We become not a melting pot but a beautiful mosaic. Different people, different beliefs, different yearnings, different hopes, different dreams. Jimmie Carter
A veteran educator worries about apathy among the youth and calls for redesigning of how we reach and teach children and what we teach in a state known for its historic excellence in academics at all levels. A beautiful young real estate agent, a product of the Twin Cities schools and Latino community, encourages home ownership as the beginning of building wealth that can be handed down to the next generation; and a legislative policy director of the state council addressing concerns of Latino constituencies seeks to close livelihood gaps caused by blatant discrimination so that we will not lose another generation and their world will no longer exist as ‘us’ and ‘them’.
The Minnesota Council on Latino Affairs (MCLA) is a trusted resource and advisor to the Governor and the Legislature on concerns of the state’s Latino communities. The agency looks at proposed policies, procedures, laws, and regulations, directly and indirectly impacting Latino residents.
Adrian Magana, the Council’s legislative and policy director in health, is a native of the Twin Cities and the son of Mexican and Cuban parents. His successful career as a middle school teacher and an advocate for academic equity credentials the work he does at MCLA.
As the fastest growing and one of the youngest demographic groups in Minnesota, the state’s economic competitiveness in part, depends on Latinos’ educational attainment.
2021 MCLA legislative and policy priorities include: increasing indigenous and teachers of color; redesigning curriculums that are anti-racist, respectful, and inclusive; more funding for English Language Learners (ELL); programming that emphasizes social and emotional learning (SEL) through mental health services; mandatory availability and use of visual aids and verbal translations when communicating with families; and the Dignity and Childbirth Act.
Magana says education determines whether society nurtures liberation or continued oppression. “We need a Truth and Reconciliation process in this country,” he says. “There are so many different reasons for mistrust and having no hope including the divide and conquer tactics and often the language barriers. But no community can be left behind. None of us is getting out of these uncertain times unless we all get out. We need to learn our history. The truth needs to be taught the right way. When I consider possibilities, I look at the United Farmers Coalition and their solidarity of unified cultures.”
Magana says, “It’s like starting from ground up to get our communities involved in the legislative process. That’s where the decisions affecting our neighborhoods are made.” Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Kassandra De La Cruz, of Puerto Rican and Dominican descent, continues her grassroots outreach using her bilingual-bicultural skills to educate Latino communities especially on the importance of building wealth through home ownership. Currently, she is a licensed real estate agent selling new home construction for True Homes! in North Carolina. “Because many employees have been required to work remotely and children will continue getting their academics from on-line access until the fall, many families are buying homes now because they need more space. That’s a good thing for all involved,” she said in a recent Conversations with Al McFarlane interview
De La Cruz graduated from Henry Sibley High School in Mendota Heights. She was the first president of and continues to be active in Jovenes de Salud, an afterschool enrichment program connecting academics and community service. Whe she was a student, she says, it was the Jovenes program that made her aware of the world she would have to navigate; that helped keep her connected to what was important in life; and motivated her to channel through discouragement she often found in the challenging white St. Paul environment that she grew up in. Her youth leadership work included leading the grassroots movement fighting the tobacco industry's efforts to recruit young smokers, including ending the tobacco industry support of Cinco de Mayo's St. Paul Parade. De La Cruz’s award-winning message through an original song and dance, NO FUMAMOS! received local and national recognition, including being selected for Best Practices - Center for Disease Control (CDC-2006).
“Social media makes it harder on kids today, but mentors and afterschool programs like I had, like Jovenes creator Carmen Robles, made such a difference. Sometimes kids feel defeated; not accepted by the community. They struggle to have a voice; to belong; and to have hope that perhaps, after we come through COVID and the George Floyd murder trials are over, things will get better. It’s still uncertain. If we are quiet and attuned, we will hear our ancestors tell us who we are; people who have the strength to overcome; survive; and to flourish. Being bi-lingual and bi-cultural is such a great asset,” she says. Contact: email@example.com
If anyone would read Aaron Benner’s bio and looked at a pretty cool picture of him, they would assume there had to be a mistake. The 25-year educator looks 25 years old. Benner says he recognizes his youthful appearance is indeed a special gift. For the past four years, Benner has served as grade 11-th grade Dean of Students at Cretin-Derham Hall High School, a private Catholic co-educational high school in St. Paul. He also holds workshops for Catholic schools, “Diversity Through A Catholic Lens.” The Minnesota Teacher of the Year nominee in 2005 says the key to a successful school is teachers and parents working together.
“There’s this urgent call for help from kids in our neighborhoods. I learn so much from them. There are these self-perpetuated barriers in the minds of kids. We’ve got to train them to think differently. Sometimes they’re so traumatized and they have few words or thoughts to describe how they feel. Some see school with skepticism. If they have a white teacher, they feel it could be a set up: They are convinced that there’s no reason to try. Their lack of hope is scary. We must do a better job reaching them.”
Brenner says sometimes parents and grandparents give the wrong message to young students. “Where I came from,’ he said, “the prevailing sentiments were never to lose confidence or the will to succeed in ourselves.”
“It would be good to see more school administrators in the classrooms and for leadership to understand that education will need to be re-designed. It’s all different now after the events of 2020, and specific training for jobs in the market today will be different and more competitive,” Benner says.