Brown Bag Talks With Latino Leaders Show Students ‘Where Purpose Meets Passion’ Summer sessions focus on the importance of choosing career paths that make an impact

On Aug. 26, Paul Luna of HELIOS Foundation wrapped up a summer series of brown bag talks that provided guidance to the undergraduate and graduate fellows of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative at UCLA Luskin.

The sessions, which took place over Zoom this year, continued a tradition in which community leaders connect with the policy initiative’s students to discuss career paths and the importance of making an impact.

“I learned that career trajectories are not often a linear progression but instead a culmination of unexpected turns where purpose meets passion,” said policy fellow Diana Garcia, who is studying for her master of public policy at UCLA Luskin.

The brown bag series “allowed me to expose myself to the plethora of career paths available, which will allow me to give back to my Latino community,” said policy fellow Bryanna Ruiz, a political science and Chicana and Chicano Studies major at UCLA.

Each conversation ended with the same question. Here’s that question and how some of the summer speakers chose to answer:

Q: The fellows are an essential part of UCLA LPPI’s strategy to invest in leaders dedicated to making an impact. Returning to the normalcy we remember is no longer an option. We must reimagine a world that centers the needs of the most vulnerable communities and advocates opportunity for all. In a time that asks that we invest in new leadership, what does leadership look like amid COVID-19 and in a world after COVID-19?

Luis Perez, legal services director, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA): We’re not talking about helping out individuals anymore, but systemic change. That’s the framing that people need to start adopting. Helping one person at a time has not changed the systems of oppression that we experience. This is the right time to start reframing the model of systemic change. Systemic change, in many ways, reflects policy change. The Supreme Court looks to society’s expectations of one another as much as they are looking into laws. Laws need to reflect what people think, and they change with society. What are the ways in which we can change the system?

Francela Chi de Chinchilla, vice president of partnerships at Equis Labs: There has been a reframing on what work can be and what to value because of this pandemic. There is a lot of writing already on what leadership in a workplace should look like because of COVID-19. I am grateful that the companies I have worked for have recognized the importance of valuing the whole person and work-life balance, but now I have a baby and I can’t work all day long. I have to stop working and take care of her. This time has allowed me to be more patient and forgiving with myself.

Noerena Limón, senior vice president of public policy and industry relations at the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals: The bolder you are, the farther you’ll get. This is the time where you form coalitions. I have found that the COVID-19 pandemic has allowed me and housing experts to forge some of the best coalition work that I have ever seen happen, because we don’t have to travel to meetings, we are constantly checking in with each other, constantly giving each other the latest information. I would say that we need to ensure that we are working in coalitions and to be bold.

Juan Cartagena, president and general counsel of LatinoJustice PRLDEF: The good news is that there are multiple examples of excellent leadership happening on the ground. I have seen it in a lot of my criminal justice work with LatinoJustice. I have seen people of all age groups create intersectional conversation about the systems. I see incredible promise about immigration enforcement and criminal justice enforcement in the same breath. I encourage it. I promote it. I have a lot of hope because I have always been an optimistic person. I am not going to let the same barriers that challenged who I was when I was young, when I was picked up for no reason by police, challenge my identity. I refuse to let all of those obstacles get in the way of: I know exactly why I’m here. I’m here to help gente. My optimism extends to today. My optimism took a hit with the outrageousness of body after body being killed on tape. But then again, I talk to people, listen to people and promote people that have better ways of analyzing and connecting with others than I do. They give me a lot of hope. Keep doing what you’re doing. Be honest with yourself about your hard work.

Paul J. Luna, president and CEO of HELIOS Foundation: A great leader has a vision for the future and brings a new or clearer vision or understanding, especially during a time when we need one. In times of change and in times that we are living through today, we look to our leaders to bring that vision, to provide that guidance and, with their knowledge and understanding, to help us make the right decisions. Secondly, a great leader understands the present. We cannot have decisions that are being made for political reasons, and not for the general welfare and health for our community and citizens — especially during this pandemic when we know that communities of color and low-income communities are more directly impacted. Thirdly, a great leader has an appreciation for the history and the past and can acknowledge who came before them. For any leader to think that they are uniquely in the position to lead because of who and what they are or how uniquely bright and talented they are — and don’t appreciate that there are people who came before them and who paid dues and made sacrifices so that they can have the opportunity to lead — if they don’t appreciate that, they will never truly be able to lead successfully and into the future. Honor the past and those who came before you, acknowledge their contributions. I would not have gotten to Stanford University if my dad was not willing to work at a copper mine for 45 years. Leadership will look different than it did before, and the people who are given the opportunity to lead will hopefully involve more women and people of color and from different backgrounds. You all reflect and represent the great future.

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