Started in 2016, the Latinx Leadership Summit grew out of a need for a place where students could come together to celebrate their culture, heritage and identity, as well as find familiarity across all of YES Prep. Hosted by a strong group of YES Prep staff, students have had the opportunity to meet and hear from community members from all different professional backgrounds who share about their stories and experiences. Thanks to the support from the community, last summer the Latinx Leadership Summit was able to also award scholarships to four graduating seniors and honored the recipients along with their families with a special dinner.
In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, we want to introduce you to the three committee members who have organized the Latinx Leadership Summit for the past couple of years.
Natalie Garcia - YES Prep Brays Oaks Secondary
The Latinx Leadership Summit is one of the proudest parts of my legacy as an educator. Growing up, I felt that my identity was ignored at school. My identity was not part of my education, not part of the staff in front of me, and certainly was not affirmed. I was taught that my identity did not have a place in my education, that it should not affect the lens in which I analyze literature or math problems, and that it was not a factor to consider in an education setting. I learned very quickly to keep my identity apart from my education. I was never my full self in any classroom that I experienced as a student.
When I entered a classroom as a teacher, I wanted it to be different for my students. I wanted my students to have opportunities to explore their identities and the identities of others. I wanted them to understand the importance of naming their cultural lens, and to actively fight against the dominant narrative that they needed to conform who they are to be successful. The Latinx Leadership Summit gave me the opportunity at a district level to help celebrate, educate and connect Latinx individuals in our district and beyond.
The Latinx summit has allowed me to see the strength of not only acknowledging our identity but nurturing and celebrating it. I have gotten the opportunity to meet so many students, staff and community members and their voices are what keep me coming back year after year.
Lilian Macias – YES Prep North Central Secondary
I have been part of the Latinx Leadership Summit since its inaugural year, being a lead organizer starting with year two. I am passionate about providing students with opportunities and am proud that for the past five years I have had the opportunity to help shape what the Summit looks and feels like.
Growing up, my family didn’t focus on embracing our history, instead it was all about bettering yourself and trying to assimilate in this country. I am now very proud to say that I am an immigrant from Guatemala and a first-generation high school and college graduate, thanks to the integrity instilled in me by my hard-working parents. I’ve accepted and embraced that Spanish is my first language, no longer needing to hide my accent or where I came from because it wasn’t the “American” way.
The Latinx Leadership Summit is the complete opposite of that feeling I grew up with. In fact, we share stories of embracing your unique identity that help create the ever-colorful quilt that makes up the Hispanic/Latinx community. A student once told me, “I am proud to be an immigrant, because you wear your immigrant status with pride.”
I am grateful that I can continue to contribute, year after year, to an event as powerful as the Latinx Leadership Summit.”
Kimberly Gallegos – YES Prep Home Office
The Latinx Leadership Summit has allowed me to grow more comfortable with my identity in the Latinx culture and understanding what it means for me. I grew up in an area where most of the people around me did not look like me and my family so I felt like I stood out. Being around fellow Latinx people, I also felt different because I did not speak Spanish, not well at least.
I think many of us feel this way but I know for me growing up I could always relate to the line in the movie Selena when Abraham is telling Selena “you got to be more Mexican than the Mexicans and more American than the Americans.... it’s exhausting!”. This line ALWAYS made me laugh but always made me say YES! It wasn’t until YES Prep and the Latinx Leadership Summit that I was able to dive into that feeling more and truly unpack it.
My goal with the summit is to help students feel more comfortable with who they are, how they identify and to help them understand that our stories don’t have to all look and sound the same for us to find community within each other.
The Latinx Leadership Summit has allowed me to learn so much more about the diversity within our own Latinx community, as well as the similarities we all have regardless of what area we might identify with.
Due to COVID-19, It is uncertain at this moment if we will have an in-person summit or if it will be virtual. Regardless, we are expecting to host this year's Latinx Leadership Summit sometime in the Spring. More details will be shared as they are confirmed.
About the authors
Natalie Garcia - Natalie is entering her ninth year in education and seventh year at YES Prep. She started her career in education as a fifth-grade teacher at HISD and after two years of teaching, she applied to join the YES family. Natalie has been at YES Prep Brays Oaks as a teacher, Dean of Students and now Director of Student Support.
Lilian Macias - Lilian is entering her 13th year at YES Prep and for the past three years has served as the Director of Student Support at YES Prep North Central.
Kimberly Gallegos - Kimberly has been with YES Prep for four years, working at the Home Office as the Special Projects Coordinator for the Programs Team. Kimberly is also involved with all Student Affinity Summits: Latinx Leadership Summit, Brotherhood & Sisterhood Summits, Asian Pacific Islander American Summit and Pride Summit.