Supporting Latinos to Become Authentic and Fulfilled Leaders

By Carla Rivera-Cruz, Director of Alumni and Network Engagement

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As Latinos, we are too familiar with the uphill battle we face when it comes to having a seat at the table, or stepping into leadership roles.  Sometimes we are overlooked, underestimated, told to wait our turn, or that we might be asking for too much. But despite this, we continue to break the glass ceiling and blaze the trail for more Latinos to join us in boardrooms, c-suites, state houses, and so many other positions of power.

Getting your seat at the table is the first hurdle. Once you are there, having your voice heard and appreciated is the next challenge.

I am not a stranger to facing the trials and tribulations that come with being the only Latina in the room, especially when it comes to the education sector, and making your voice heard.

I began my career as a substitute teacher for self-interested reasons: I wanted weekends and holidays off. I quickly learned that teaching is challenging, demanding and fulfilling work. Unexpectedly, I had stumbled upon a problem that I was passionate about solving.

Being a teacher forced me to reflect on my own experience growing up Latina, and those motivating factors that kept me engaged in my studies and allowed me to pursue higher education. I also learned that educators of color have an unspoken superpower, and that is that our own experience and existence in the classroom can and does motivate students to thrive academically. This is why I’m so passionate about getting more Latinx educators into the profession, and to support them to stay and grow into leadership roles within that profession.

After spending time in the classroom, I became an instructional coach and mentor that worked with teachers to improve their craft through technological and pedagogical skills, as well as encouraged them to approach their work with a Liberatory Consciousness

These experiences provided me with a new outlook on what leading from my identity (which often wasn’t celebrated) needed to look like for me to make lasting change for my community. As Latinos, our identities, our culture, our superpowers become questioned when we step into these spaces. 

What do we do when we step into an institution, organization, or system that does not fully embrace us? What does it look like to have organizations and systems that are life-affirming and celebrate the cultural richness of their staff? What does it look like to have a network that you can tap into when you’re navigating thorny issues, or you just need additional support?

These are some of the questions I’m thinking about as I step into my new role as L4E’s first Director of Alumni and Network Engagement. So many of you have taken the leap to go through our fellowship programs, you’ve become the trailblazers we know you already were, and we want to support you so you can be your best authentic self and be fulfilled leaders.

I am dedicated to ensuring that Latino leaders are not isolated in their communities and have the ability to exercise their voice and knowledge in ways that will benefit other Latinos. In my role, I will be a resource to our growing alumni network so they can step into more leadership roles, advocate for those promotions, not be overlooked for appointed positions, and so they don’t need to apologize for their culture and identity.

We are creating systems within the education sector that are affirming to the Latino community because it is necessary. That way when other Latinos break glass ceilings, they know they will be able to exercise their voice and their superpower and make a difference for millions of Latino students.

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Carla Rivera-Cruz is the Director of Alumni and Network Engagement at Latinos for Education. She has dedicated her entire career to supporting students and teachers in the K-16 ecosystem as a teacher, instructional coach, external consultant, and elected school governing board member. She earned her BS in Psychology from the University of Florida and MS in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from the University of Central Florida, graduating with honors from both institutions. She is also a Teach For America alumna (D.C. Region, 2011). Her professional interests are in the areas of professional development, strategic planning, measuring what matters, and systems thinking.