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Luis Figueroa is fighting for Southern California’s children

LEE member Luis Figueroa is the Associate Director of External Affairs for Para Los Niños, a non-profit organization that responds to the ever-growing and ever-changing needs of Southern California communities. Luis sat down with LEE staff member Maggie Bove-LaMonica to share his unique perspective on the changing educational landscape, his role in achieving equity, and ways that LEE has supported his career and goals.

Explain what led you to care deeply about educational equity. What personal values, experiences or beliefs inform this? 

Education can lead to changing lives. Most specifically, it has the ability to change the lives of people of color like myself. More often than not though, we have seenhow the system was not meant to serve our most marginalized communities. I am a first-generation college graduate with a low-income background. My mom cleaned houses and my dad had low paying jobs, so living check to check was the norm and most of the time not enough. Besides my parents and sister, no one believed in my potential, and they always made sure to remind me of what I could be capable of. I have failed A LOT but I have gotten myself back up and kept going. Life is about learning from your failures and making the adjustments necessary to keep the train moving.

How has LEE helped you in your mission to end educational inequity?

LEE has helped in pushing me so much over the last several years. My coaches throughout have helped me develop the leadership potential they’ve seen in me. In addition, the trainings and programs have connected me with a network of leaders that look like me! The experiences that I have been a part of through LEE recenter me on my “why” and it helps so much to see that we are a very diverse network of leaders committed to creating an equitable education system for the generations after us.

What’s a typical day like in your current role and what is the impact you’re having on educational equity?

Currently I am the Associate Director of External Affairs for Para Los Niños (PLN). We operate seven Head Start preschool centers and three Charter Schools serving 1,100 low-income children (ages 6 weeks to 14 years), and we prepare another 2,000 youth (ages 14-24) annually for success in post-secondary education and the workforce with a focus on drop-out recovery and prevention. As we also emphasize the importance of strong family and community relationships, we offer a range of support services and community engagement opportunities to our children, youth and families. In all of our work we are working towards dismantling the institutional barriers that are impacting our children, youth, and families from thriving. I get the opportunity to build relationships with our local, state, and federal elected officials to further PLN’s mission and advocate for resources that our families need.

What is your vision for ending educational inequity in the U.S.?

I strongly feel that we need to be more intentional about naming our shortfalls in public education. Education should not be such a polarizing / political issue and yet, it is one of the most politicized realms in our country. Because of this, I think it’s important that all stakeholders who are directly affected (marginalized communities) have their voices be at the center of the conversation. The pandemic has exacerbated the barriers our marginalized communities face and NOW is the time we make bold and innovative changes in public education. Again, Education can lead to changing lives – not just students but their families as well.

What do you see as your role in achieving this vision? 

I think that as my career progresses, I hope to eventually be in a position that has the power to move the needle forward in our country’s public education space as a whole. If you’re serving students, regardless of school type, you have an obligation to ensure that child does not fail. Yes, the stakes are always high, but if we are able to see every child’s potential from the moment they walk into our schools, we can change this world for the better. 

*This interview has been transcribed and edited for clarity and brevity.