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Staying Focused and Grounded: Letter From the Executive Director

  ·  Sylvia Puente

Dear Friends,

As I say goodbye to summer, I reflect on what’s been a busy past few months for the Forum. We supported legislation through the Legislature that would have protected the human rights of immigrants (which I will get into later) to planning an annual fundraiser commemorating the 10th year as the Latino Policy Forum and bringing on fresh talent to our staff. One of the highlights of the season was giving a great send off to a second cohort of community leaders from the Forum’s Multicultural Leadership Academy -- a group that is already active doing great things in Illinois’ black and Latino communities.

I also want to reflect on some amazing future leaders, who I personally got to speak to last month. I had the great honor of giving the commencement speech to the second graduating class of Loyola University’s Arrupe College – an innovative college model that graduates two-year degree students with little-to-no debt. No doubt we’ll hear from many of these graduates in the future as they take on leadership challenges in our communities. Many of the ceremony attendees thanked me for words I gave during the commencement that touched on leadership and life lessons that have kept me grounded to this day. So, for this newsletter I thought I would share parts of that speech as a reflection of lessons learned and what keeps me sane in these tumultuous times.

I know that I am not alone in the understanding that I don’t stand alone. I am where I am in life because someone supported me, and because my loved ones sacrificed so that I may be successful. I owe much of my success to these individuals. I thank mi mama y papa!

It is important to acknowledge that the world we live in is full of change and complexity, and for some people uncertainty about their future and status in this nation.

This pace of change is accelerating; there is access to worldwide news in an instant. The amount of information that can be seen, heard, stored and recalled at our fingerprints is unbelievable. When I was a kid, I remember watching something on TV, maybe it was a version of Star Trek, where they were able to make a phone call and view the person they were speaking to. I recall thinking that will never happen. I could not imagine that. Now I barely even register that fantasy has become a reality with FaceTime.

Change and the increasing pace of change will be a constant in the foreseeable future. To stay grounded and focused during these challenging times, consider this:

Know yourself -- Who are you in the center of your being? Who are you when no one is watching? Who are you when you have a hard choice to make, or when you have an ethical dilemma? What is your identity? It can be your cultural identity, as a Latino or African American, Asian American, Native American, or your role as son or daughter. I believe your cultural identity grounds you in your history of where you come from, the legacy of those that came before you, and the future of who you are.

Know your gifts -- What is uniquely you? Are you an artist? A teacher? Do you have a passion for science? Are you the person trying to keep peace when there is conflict? Do you make people laugh? Are you the one organizing events? Are you a strategist? Do you see the big picture? Do you love the details? 

Know your values -- Hard work? Loyalty? Are you a warrior for justice? Where do faith and family fit into what you value? Do you lead with love?

There is no one right answer to discerning your identity, gifts and values, and there is no one else on the planet that will have the combination of identity, gifts and values that you do, because you are a unique individual - there is no one else like you.

I urge you to spend some time in reflection and write, speak, make a visual representation of your identity, gifts and values and put it in a place where you can see it.  It may change over time, but for me, knowing these three things helps me when I must make hard choices or face an ethical dilemma.

Be a leader -- I define leadership as any act of going beyond myself to help someone else. It can be big or small. Right now, you can all mentor and encourage someone.

How do you make sure that more individuals in all our communities finish college? How do you stop the genocide of violence that too many have suffered? How do you feed the hungry and find homes for the homeless?

How do you stop the assault on Latino and immigrant communities? How do you stop the hate?

Any role that you play in these or similar efforts, large or small, is a step toward leadership that will make a difference. It will move society from the world as it is, to the world as it should be.

Listen to your heart -- In the same way you have nurtured your intellect, I encourage you to nurture the wisdom of your heart and spirit. This can be through prayer, meditation, or any other practice that lifts your spirit. Find a place where you bring together your intellect and spirit. Create a space where you reflect on your identity, gifts and values to determine when and how to act, or how to make a hard decision.

In closing, my prayer for each of you is to allow your light and your power to shine.

I encourage you to think big and to be bold. You must be the representatives of the new world order, the architects of our society. You will re-build our organizations, financial institutions, schools, communities, technology, and maybe even your government and policies. It’s crucial to commit to leadership - going beyond yourself to help others.

Some Parting Notes

The Forum has expressed its disappointment with Gov. Rauner’s recent vetoes of immigrant-related bills, including the Immigrant Tenant Protection Act, that would have protected Latino renters from being harassed and intimidated by landlords based on their perceived immigration status. The Forum and our allies are assessing what can and should be done in the Legislature’s veto session in November.

The Forum’s 10th annual fundraiser, Latinos on the Move: Harnessing the Momentum, will be a luncheon on November 9th. RSVPs are being accepted at an Early Bird rate.

Last, but not least, the Forum welcomed new staffers this summer:

Cindy Camacho, Education Policy Analyst

Florencia Romero, Communications Intern

John Arenas, Civic Engagement Intern

Justine Alfaro, Immigration Policy Analyst Intern

Licinio Garcia, Executive Assistant

Rebecca Carreno Galvan, Policy Analyst

NiCole Ward, Multicultural Leadership Academy Project Coordinator