Authored by: Philip Herrera, Program and Policy Fellow at Latino Community Foundation
Growing up in San Francisco, I attended many leadership conferences throughout the Bay Area. I remember the feeling after a conference: pride & purpose. Professionals from our community mentored and encouraged us to reach beyond our wildest goals. These mentors believed in us, and I dreamt of giving back hope to young men searching for greatness.
That dream became a reality on March 17th, 2018, when a group of forward-thinking men hosted the inaugural Latino Youth Leadership Conference for 80 Latino young men at the Google Community Space in San Francisco. The hosts were from the Latino Community Foundations’ (LCF) East Bay and San Francisco Men’s Latino Giving Circles. Martín Encinas Leon, Anthony Chavez, and Tomas Quiñonez-Riegos, members, spent months organizing the conference. All members in the Circle are Latino professionals who were, at one-point, young men searching for guidance. Together, Anais Amaya, Philanthropy Manager at LCF, and the Giving Circle members tapped into their networks to bring 80 young men from across the Bay Area. The Goals? To improve networking skills, build a resume, discuss masculinity and machismo, visualize their successful futures, appreciate their Latino traditions, and learn to see each other as family. I’m proud to have been part of a conference led for and by Latinos.
It was 9 AM on a Saturday—and the energy from the high schoolers was palpable. They were talking to each other, sharing life experiences and goals. And without realizing, these young men were already networking amongst themselves—seeds of change sewn in front of me. The energy came to a head during lunch. The 80 Latino youth stood in front of Google Community Space’s water fountain in the Embarcadero to take a picture. People stopped walking down the sidewalk to stare. We were celebrities! Pride beamed across the young men’s faces during the photos. In that moment, they claimed their power as a community fighting for better opportunities in life.
Latino youth possess a nascent potential. Martín writes, “We need to collaborate and learn from the younger generation, as much as they need to collaborate and learn from us… As the Latino population and influence continues to grow in the United Sates, we are positioned not only to integrate our community in different industries… but, to lead and make progress within these industries.” The point is valid, yet how often do you, as a community, tell these future leaders that the sky is the limit? How often do you say that they can be whatever they want to be? Change starts with our actions.
Tomas, comments, “It is our networks, our experiences, our insights and our stories that are, truly, our greatest assets. So, what would it look like if we pooled that social capital together and offered it to the young men in our community alongside our grants?” Tomas’ commitment to the Latino community reflects a movement that LCF is leading across California: Latino Giving Circle Network®, the largest group of Latino philanthropists in the country. Today, the network is divided into 15 circles across California made up of 475 members. Since inception, the circles have invested close to $1M, all collected from individual’s contributions, in their local communities. The Latino Giving Circle Network® is growing fast. Each month, philanthropists flock to the giving circles in hopes of affecting change by funding Latino-led nonprofits working in their communities. The network’s rapid growth is not for the sake of growth, events like the Latino Youth Leadership Conference demonstrate that the Latino Giving Circle Network® is about laying down the foundation for Latinos to succeed, and it is a way to go beyond grantmaking.
Ultimately, change is up to us who care about the Latino community, we as friends and family members, to build the community and future we want. “I’m proud to show up to spaces where I am not the only Latino who cares about these issues,” says Anthony Chavez, who was raised in the farmworker movement his grandfather, Cesar Chavez started, “I’m happy to see young men who all have something to offer, seek support from each other and us. We are energized by showing our community partners and foundations that we as a community can lift while climbing.” We cannot be content with change for ourselves. It is not enough to climb, change is contingent on our willingness to give back to our communities.
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The dream is real: