On a warm spring evening in Lower Manhattan a couple of weeks ago, an event took place heralding progress in political empowerment and recognizing honorees for contributions to an organization that has produced such notable New York movers as Shaun D. Francois, President Local 372; Marvin Holland, Political Action Director TWU Local 100; Anthony Perez, Executive Director, Bronx County Democratic Party; and CUNY Dreamers Monica Sibri, Jazmin Cruz and Ana Guillcatanda.
One by one, local political luminaries took the stage and spoke passionately of the positive impact that this remarkable organization and its leader have had on politics and leadership in New York.
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., Congressman Charles Rangel, Assemblywoman Rebecca Seawright, Assemblyman Keith Wright, Anthony Wells, President Local 371, John Samuelsen, President TWU Local 100 and many others, all spoke of the commitment to the education of budding young leaders in the areas of Public Policy, Electoral Politics, Ethics, Latino History and more.
The name of this outstanding organization is the Latino Leadership Institute and, amazingly, they are able to do all of this tuition-free. That's right, tuition at LLI is 100 percent FREE. Although the organization pays CUNY for the learning space, they do not charge for the excellent instruction they give. Everyone at LLI, including the instructors -- featuring noted experts like New York election lawyer Jerry Goldfeder -- is donating his/her considerable skills and expertise on a volunteer basis.
In this day, age and city, this is nothing short of a small miracle.
In an education world now dominated by skyrocketing tuitions and onerous student loans, the Latino Leadership Institute stands out in being able to provide this superlative education to young people who would otherwise not be able to afford it, or at least not without taking on crushing levels of student debt.
Led by New York politico and visionary Jaime Estades, the LLI was started in 1999 and has continued building in influence through the years, turning out graduates that have gone on to successful careers in politics and community organizing in New York and throughout the country.
Although the LLI Mission Statement says the organization exists: "To empower Latinos and other minorities by increasing their participation in the democratic process," Estades is quick to point out: "It's important to understand that we are no longer a 'Latino only' Academy, since more than half of the students each year are White, African-American and Asian combined."
Much has been made lately by politicians and pundits alike of the growing political importance of Latino voters in U.S. elections. According to PEW, the Latino demographic in America has grown six-fold since 1970 and, in fact, Asians and Latinos are now the fastest rising demographic groups in the country. In an important development for U.S. cities, nationally, Latinos are displacing African-Americans as the dominant urban minority. Recently, a pollster for presidential candidate Senator Marco Rubio was quoted as saying that the GOP must top 40 percent with Latinos to win the White House in 2016.
In short, there has never been a better time than now for the Latino Leadership institute and others like them to be educating young minds and preparing them for the political and social justice battles of the future.
In just one shining example, recent LLI graduate Sandra Hughes O'Brien said:
I was a candidate for the Wayne State Board of Governors. I ended up with 2.1 million votes statewide and was the First Latino (male or female) to be elected to this statewide post! Currently, I am in the third year of my eight-year term. The Latino Leadership Institute played a huge part in my winning and I think of (this) often.
The Institute has had many success stories like this one and they all lead to one inevitable conclusion: While it may be Senator Marco Rubio, Senator Ted Cruz and others who are the political influencers in this generation, it will almost certainly be Jaime Estades' Latino Leadership Institute and others like them who will be developing the young leaders who will shape America in the next generation.
Moments to savor are rare in politics and indeed, even when contemplating the future of our country sometimes, but when I think about the Latino Leadership Institute and other organizations like this, I get to feeling that America's future just might be in good hands after all.
Find them here:
Latino Leadership Institute
Tom Allon, the former Liberal Party-backed candidate for Mayor, is the president of City & State, NY. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org