ways. For example I want to open shelters for the homeless, community centers, and loving homes for children without families able to take care of them. I really just want to always be helping the community.
Q: Why do you think LatinoLEAD is important for you right now?
A: I am excited about learning from everyone involved with LatinoLead. I see LatinoLead as a very key partner in my pathway to grow a successful mentoring organization, including helping to recruit mentors for our fellows. I also would personally appreciate the opportunity to engage with Latinx mentors. I’m looking forward to building more relationships within the community so I can better help change lives.