LUIS AVILA ON CREATING SUSTAINABLE CHANGE
ABOUT THE COMPASS LEADERS
EdLoC’s Third Way values drive all we do—they ground us in our work and help us chart a path forward. Among our members are leaders whose example serves as a compass, a North Star, that guides us in our own work. Our Compass Leaders series is a chance to see what our values look like in action and to lift up members who truly exemplify one of our values in all they do.
August gave us an opportunity to concentrate on our value of Creating Sustainable Change. As members of local, ethnic communities, we value the often-overlooked assets of our communities and are committed to building the capacity of local leaders to serve as agents of change. For change to take root and get us to our goal, solutions must be developed with and come from those directly affected. For our final Compass Leader spotlight, we highlight Luis Avila and his work with ALL in Education. Luis is doing phenomenal work to organize and empower the Latinx community in Arizona. The goal of ALL in Education is to create sustainable change through organizing people, power, and money in order to place more Latinx leaders in positions of power and decision-making.
Why did you start organizing? What led you to become an advocate?
I’m originally from Mexico and moved to the United States at 18 years of age. I did some preliminary organizing and advocacy in Mexico, so by the time I arrived in the United States, I was already passionate and committed to the work. Similar to a project I launched in Mexico, I created a bilingual, youth-centered magazine and quickly became involved in the DREAM Act and other pro-immigrant-rights issues. Thanks to a man named Gaspar who was organizing workers at ASU’s cafeteria, I learned what community organizing was, and in 2004 he nominated me to participate in a summer program called American Freedom Summer, where I spent months learning about civil and electoral rights history and about how to lead a local ballot initiative. Through this experience I found my lifelong passion for organizing. To date, I’ve organized thousands of people to advocate on issues that mattered to them across multiple states and other parts of the world. Organizing and empowering people is one of the most important steps in creating sustainable change in communities.
Tell us about your organization. Why did you found it?
I’ve been working on education justice for almost 15 years in Arizona. I’ve organized hundreds of parents to demand education quality and access in their communities. Unfortunately, I noticed that these fights were always campaigns focused on reforming existing power, which is owned by a small majority of white leaders with limited lived experiences that mirror those of the community we come from. I realized we needed more than campaigns—we needed real representation and an understanding of how to get there. If political power resides in our ability to mobilize people and resources, we needed to create a “home”—a place where Latinos and other communities of color could come together and advocate for more radical change. In light of this, we created a campaign called Arizona Latino Leaders in Education (ALL in Education), and its mission is to ensure those most impacted by education inequities are the ones making decisions in education. We work to organize people, ideas, and money in order to create sustainable change in the power structures of Arizona. We have already created a new space to be able to talk about education equity unapologetically, ensuring that nothing about us is decided without us.
Why is it essential to let communities drive solutions if we want those solutions to last?
There are a lot of well-intentioned folks in education. Unfortunately, good intentions are not enough. We need power in decision-making spaces, and we need to ensure that seated at the tables of power are individuals that represent the communities most impacted by social inequities. Once we broker those power connections, we are able to break away from the false dichotomies we are presented with in education. These divisions pit us against one another and create a political schema that forces us to choose sides. Our community has dire needs, including the most basic ones. These needs include quality teachers in the lowest-resourced schools, a pipeline of supported school leaders, superintendents who understand and have a commitment to social justice, and a school board that holds the system accountable. To address these needs, we need political power in the form of the infrastructure of an Independent Political Organization, and that is ultimately what we are building with ALL in Education.
How does ALL in Education do this? How do you all build local leadership capacity?
Right now, we are complicating the status quo. We are showing up to spaces where our voices haven’t historically been added, and we are pushing the conversation forward. We are also creating political independence by breaking away from funding our work based on a few well-resourced foundations and diversifying our revenue streams so we can sustainably survive.
We approach our work in three ways:
- We organize our own community to give, so we can be politically independent.
- We engage national philanthropy to ensure Arizona is a priority when funding equity efforts.
- We organize local foundations to ensure that their investments go to the leaders that come from the impacted communities and match our needs and our power.
We are also creating programs that build a pipeline of leadership development, including authoring a list of appointment-ready Latinx leaders for boards and commissions.
If you could recommend a few key policies or practices that would improve things dramatically for our communities, what would they be?
- Parent and family engagement must be prioritized, funded, and tracked as an educational performance measure. School systems must work to build relationships with parents and honor their perspectives as valued partners in decision-making.
- State, local, and community investments must be made towards closing the equity gaps that Latino students experience. This includes addressing the digital divide and supporting student learning at home.
- Establish a comprehensive cross-sector effort in which the collective focus is on advancing equity, opportunity, and justice for students of color and students from low-income families. The coronavirus pandemic has exposed the inequities Latinos have been up against for decades, and the collective effort must work to dismantle inequity and break down barriers for all students of color and those from low-income families.
- Build a teaching workforce that adequately represents the student population. Even though 46 percent of the Arizona student population is Latino, only 15 percent of the teaching workforce is Latino. We must recruit, train, and retain more teachers that reflect the student population. Representation in the school community matters.
- Increase and include Latino leadership voices and perspectives when decisions are being made about the advancement of Latino students and the community. Latinos must be appropriately represented on state and local governing boards where decisions are being made about their futures. Nothing should be decided about the Latino community without Latino leaders in the room.
We thank Luis for taking the time to share these insights with us and close out this round of Compass Leaders highlights. Be on the lookout for our next installment of Compass Leaders stories. Know an EdLoC leader that should be a Compass Leader because they exemplify our values? Email Jaclyn.
Education Leaders of Color (EdLoC) is a community of more than 300 leaders of color working to elevate the leadership, voices and influence of people of color in education and to leading more inclusive efforts to improve education. EdLoC aims to advance a third way that breaks through the polarizing divides that have consumed efforts to improve public education and to forge the alliances needed to realize and sustain EdLoC’s vision of providing low-income children of color expansive and substantive opportunities for the highest levels of academic and economic attainment.