Ten community leaders from all different backgrounds flocked to SMU’s campus Dec. 7 to attend their third Latino Center for Leadership Development (LCLD) Leadership Academy forum hosted by the SMU Tower Center.
The LCLD academy is designed to develop leaders as advocates for the Latino community and other underrepresented groups (this class has two African American fellows) and equip them with the skills they need to run for public office, or to hold other positions of impact.
“I want to become a better political leader in my current role, learn more about the political process, and learn how best to affect change,” said Jon Killen, SMU ’08, ’10, and one of the academy fellows. Killen represents Dallas on the DART Board of Directors.
Academy fellows meet for quarterly training sessions over the span of a year led by community leaders of all service levels from federal, state and municipal positions as well as community service and private sector leaders. Most fellows come from Texas, but two fellows in this class fly in from out of state to attend the forums. Brenda Ayon Verduzco, Deputy Attorney General for the state of California, is one of them. Verduzco hopes the academy will equip her with the know-how she needs to take back home and apply to her community in San Francisco.
“It’s helpful to learn practical things like money and mobilizing resources and understanding how to navigate the new network you’re entering into, how to make and maintain relationships,” she said.
Alex Guio, LCLD Academy Fellow and prosecutor at the Dallas District Attorney’s office, graduated from law school at SMU in 2013. She moved with her family from Bogotá to Houston when she was 4 years old. She was undocumented for several years starting in middle school and she and her family faced many obstacles during that time. Now, after getting citizenship and graduating from law school, she’s become an advocate for people when they are at their most vulnerable as victims of crimes.
Guio hopes she can be an example for other female minorities.
“I have learned to be confident, to be un-apologetically myself. People think that to go into politics you have to fit into certain molds. To hear the opposite is really empowering,” Guio said of what’ she’s learned so far at the Academy.
The SMU Tower Center partners with the LCLD to produce original research on a variety of issues affecting Latinos in Texas and in the U.S. in general. Topics include immigration, border enforcement, access to education and the impact of deportation on families. LCLD academy fellows are encouraged to use the findings from this research to craft informed policy ideas and solutions.
“Through our partnership with the Tower Center, we hope to bridge the gap in research, policy, and practice by connecting our fellows to emerging research exploring innovative solutions to key policy issues impacting the Latino community,” said Patty Garcia, Vice President of Programs and Operations at LCLD.
“I’m grateful SMU has invested money and personnel in this research partnership to pave the way for a better city, state and hopefully country,” Killen said.”I look forward to having access to the research so that I can be informed on longstanding and emerging issues.”
The fellows have one more forum before they graduate from the academy.