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In May 2020, we sat down (virtually) with Joaquin Lopez to talk about his work at Latino Network. He works in their Advocacy and Civic Leadership department and also helps to lead their DCL Program, called Academia de Líderes.
Hello Joaquin! Can you tell me a little bit about Latino Network? What do you do and who do you serve?
Latino Network was founded in 1996 by Latino community leaders who wanted to meet the needs of the growing Latino community. We are a social service agency whose mission is to positively transform the lives of Latino youth, families, and communities.
I understand that Latino Network has a partnership with Civic Life through the Diversity and Civic Leadership program. Could you tell me a little about the program?
Sure, we call the 6-month program Academia de Líderes. The program provides emerging leaders training on grassroots organizing and leadership skills. The curriculum includes how our government works, understanding social justice, how to organize, and intergenerational leadership.
What do you hope the Academia de Líderes students learn from the training?
First and foremost, I hope people better understand the community resources available to them and how to ask for them. I also hope for them to integrate more with Latino Network and find out how to use our resources.
The folks in the program want to know how they can positively contribute, volunteer, and make a difference. They want to be engaged in their community and lead meaningful lives. They are also hoping to learn new skills to make an impact on social justice issues important to them and their families, they want to know what it means to show up and lead. As their coordinator, I believe that we are all leaders; we all have it in us to become a leader, we just need someone to see it and recognize it in us. My job is to see their leadership potential and help the participants trust it and develop it.
What is taught in the class?
This program has been around since 2007 and it is a very popular program. This year, we adjusted because of the pandemic. Before the pandemic, folks met once a month for six hours and we offered childcare during each full-day workshop. Now, everything is virtual through teleconferencing. Many people in the program are immigrants and live in multi-family or multi-generational households, so finding a room to be alone for a 6-hour workshop is not easy. In response, we have adjusted the structure so that our typical 6-hr monthly session is split up into 3 different sessions and delivered within the span of a week in 1 - 1.5 hour increments.
The Academia de Lideres curriculum has 3 elements per module or leadership topic. The first element is offering an introduction to a social justice topic and aligning it with mindfulness. We chose to introduce mindfulness because our students said they wanted to learn how to destress and take care of their mental health. Teaching people mindfulness tools to help them work through their feelings is a radical act. This tool can help people focus, they can practice it on their own time, and be more effective contributing to their families and communities.
The second element is bridging a social justice topic and aligning it with culture. For example, for our Introduction to Social Justice, we will be presenting the topic of social justice with música de protesta (the music of protest). This music is rooted in Latin American history and has been powerful in holding the stories and ideas of social movements.
The last element is offering an exercise class. This exercise class will introduce positive health tips and information to encourage healthy choices and raise the heart rate! Also, it is important to lead healthy productive lives if we truly want to make a long-term impact in our communities. The most radical thing we can do is live long healthy lives!
We are fortunate that the director of Latino Network’s Advocacy Program is Ricardo Lujan-Valerio. A social justice advocate, he joined our recent Academia de Lideres orientation to talk about the work he is doing in Salem with the Worker Relief Fund. This Fund is for families and individuals who are not being served by the current local, state, and federal COVID-19 support. While the Worker Relief Fund hasn’t been launched yet, he had so much good information to share – what to expect, look forward to, etc. The Academia de Lideres cohort was inspired, informed, and, alert, to receive this information and inform their families and communities about it.
How can people support you and/or join you in your efforts?
You can go to Latino Network’s website and donate to our services that are making an impact right now during COVID. We also must look outside the box and appreciate people. Send us a card, we are all out here working so hard and we want to be appreciated! Saying that we see you and you are doing a good job, goes a long way!
Thank you, Joaquin!