Education: BS, Social Welfare, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater | MS, Guidance and Counseling, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater
Hobbies: I like following and being active in political campaigns. I also do a lot of advocacy for immigrants’ rights.
Who are you?
I serve as HSC’s Vice President of Urban Affairs. My position is really about connecting to Chicago’s underserved communities and empowering them to address health disparities. I started with childhood obesity, and then it grew into Parents United. The group is a catalyst to engage parents as champions for changing their school districts to promote school health and wellness.
We are using a framework by the popular Brazilian educator Paulo Freire that uses popular education to empower parents. From there we developed the Parent Leadership Institute to teach parents about healthy living and make change at a system level. We’ve taken on other major efforts like bringing back recess, serving healthy school meals and breakfast in the classroom campaigns.
To garner support, I focus on developing relationships with stakeholders, local policymakers, political figures and other non-profits. At HSC, we work with; we don’t talk to. You have all of your policy makers and academics with their powerpoints and statistics trying to work with communities. But when you ask parents what the presentation meant for them, it didn’t connect with them. Tapping into what they are going through is different from just showing stats. When you talk about it at a community level and say here’s how it’s impacting you. Then, you can provide the training and tools to make the change.
What makes your job great?
I have more than 35 years of experience advocating for social justice and civil rights. This is what I have loved doing throughout my life. My experience allows me to frame health disparities as not just a medical issue, but also as a social justice issue—an unfair attack on someone’s basic human dignity. When health conditions adversely impact one community, but not the community a few miles away, there’s something else to it beyond individual choices.
The only way to address health as a social justice issue is by getting people together. In our case, HSC is doing that through schools. I get to be one of the voceros out there talking about the problem and how we can change it.
When did you come to HSC?
August 2004. Before then, I was still doing community advocacy and political work. I ran political campaigns for local leaders and community issues, like access to public transportation, affordable housing and immigration reform. Within that there were additional candidate campaigns that came through our office. I also worked a lot in adult education, like getting community groups access to adult education funding.
Why did you join HSC?
I liked the challenge. Back then, nobody was talking about health disparities in the community. Nobody. That was a challenge to me. Now, you wake up and hear about childhood obesity, heart disease, asthma and all these other conditions that impact some communities more than others. I wanted to be a part of a strong, multi-dimensional campaign. Taking research, piecing it together and having it evolve into a nationally known issue with HSC programs serving as national models, is very rewarding. We’re proud of how we’ve been able to support other communities locally and, in time, nationally. I’ve done trainings throughout the country on our program models for organizing parents and empowering them to change policy from the ground up.
Where does your motivation come from?
What drives me is that there is a lot of injustice in the world, and I want to be a resource for changing that. Growing up, I came to understand injustice. It happens across the board with poor people, especially poor people of color. I come from a poor background. My father came to the U.S. from Mexico to better our lives. We were separated for years. When I came here at age 10, it was during the height of the civil rights movement. That began to shape my ideology. Ultimately, I want to leave a legacy that social justice is important for disenfranchised communities.