Article on Nonprofit Circle de Luz, NBC Latino



Organization makes college dreams for young Latinas a reality

For Rosie Molinary, growing up Puerto Rican in Columbia, South Carolina was challenging. She says that during this time, there weren’t many Latinos around. After she went away to college, she realized she wanted to give back to her community.

“I got my undergraduate degree and became a high school teacher, so I was really interested in teaching in the inner city and working with low-income and immigrant families,” Molinary says. “I realized that the particular thing I was passionate about in my classroom was helping young people find their voice.”

Molinary then went on to get her Master’s of Fine Arts in creative writing with that intention in mind. During that time she wrote a collection of essays and poems that were about ethnic identity, body image, beauty perception,  and her coming of age experience.

On her book tour for Hijas Americanas: Beauty, Body Image, and Growing Up Latinas, Molinary visited many high schools where she had the opportunity to talk to many young Latinas.  “Those girls talked about their dreams,” she says. “They wanted to become veterinarians and doctors and dance teachers and all these really awesome things.”

But Molinary says that the statistics about college completion rates and teen pregnancies really started to haunt her. “I felt a real responsibility about the disparity between dreams and numbers,” she says.

“It [Circle de Luz] was born from a group of us just being uncomfortable with that disparity.”

RELATED: Teen Hispanic birthrates declines 40 percent

Molinary says that what distinguishes them from a typical nonprofit is that they provide the girls with a minimum of a $5,000 scholarship to help them with their education. The funds are raised by a group of women who are willing to contribute $100 a year for each year the girls are in the program. Those same women become the support network for a specific group of girls. Molinary says the women don’t have to be local and can be from any background. They can also choose what rate of involvement they want with the girls.

The organization has now been helping young Latinas get to college since 2008. They begin working with girls when they’re in seventh grade and follow them up to high school graduation. “What we want to be is a catalyst for young Latina girls to realize that their futures can be of their choosing,” Molinary says. “And so what we provide is really intensive mentoring, holistic programming, and scholarship funds when the girls graduate after they’ve been in our program for six years.”

She says there are twelve different areas they try to cover in their programming including health, nutrition, a ropes course, college tours, career panels, and summer reading and book discussions. They also take the girls to different kinds of restaurants, so they can learn how to navigate a menu. “One of our guiding beliefs is that exposure matters, so we try to give our girls as much exposure to what’s possible,” she says.

One success story that stands out for Molinary is of a girl who was struggling with middle school. “We weren’t positive that she’d pass 8th grade,” she says. “She is now an incredibly strong academic student as a junior. She’s on the honor roll and has really big plans for herself and that’s one story that just makes me so proud.”

Gaby, 17, whose last name isn’t provided because of the program’s privacy policy, has been a part of Circle de Luz from the beginning. “We were the first class, so we didn’t know much about the program. When they started explaining, it made me feel really special,” she says.

“My favorite thing is the family atmosphere,” Gaby says. “It’s very warm and welcoming.”

Gaby now plans to go to college to study music and business. “I want to be able to do something for the community,” she says. “Through Circle [de Luz] you realize how many opportunities there are. It’s been a life-changing experience.”

Article on The Latina A.R.M.Y, NBC Latino

Women’s history month: An army to motivate young Latinas

by Erika L. Sánchez
5:00 am on 03/01/2013

This is the first installment of Latinas empowering other Latinas to succeed in honor of Women’s History Month. 

Nancy Roldán Johnson always knew she wanted a better life. “In the process of growing up, I just saw a lot of negative behavior around me, and, ironically, I was comforted by shows like the Cosbys and the Brady Bunch. I said ‘that’s the kind of life I want.’”

A defining moment in her life, Johnson says, was when one of her teachers looked at her and said, “’you– you’re going to be somebody one day. I’m going to read about you one day.’”

That interaction sparked something inside of her. “That really made me think ‘what am Isupposed to do?’” she says

A daughter of Puerto Rican immigrants, born and raised in Bridgeport, Connecticut, Johnson was the first in her very large family to attend and graduate college.

“The journey of going to college was very isolating and difficult,” she says, “and my goal was to one day, make the journey for one girl a little bit easier.”

Johnson says that the idea for an organization began when she wrote a letter to her estranged mother who had just had a heart attack.“I realized she did the absolute best job that she knew how to do and that she loved me unconditionally. It was life-changing for me,” she says. “I thought I could help young girls by writing a self-help book.

Though the plan to publish her self-help book didn’t pan out like she expected, this propelled her to create an organization to empower Latinas.

Johnson says that alarming statistics about Latinas also made her want to act. “I was shocked that very, very little people were talking about, especially at a mass level, that young Latinas are struggling– 53 percent become pregnant at least once before they turn 20, the high school drop out rate is incredibly high, and they’re attempting suicide in really high numbers,” she says.

Johnson realized she knew a lot of Latina women who had defied the odds, and that together, they could mobilize. In 2008, Johnson and her friend Carmen R. Marcano-Davis, Ph.D., formedThe Latina A.R.M.Y  (Accomplished Role-Models Motivating Young Latinas).

“The exposure to everyday Latina role models, not just the Jennifer Lopezes and the celebrities, but everyday, hardworking Latina women that are adding value to society, that’s what I think is important for our young kids,” she says.

IMG_0924The core program of the Latina A.R.M.Y is conducted during the school day with the cooperation of a guidance counselor. Setting goals and identifying the people who could help them are major components of the workshops. The four tools they use are known as J.A.R.S. (journaling, affirmations, rules, and setting goals), and their logo is a butterfly. “Like the butterfly,” she says, “it’s a journey from inside out.”

One success story that stands out for Johnson is of a young girl who had difficulty communicating with her mother. She decided to use the tools she learned in the workshop by using a whiteboard to identify all of her negative thoughts. “As soon as she had a grip on the negative thought,” Johnson says, “she was going to cross it out and replace it with something positive.” Her mother then did the same and both were able to better understand each other.

Another participant told Johnson that the program gave her the courage to tell her family she was gay, and when she did, her mother was joyful and relieved; it was a celebratory moment.

Getting involved in the program is simple, Johnson says. Anyone can go to the website to fill out a volunteer form. Once a volunteer goes through a screening process, she receives materials to learn how to conduct a workshop.

Johnson also urges Latinos to help their communities by serving on nonprofit boards. “It’s a way to build leadership and really make change,” she says.

A small gesture can also make a world of difference, like it did for Johnson when she was a young girl.

“When you see someone, a young girl or a young boy,” she says, “look them in the eye and tell them that you expect great things from them.”

Article on Machismo, NBC Latino

by Erika L. Sánchez
6:22 am on 02/04/2013

Yosimar Reyes began to notice machismo when he was a young man being raised by his grandmother.

“I saw it was my grandma who was always doing everything,” he says. “She thought that was her role.”

Now, he challenges this kind of repressive masculinity in his poetry. “Everything that I write is celebrating masculinity without being in an oppressive form,” he says. “It’s a burden. Sometimes you don’t want what comes with this privilege. When it comes to growing up as a boy, there’s a blueprint to how men should act. I reject that.”

Many young Latino men like Reyes are both exploring and challenging traditional masculinity through their work and their art. Abraham Velázquez Tello became interested in the different manifestations of machismo in Latino culture and began documenting them through photographs. His photographs in his series titled “Machos” were taken in various Chicago venues. They are intimate glimpses into the lives of vaqueros, indigenous dancers, low-rider groups, wrestlers, and men at gay clubs.

“A lot of images I sought out to make were a mixture of cultural traditions,” he says. “You can embrace your masculinity and embrace your culture. You just have to get rid of sexism.” As the editor of the Chicago culture website, Gozamos, Tello also encourages conversations about machismo. The column “Modern Macho” is one example. “As media makers, we have a responsibility,” he says.

Pablo Valeria Tachiquin Paredes, youth mentor at 67 Sueños, makes an analysis of machismo a priority when working with migrant youth. “We try to have a privilege critique early on,” he says. “It’s an ongoing conversation.”

RELATED: Latina bloggers draw attention to the urgency of amplifying women’s voices

In 2011, 67 Sueños created a mural to document the migrant experience. The project began with chronicling the stories of undocumented youth– many of whom had experienced rape, domestic violence, and other kinds of abuse. They discussed these kinds of issues at their unveiling event. “We were highlighting stories and had a whole session discussing toxic masculinity,” he says.

Most conversations about machismo are centered on the experiences of women, though it also affects men negatively. “One of the pillars of machismo is that men are stronger than women and it pushes men in a robot-like way of dealing with trauma. Young men have a hard time telling their story and allowing themselves to be vulnerable,” Paredes says.

This kind of guarded behavior, say some experts, can be contributing to the Latino male achievement gap. According to the 2011 census survey conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center, 17 percent of Latinas (ages 25-29) have at least a bachelor’s degree, compared with 10 percent of Latino males.

RELATED: How to increase Latino college enrollment in 2013

Victor B. Saenz, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Educational Administration at the University of Texas at Austin, has been researching the causes behind this disparity. “A big part of machismo is the kinds of identities that they need to take on,” he says. “They can be at odds with academic success. It manifests itself with help-seeking behavior. They may not see a counselor because it’s a sign of weakness.”

A lack of male role models can also contribute to this problem. “Urban youth– the majority are without fathers and won’t find male teachers who will be an early influence,” Saenz says. “They find it in gangs and social groupings that affirm their values as young men.”

To address this problem in education, Saenz and his research team launched a research and mentoring effort called Project MALES, which is composed of two initiatives– a research project focused on Latino males in higher education and a pilot mentoring project. Part of the program also includes a monthly Pláticas series that features prominent Latino male speakers who facilitate small group discussions among mentor participants.

Reyes also believes in the need for dialogue and safe spaces where men can discuss how patriarchy has affected their lives. “We’re not used to having conversations about our deep wounds,” he says.

For Paredes, discussions are more fruitful when they are focused on solutions, which is how he approaches his community work with young men. “Across the board, sexism and male privilege is alive and ripe in every community. Offering alternatives is more important than offering critiques.”