I am sitting on the airplane returning home after three days at the National Council of La Raza conference (NCLR). Often, I resist taking time out from my daily routine to attend conferences, but my inner voice was nagging. I am so glad that I listened. My reasons for attending became clear and compelling throughout my several days at the conference. And I learned — yet again –that our young people are eager and capable leaders and that diversity and inclusion are second-nature to many of them. True to this value, LAYC’s youth and staff representation at the NCLR conference were Latino, African-American, and White, all committed to learning about, participating with others, and promoting civil rights for Latinos and all minorities in the United States.

The conference was in San Antonio, where I was born and raised. I have not lived in San Antonio for almost four decades, yet it is still so much a part of who I am. I missed my hometown. Those of you around me during basketball season know what a hometown girl I am: Rooting for the San Antonio Spurs is my serious pastime!

More importantly, as this country’s largest Latino national advocacy organization, NCLR is tackling pressing and challenging issues for our nation. Lack of an effective and comprehensive immigration reform policy and the new immigration law in Arizona are on the top of NCLR’s list. Access to high quality public and post-secondary education for our young people is another major issue, while the challenges of obesity and domestic violence in the Latino community are of critical importance. As LAYC struggles with these issues on a daily basis, it was important to be with thousands of people who want to be part of the solution.

Another compelling reason to attend was that LAYC was “in the house”: LAYC staff and youth were showcased on panels and in award ceremonies. It means so much to staff when the President & CEO shows up to get a first hand, up-close and personal look at their work. The conference provided me with an opportunity to see staff and youth in action, support them, and celebrate their accomplishments.

  • At the opening luncheon attended by thousands, an AmeriCorps member from LAYC’s Maryland Multicultural Youth Centers Corps had the honor of introducing the speaker, Patrick Corvington, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service. (I have known Patrick through his former work at the Annie E. Casey Foundation. It was exciting to hear him highlight our Corps from his position as leader of our country’s national service effort.)
  • Later that night, three Maryland Multicultural Youth Centers AmeriCorps members and our staff accepted an award for best NCLR-funded AmeriCorps in the country.
  • Six young people active in LAYC’s Líderes/Leaders, an NCLR-funded youth organizing and leadership development program , presented at a panel entitled “Líderes Empowered: How NCLR Youth Get Creative in Representing Their Community.” The young people joined by our Advocacy Director received a wonderful reception as they discussed a conference they organized last spring for over 200 youth in our community. LAYC’s Líderes also participated in NCLR’s five-day intensive youth leadership track.

And there was more: LAYC’s Teen Health Promoter program was highlighted as a best practice. And a former LAYC employee and current principal of the Latin American Montessori Public Charter School (LAMB), founded by the LAYC, led a workshop on quality educational for Latino children.

LAYC’s reach was deep, and I felt incredibly proud of the work of the entire LAYC family as I received abundant congratulations on our exemplary work. National leaders, nominated ambassadors waiting to be confirmed, corporate executives, other non-profit leaders, NCLR staff, new friends, and long-time colleagues offered sincere praise on what we, at the LAYC, are doing day in and day out.

Of course, the conference was full of memorable moments in addition to those involving LAYC.

  • Raúl Yzaquirre — former NCLR CEO, national hero to many, and President Obama’s nomination for ambassador to the Dominican Republic — spoke eloquently to our young people about his life, struggles, and role as a leader. Among many pieces of wisdom from his life of exemplary service, Raúl told the young people to be a leader not because it gives you power and not because you are looking for anyone to ever say thank you.
  • A small group of agency CEOs listened to Raúl and Janet Murguía, NCLR’s charismatic and visionary leader of today, talk openly about their leadership transition five years ago. That one- hour discussion contained enough lessons learned for a blog entry all of its own-coming up soon!

Leaders surrounded me at NCLR. LAYC’s youth leaders — Líderes and AmeriCorps members – as I noted earlier were Latino, African American and Caucasian. LAYC is building bridges between youth of all ethnicities. Working and learning together and sharing common experiences, LAYC youth are forging friendships for the rest of their lives. For several LAYC youth, the NCLR conference was their first trip out of the District of Columbia and their first time on an airplane.

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Unquestionably, the next generation of leaders formed at LAYC will value and respect diversity as they struggle to lead through the many complex and often incredibly messy challenges we are tossing to them. LAYC youth are today’s leaders and tomorrows in waiting, and they will be ready!

LAYC has attained a level of visibility and recognition far beyond the borders of metropolitan Washington. For me personally, I am filled with appreciation that my years of work at LAYC have connected me to a great community of people that share my values and my commitment to ensuring that all young people in our country have equal opportunity to live their lives to their fullest potential.

Next time you are trying to figure out if you should go to that meeting, conference, or workshop, take a minute to see if a small inner voice is encouraging you to go. If so, listen to it! It may turn out to be well worth your time.

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