Chapel Hill education nonprofit LatinxEd chose the Hispanic Liaison’s Selina Lopez last week as one of 15 Hispanic leaders statewide to form part of its inaugural Fellowship.
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A Chapel Hill education nonprofit, LatinxEd, chose the Hispanic Liaison’s Selina Lopez last week as one of 15 Hispanic leaders statewide to form part of its inaugural Fellowship cohort.
Housed at UNC-Chapel Hill, LatinxEd works to invest in Hispanic leadership and advance educational equity in North Carolina, especially for immigrant families. The fellowship received nearly 70 applications from Hispanic leaders across North Carolina, but only 15, including Lopez, made the final cut.
“Oh my goodness, I just feel so honored and humbled to have been chosen as one of the fellows for this cohort,” said Lopez, the Liaison’s youth leadership program manager. “I’m super excited. I’m just mind blown, honestly.”
All selected leaders have demonstrated commitment to LatinxEd’s mission and developing positive racial and ethnic identity among Hispanic families, according to LatinxEd’s press release; they’ve also actively worked to advance access to opportunity within the state.
Those chosen hail from a variety of cities and towns across North Carolina, as well as Latin American countries. They also boast of diverse professional backgrounds — from early childhood education all the way to mental health and neurological diversity.
“We’re so proud of Selina for being selected for this inaugural fellowship with LatinxEd,” said Ilana Dubester, the Hispanic Liaison’s founder and executive director. “She’s an amazing advocate and an inspiring role model for our youth and community. I know that she’ll learn a lot and contribute her many talents to the team of fellows.”
Financed by the John M. Belk Endowment, the six-month fellowship will provide participating leaders with mentorship, strategic communications support and access to statewide educational advocates, according to the press release. They’ll also gain the necessary skills, knowledge and experience to be successful educational advocates.
The program began on Monday in Cary.
“Opportunities like the LatinxEd Fellowship are essential to investing and amplifying Latinx leadership across our state,” said Ricky Hurtado, LatinxEd’s co-founder and director of advancement, in a statement. “To meet the new challenges of a growing multicultural state, we need these visionary Latinx education leaders and innovators at the table helping us reimagine how we meet the diverse needs of our students and families.”
LatinxEd’s fellowship married Lopez’s passion for education advocacy with an organization she loved — and that’s why applying to be a part of it was a no-brainer.
While studying at UNC-Chapel Hill, she worked with LatinxEd — or N.C. Scholars’ Latino Initiative (SLI) as it was known then — as a co-director for the Families United for Education Initiative. Under that initiative, she led classes for parents in Spanish about the college enrollment process.
“So, I’ve always been kind of like a big cheerleader and fan of LatinxEd because the work that they do is just amazing,” Lopez said. “So one, it was like, wow, this is a chance to reconnect and also just come back in a way.”
But more than just reconnecting with LatinxEd, she said the fellowship represented an opportunity to grow professionally and work collectively with statewide advocates to advance educational equity in North Carolina.
“In my work here at EVH, I feel like a lot of the times it was a trial-and-error kind of thing,” she said. “You know, I’ve been just on the ground, just kind of figuring things out, asking questions, and for the most part, it’s been going really good, but I want to continue to grow.”
The fellowship’s mentorship component and professional networking have her particularly excited, Lopez said, plus “just learning more about North Carolina policies and just relating that to education and education equity.”
“(That) is just, like my passions all in one,” she added. “ … It’s going to be super exciting to talk about with other leaders, and seeing where the needs are, where the gaps are, you know, because we all bring great perspective, depending on our line of work, or wherever we’re working.”
Lopez became the Liaison’s youth leadership program manager in 2017 in response to a 2016 community assessment the Liaison undertook to identify the local Hispanic community’s most pressing needs.
“It was kind of like a blank slate for El Vinculo to focus on the actual needs of the community to really see what the community wanted back,” Lopez told the News + Record last year, “and so, a big part of that was that they wanted a space for youth. … I got hired to do that.”
Soon after, the Liaison’s youth group, Orgullo Latinx Pride — a name the youth chose themselves — was born. The free year-round program works with Siler City Latinx high school students, providing them multiple pillars of pivotal support, including academic support, cultural education, mentorship and even “a second little home.”
The program — also called OLP — seeks to empower Latinx youth by forging them into leaders, building their confidence in their cultural identities and encouraging them to pursue higher education.
“It’s a space for them to really just open up and learn and grow together as a familia,” Lopez said. “(It’s a space to) just bring in all of their different experiences and, as I like to say, sazones (flavors), so that they can all learn from each other and uplift each other.”
This past school year, Lopez mentored 30 high school students — six of whom just graduated from Jordan-Matthews with plans to attend either four-year universities or Central Carolina Community College. Throughout the program’s nearly four-year history, the vast majority of OLP alumni have gone on to attend some form of higher education.
Thanks to the program’s success, the Liaison has also just signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Chatham County Schools to expand both organizations’ abilities to serve Chatham’s Hispanic youth. Under the new partnership, the Liaison will expand OLP to another high school next fall.
Much of Lopez’s inspiration for the program’s activities and resources come from her own experiences growing up in a small town in rural Warren County, where she remembers grappling with negative stereotyping and discrimination.
Born in Guerrero, Mexico, Lopez immigrated to the U.S. with her family as a child. She became a U.S. citizen in 2016 — one year before she graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill with degrees in psychology and Hispanic Literature and Cultures.
“For me, it was a challenge loving who I was,” she told the News + Record last year, “and I don’t think I fully came to terms of being a proud Latina until I actually went to UNC and started taking courses on learning more about my history and my culture as crazy as that sounds.’”
Over the past year, many Hispanic students and parents have repeatedly told the News + Record how much OLP and Lopez’s efforts have meant to them. Ashley Perez, OLP’s assistant representative and a rising senior at J-M, joined OLP in her first year of high school, after she’d just moved to Siler City from Orange County.
“I felt really out of place when I moved here,” she told the Chatham County School Board of Education in early June. “Now that I’m in this program, they made me realize that I am not alone. They deeply care about me and support me and are always there for me.”
Last year, Siler City mother Celsa Hernández Jiménez told the News + Record that she’d noticed a big difference in her son, Carlos, who’s been a part of OLP for several years. His grades have gotten better, she said, he feels more sure of himself and he’s learned a lot.
“He’s been a kid who’s shy to talk or be with other people,” she told the News + Record in that moment, adding that now, “He knows how to interact more … I feel like I owe them (OLP) a lot in terms of taking away his shyness of talking 100%.”
This year, Carlos was one of 11 juniors chosen to be a J-M junior marshal, a graduation honor schools confer based on GPA rankings.
Lopez also mentors Guadalupe Tavera’s son, Ervin Martinez, who’s a rising senior at J-M. Originally from Mexico, Tavera doesn’t speak English, and she said Lopez always helps clear up any doubts she has about the school system.
When asked what she’d do without Lopez, Tavera replied with a laugh, “Well, no, no, wow, no. Selina, I love her because she helps me with everything. I’ll say to Selina, ‘Look, Ervin has a problem with this. I feel like something’s wrong,’ and she communicates with the school.”
“Of course," she added, "I could go to the school as well and ask, but I feel more confident with Selina.”
LatinxEd’s fellowship held its first two in-person group meetings Monday and Tuesday, Lopez said, and she’s eager to see where it all leads.
“I’m just excited to get started and just to work and grow and learn together with all the other amazing Latinx leaders that were also chosen as part of this cohort,” she said, adding with a laugh, “I feel like it’s gonna be just like a ball of awesomeness and just, like, power up there.”
Reporter Victoria Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.