Empowering a Growing Minority

July 5, 2012
By Katie Koch, Harvard Gazette

It’s a question on many observers’ minds in an election year: Will Latinos vote in large numbers? And why, historically, haven’t they?
Davíd Carrasco, Neil L. Rudenstine Professor for the Study of Latin America, had an answer for a group of young Latinos gathered at Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) on Wednesday, and it had very little to do with numbers (say, the 50 percent voter registration rate among Hispanics) or political theories.
Instead, his answer came from a phrase coined by poet Robert Duncan: “across great scars of wrong.” In this case, it was a metaphor not just for the long-embattled Mexican border but for generations of oppression and exclusion from mainstream American civic life.
“We’ve got to face up to those great scars of wrong,” Carrasco practically yelled at his 41 charges. “Under great leadership and great courage, we can heal those scars.”
The Latino Leadership Initiative(LLI), where Carrasco was holding forth, might be Harvard’s most comprehensive attempt yet to help mend that deep-seated wound. Now in its third year, the program, sponsored by the Center for Public Leadership and funded by outside donors, brings promising college students to Harvard for a week of community-organizing training, personal reflection, and networking.
LLI’s instructors, drawn from across Harvard’s Schools, see the program as a chance to address a leadership deficit in the country’s young and rapidly growing Latino population.
“This group is really crucial to the prospects of the nation,” said Andy Zelleke, a Harvard Business School senior lecturer and LLI’s faculty director. “Young Latinos are going to be, disproportionately, the engine of the United States’ population growth. This is a source of potentially great strength for the U.S.”
What those communities need, LLI argues, is savvy advocates and organizers. The program — which draws from eight schools, including the local University of Massachusetts, Boston — doesn’t look for “valedictorians,” Zelleke said, but for students of any ethnicity with a track record of serving Latino populations. read more

Davíd Carrasco (right), Neil L. Rudenstine Professor for the Study of Latin America, led a session of Harvard's Latino Leadership Initiative.

Davíd Carrasco (right), Neil L. Rudenstine Professor for the Study of Latin America, led a session of Harvard's Latino Leadership Initiative.
Photo Credit: Rose Lincoln

“Young Latinos are going to be, disproportionately, the engine of the United States’ population growth. This is a source of potentially great strength for the U.S," said Andy Zelleke, a Harvard Business School senior lecturer and LLI’s faculty director.


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