Thursday, June 9, 2011

Creating new Latino political leadership

Voter registration and get-out-the-vote operations are not enough, we need to create new leadership that can win elections.
By Jaime Estades, NiLP
The idea to create a Latino Leadership Institute that would concentrate on organizing and creating new political leadership surged from the mind of the late Richie Perez (1944 - 2004). Richie always said that voter registration and get-out-the-vote operations were not enough -- we need to create new leadership that can win elections independent of the political machineries.

As Executive Director of the Hispanic Education and Legal Fund (HELF), created by labor leader Dennis Rivera), in 1996, I had the opportunity to attend Latino academies sponsored by Chicanos in the Southwest. Those academies were exactly what were missing in New York and the rest of the East Coast. At that time, I was shocked to learn that around 2,200 Chicanos had been elected to office throughout the Southwest and the Midwest. Meanwhile, in the northeast, if we could count 30 Latino elected officials, it would have been a surprise and a stretch. The Latino academies in the Southwest and Midwest definitely had a lot to do those numbers. At HELF, I lead an all-volunteer effort throughout the East Coast through which 100,000 voters were registered and reached through get-out-the-vote operations in a three month effort.

After I left HELF, in 1999, I incorporated the Latino Leadership Institute, Inc. (LLI) as a tax-exempt corporation. At that time, we hosted some small workshops in Washington Heights and Los Sures in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York. LLI's mission is to empower Latinos and other minorities by increasing their participation in the democratic process through training, organizing and mobilizing leaders into an agenda that reflects their aspirations and values. LLI also seeks to be a forum for intellectual discourse, where we can help to influence public policy in a nonpartisan manner.

In 2000, I went ;aw school, and the project remained dormant until I attended the "Latino City-Wide Dialogue" at the Community Service Society co-hosted by journalist Gerson Borrero and civil rights attorney Juan Cartagena.. I realized during those conversations that there were many frustrations with the current Latino political leadership, as well as with all elected officials, regardless of race. However, it was difficult for people to articulate a response to address those frustrations. I realized that the LLI was one potential answer, so I decided to "dust off" my old 501(c)(3).

Last weekend, on June 4 and 5, 2011, we re-inaugurated the Latino Leadership Institute, Inc. with an Academy that took place at the SEIU Local 32 BJ in Manhattan. The response was overwhelming. Latinos flew in from Los Angeles, New Orleans, and Detroit. People car pooled from Philadelphia, Boston, Albany and numerous other upstate regions, demonstrating that the political frustrations of Latinos and the desire not be invisible anymore in the political arena is shared by Latinos nationwide.

While we knew that there was a thirst for this type of training and for the creation of new leaders, we were shocked by the sheer demand and raw sense of imperative -- more than 200 people attended the Academy, most with a real thirst for participation in the Academy and in the electoral process. The speakers included the top political strategists in the State of New York, some with worldwide recognition - all volunteering their time in this 100% volunteer effort for which only a small optional donation was requested.

Currently, LLI is delineating a plan that focuses on the 2012 elections. There are two states critical for both the Republican and Democratic parties, as well as Independents, where Latinos play a critical role -- Pennsylvania and Florida. As a nonpartisan organization, our goals are to train, register and mobilize the Latino vote in the East Coast, regardless of individual party identification or preference.

Meanwhile, LLI will have our second Latino Academy (Part Two) this November. In addition, since Sunday, we have received three invitations to take the Academy to Philadelphia, New Orleans, and Chicago.

Jaime Estades, Founder and Chairperson of the Latino Leadership Institute. He is an Attorney holding an MSW degree, and was a Revson Fellow at Columbia University. He has taught Social Policy and Social Justice at Fordham University Graduate School of Social Services as Adjunct Professor. In September, he will be teaching Social Policy and Welfare at the Rutgers University Graduate School of Social Work in New Brunswick.

For more information on the Latino Leadership Institute, contact Jaime Estades at
347-446-5786 or You can also join the LLI Group on FaceBook.

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