Carrying Home: Leading from the Places that Made us

By: Nancy Gutierrez & Roberto Padilla

What do you consider home?

For us, it’s the sounds of Chente, Luis Miguel and Ana Gabriel; the smell of Mami’s chorizo con huevo permeating the house; the sights and sounds of classic lowriders cruising on the intersection of King & Story; the homies hitting us up about the latest chisme

Home is the smell of chuleta y arroz con gandules during the holidays; the street hydrant serving as a waterfall to run through on steaming hot summer days; playing cee-lo on the corner and talking smack during a spades game. Home is nodding to the beats and lyrics of Nas, Jay-Z, Biggie, E-40 and Gilberto Santa Rosa

Home is nostalgic. Home is love. Home is family.

But to the world, our homes are often labeled “bad.” The barrio. The hood. The place your car will get jacked and your teen daughter will get pregnant. A violent and dangerous place to visit. A place where saviors fly in with a cape on to help Latine and Black kids and families who “don’t care about school.” Movies like Dangerous Minds (1995), and Freedom Writers (2007), reinforce the savior trope.

That reputation permeates today. This one-size-fits-all stereotype has stood the test of time. So much so, that those who can get as far away from this deficit depiction are the ones we label successful. We call this one sided perception, the leave to succeed (L2S) mindset – a deficit-based, belief system, forced upon low-income communities of color that​ normalizes failure as the default outcome for most and recognizes the achievement potential of only a few, encouraging permanent escape from home as a condition of success.

But as Gloria Anzaldua says in Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (1987), we are like turtles. We carry our home – including our customs, traditions, and raices everywhere we go.

We wrote Stay & Prevail: Students of Color Don’t Need to Leave Their Communities to Succeed to elevate this uncomfortable conversation as aligned to one of Latinos for Education’s core values –  agitate when necessary.

The good news is that there is a counter narrative. 

We invite you to help us tell it. What does home mean to you? What is it like to walk in your shoes –leading and living from the core of your identity? Let’s share the stories that are not being told – like those of us who give back and those of us who choose to share our brilliance with the world. Those of us who get off the sidelines and get in the game. 

At the heart of our collective work with Latinos for Education is a core belief that education is a lever for providing opportunities that allow students to decide their own destiny.  So stop telling us to drive down the one-way street as our only option.

To be clear, Stay & Prevail is an argument for our comunidad to choose or not to choose, to know that there are strengths and values in one’s choice to stay in one’s community and/or to explore outside of one’s home community. It is an argument for a reality that guarantees every child has access to the best of opportunities with their immediate home environment being one of those options. It is a shout out to every story that celebrates the strengths and heroic members of the communities we serve, the communities our students and families call home. And it’s about tilting. Dismantling the L2S Mindset is a call to action for leaders and educators to create a new message: one that honors the work, history and cultures of the people who call these places home, and it is an invitation to people who have left to consider coming back home to roll up our collective sleeves and do the work.

On Friday, September 8th, we honored Roberto’s home during  our NYC launch. On Thursday, September 21st, we invite you to join us as we honor Nancy’s home- in East Side San Jose (ESSJ) at her former high school, William C. Overfelt High School (WCO).  29 current WCO staff members grew up in ESSJ, making this even more special since they are living proof that you can indeed stay and prevail. What a privilege for us both to come home and honor the communities that filled us with the life lessons we needed to step into our greatness – without losing the core parts of who we are.

As Latinos for Education always reminds us, Con Ganas We Can.

Gutiérrez and Padilla will be in conversation with Adriana Solis-Lopez of Latinos for Education, Eva Mejia of IDEO and Overfelt High School’s Instructional Coach Marissa Brown on September 21 at William C. Overfelt High School. Learn more here.


Dr. Nancy B. Gutierrez is the President & Lead Executive Officer of The Leadership Academy. She began her career as a teacher and award-winning principal in her home community of East San Jose, CA. Nancy is a graduate of the inaugural cohort of the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Doctor of Education Leadership (Ed.L.D.), San Jose State University’s 2023 Distinguished Alumna, and has served on the Latinos for Education teaching team since its founding. 

Dr. Roberto Padilla is the superintendent of Community School District 7 in the Bronx, New York. Roberto is a 2019 Education Weekly Leader to Learn From, a 2019 Broad Academy Fellow & 2021 NY State Superintendent of the Year. Roberto received his doctorate from Fordham University and served a four year term as a Board Member for Harvard University’s Principal Center.