Learning to Be a Strong Latinx Community Leader

Written by Jacob Martinez, Founder & CEO of Digital NEST. 

With the fundraising season upon us, and Digital NEST’s recent seventh anniversary, I’ve been reflecting on the evolution of our organization, and my own personal journey.

Every year at this time, we put our fundraising plan into action and kick off our end-of-year campaign. Our goal is to transform every overlooked California Latinx community into a hotbed of tech opportunity and career success for youth – a task that requires tremendous resources. 

From the beginning of founding Digital NEST, I’ve built support for our mission and raised funds to grow and scale the organization. I recognize that the type and scope of support our funders, advisors and mentors generously provide to us isn’t business as usual for many of my Latinx peers. There are deep cultural and systemic reasons why that is so.

When I was recently asked by a colleague why I believe the NEST has experienced significant growth, good will and investment, I have to reflect on my youth – how my personal experiences and exposure shaped my understanding of opportunity.

When I was in high school, my parents moved our family from our predominantly Latinx Los Angeles community to a majority white, conservative, upper-class community in Texas. Because I was young and inexperienced in life, I had a limited view of the world coming from where I did. I experienced utter culture shock moving to this new world I found myself in.

In my new reality, opportunity was expected – getting a car for a 16th birthday, going to college, influence, connections and power were the norm. My classmates’ parents were powerful business executives, lawyers and bankers who sat on school boards and committees and made decisions that affected all of us. They were role models to their children that the sky was the limit, that achieving was par for the course and non-negotiable. 

I started to understand and adopt this new mindset from one of limitations to that of possibility. If my white classmates and their families could harness this kind of success and have big expectations, could I? In addition to my new community exposure, I had an immigrant father who went to college on the GI Bill and three older sisters who went to college. Taken together, I was fully immersed in aspirational influence, good guidance and successful role models.

Latinx parents didn’t have such leadership opportunities when I was growing up. Their kids didn’t see them at city council meetings or on the Parent Teacher Association Board. They were working – making ends meet.

Fast forward to my goddaughter’s graduation from Spelman College – an HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) – where she was one of two non-Black students in her class. Leadership was everywhere. Alumni leaders were part of the graduation ceremony offering support and networking to the graduating class. She had classes on leadership. 

But the Latinx community doesn’t have colleges that teach us what it means to speak up, to demand, to have expectations. Now as more Latinos become leaders of nonprofits, there’s a clear struggle in the absence of that kind of culturally-dedicated training and role models. Latinxs of my generation are now becoming leaders of organizations. It’s challenging to ask for money, to engage board members, to make hard, tough decisions, and to say no.

As we Latinx nonprofit leaders head into a season where our organizations and our staff depend on us for their vitality – to raise the funds needed to advance our missions – we must proactively reach out for help, guidance and support that inform and shape our understanding of leadership.

If you’re a Latinx leader and are interested in advancing leadership in our community, let’s connect

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