Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to attend Teach For America’s Latino Leadership Summit in the city of South Los Angeles. Alongside nearly 40 fellow students representing 18 different colleges and universities, we shared our stories and discussed the strength that exists among our community. We also visited a local high school where many TFA corps members work that reminded me of my own high school days. Watching the students felt like looking at my friends from just a few years ago. They were energetic and driven, but often lacking guidance or direction — things I ultimately found in a program called Upward Bound that helped me get to and through college. As my summit group and I reflected on our own experiences growing up and watched those current high school students interact with their teachers, it became suddenly clear how our heritage makes us uniquely and powerfully poised to serve others.
Many of us at the summit had beaten the stark odds we faced growing up. Less than half of all Hispanic students graduate from high school, and about a quarter of those graduates go on to college. These statistics are unacceptable, but as Latinos who have or soon will be college graduates, we can work to change them — starting with ensuring that all students have the resources, access and support they need to complete high school. Our stories can empower others to believe in what’s possible.
Growing up in a low income area, we often get the message that the best thing we can do is to be successful and get out. But we have a responsibility to our home communities to show the rising generation that poverty does not have to be their destiny. Walking away from the summit, I feel a tremendous charge to do just this. That’s why I’m committed to taking my unique perspective and identity to a classroom next year. I would be honored to be a positive example of Latino leadership for students growing up like me.
After meeting my other summit participants, I know I will not be alone in taking on this work. With 3,000 Latino corps members and alumni, TFA is one of many organizations building a pipeline of outstanding Latino leadership answering the call to fight for social justice in the classroom. Working alongside these leaders, I am proud to be part of an organization that partners with diverse organizations and communities to advocate for students.
As Latinos, we have many milestones in front of us. There are many jobs and many pathways we can take next year, but there’s one in particular that gives us the chance not only to understand our identities, but also to leverage them to better our communities. As you consider your own next step, I hope you’ll join me in considering the classroom.
Elvin Flores is an alumnus from the University of California, Santa Barbara class of 2013.
Views expressed on the Opinion page do not necessarily reflect those of the Daily Nexus or UCSB. Opinions are submitted primarily by students.