Forbes is known for its lists — the Forbes 500, the Forbes list of the World’s Most Powerful People and the Forbes 400. One can imagine the shock North Carolina Student Latinx Initiative’s co-directors Ricky Hurtado and Elaine Townsend Utin experienced when they found out from friends on Facebook that their work had earned them a spot on one of Forbes famed list — Forbes 30 under 30 Education.
For Hurtado, the award served as a reminder of the importance of their work.
“It’s a validation that this work is really important and that other folks should be paying more attention to thinking about equity in education,” Hurtado said.
NCSLI is dedicated to creating civic, educational and professional opportunities for Latinx children in North Carolina. NCSLI runs high school programs in counties across the state and holds monthly educational events at the FedEx Global Center.
While NCSLI was founded in 2003, Hurtado and Townsend Utin’s work has helped to expand and redefine the organization. NCSLI board member Paul Cuadros had high praise for Townsend Utin and Hurtado’s work.
“I think they’ve taken NCSLI to a whole new level. So originally the program was focused just on mentoring and college preparation,” Cuadros said. “Rickey and Elaine have taken NCSLI to have a broader vision in terms of not only mentoring and preparing those students for higher education but also instilling them an idea of becoming future leaders within their community.”
Both Townsend Utin and Hurtado went to UNC for their undergraduate years, both were involved in NCSLI while at the University, and both are Latinx first-generation college students. The hurdles and experiences they faced while growing up are ones they hope NCSLI will help guide future generations of Latinx students through. Townsend Utin talked about she felt to be the complexities and importance of holding a Latinx identity in the American South today.
“Being Latinx in the South is a very unique experience, and I think we are defining it right now in this time and space, and the generations after us are continuing to kind of break down what does that mean and being in the context of living in North Carolina,” Townsend Utin said. “So if we can continue creating spaces where we can have dialogue around that we can really be pushing the barriers that exist for our community and challenge them by creating new leadership.”
NCSLI also puts Latinx youth and families into contact with services such as immigration lawyers if necessary. While Hurtado acknowledged the heated political climate surrounding America’s immigrants and Latinx populations, he asserted that NCSLI would continue its work.
“At the end of the day, a lot of what we’re doing is advocating and fighting for our children and families across North Carolina regardless what the political climate is like,” Hurtado said. “Our families are here to stay, and they’re gonna keep on striving for higher education and we’re gonna support them regardless of what other people are trying to do.”
While Hurtado and Townsend Utin have gone as far as Harvard and Princeton to further their abilities, Townsend Utin said she enjoys being able to give back to a state that she calls home.
“It’s such an exciting opportunity for us to be back in North Carolina, back serving the communities that raised us, to really contribute to students that are following in our footsteps, but also paving their own paths,” Townsend Utin said.
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