“It still amazes me how in such a short amount of time we became sisters, stronger than blood, all connected by this drive to succeed together, with a passion to make change, forming a bond that will last forever. It was by far one of the best experiences of my life, and I will never forget how these women’s triumphant stories touched me. I could not be prouder to be a part of this remarkable group of young Latina women.”
That bond, that sisterhood, that family is exactly what the NHLI prides itself upon. The National Hispana Leadership Institute (NHLI) is a national nonprofit organization located in Washington DC, and it is widely recognized for establishing fortified relationships among women of all ages from different Latin backgrounds.
“They work to address the underrepresentation of Latinas in the corporate, nonprofit, and political arenas. Their mission is to develop Hispanas as ethical leaders through training, professional development, relationship building, and community activism.”
They have designed several programs that make these tools available to Latinas as well as foster positive civic engagement in communities related to education and health.
The Latinas Learning to Lead Program, their youngest branch, is that which caters to the Millennial generation. It’s an intensive five day program that enhances leadership abilities, provides role models and access to mentors, networking opportunities, and possible internships. Out of roughly 300 applicants, 20 young Latinas from across the country are chosen to be participants in this week long seminar. I was fortunate enough to be of those 20 staying at The Catholic University of America for this wonderful week full of engaging seminars on active listening, public speaking, elevator speeches, and resume building.
According to the US Census Bureau, 1 in every 6 individuals is Latino. In 2006, Latinas ages 15-19 held the highest percentage of teen pregnancies across the nation, and in 2008, Hispanics also represented the largest group of high school dropouts. It’s a sad fact that only 12% of Latinas actually graduate from college. This program is meant to improve those startling statistics.
At the first ever PODER PAC conference, a political action committee made by Latinas for Latinas, we realized the importance of increasing our representation. I learned that 51% of the world population, as well as the US population consists of women, and yet we only represent 17 % of Congress.
The conference was about “Empowering the Next Generation of Change-Makers.” They reminded us that we had to own our power, dare to lead, and follow our call to action. We learned the importance of voting, that over 50,000 Latinos turn 18 every month, and that we have to power to influence change.
The most inspiring speakers to me were Marisa Rivera, founder of Mpowerment Works, and Nely Galan, founder of The Adelante Movement, who directly gave us the following advice: “Remember don’t buy shoes, buy buildings, and you are your own Prince Charming!”
To further embrace our newly found titles as hermanas, we participated in a keynote event called “Celebrating the Women in Our Lives.” This is when our friendships grew leaps and bounds as each one of us shared stories of hardships and struggle, and the amazing, inspirational women who overcame tremendous battles to allow us to be where we are today.
In my case, my mom was the only one of nine children, only one of which was male, to attain a college degree, all the while helping my grandma, a single mother, raise and support her family in an impoverished community in Puerto Rico. It is my commitment to her and my passion for education that keeps me going.
In the CDC’s 2011 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey, an estimated 1 in 3 teens reported texting or emailing while driving. The same report states 1 in 3 teen deaths occur on the road, and that we have the highest number of distracted related crashes.
Safe Smart Women, an organization whose focus is to increase safety among teen drivers, partnered with the Ford Motor Company to provide us with the knowledge and tools to be more cautious and conscious drivers as well as give us great ideas for our projects.
Our week ended with an official graduation ceremony in which we were presented with certificates, reinforcing our sisterhood. As the LLL Class of 2012, we took it upon ourselves to form our own organization. It is still in its rudimentary stages, but we have all committed to putting into action the knowledge we acquired throughout the week. We were able to collaborate and assign positions playing to everybody’s strengths. I was assigned as Social Media Chair, and will be responsible for creating an LLL blog that documents our successes in our fields, and our annual reunions that will always involve some sort of service to the community.
In essence, programs and summits like these present an essential, invaluable opportunity for Millennials to grow as individuals and harness their true potential. They serve to further develop a plethora of skills, extricate our talents, remove all barriers, and encourage youth to push beyond any limit. They garner success, proving time and time again that they are not only inspiring, but effective in producing monumental results for the benefit of society.
This experience would not have been possible without the Program Manager, Evelyn Garcia Morales, the Program Associate, Sara Maldonado, and of course the NHLI Sponsors. All in all, NHLI has affected more than 56,000 Latinas nationwide, and I know a specific 20 who are incredibly proud to be a part of this number.
For more information about NHLI and their programs, visit their website:
If you’re interested in learning about the 20 Latinas who participated in the LLL Program follow this link:
And if you would like to check out a spoken word about my personal experience click here:
Nikole Cabrera is a Featured Blogger for Mobilize.org’s The Millennial Report. She is currently pursuing a Professional Bachelor’s Degree in Architecture at Syracuse University. Cabrera is a proud advocate of providing equal opportunities to every human being, volunteering for a number of causes related to education, Latinos, refugees, and poverty. In the future, Cabrera’s ultimate goal is to establish a philanthropic firm that provides communities in need, both in the US and developing countries, with low-income housing, schools, and community centers.