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Beware of shiny objects: How not to fill the Latino leadership void

Some of you may recall an alarming study conducted a little over a year ago by the Pew Hispanic Center, in which Latinos were asked a simple question: “name the person who you consider to be the most important Latino leader in the country today.”

A whopping 64 percent of respondents answered “I don’t know.” These findings support a growing line of research that suggests the current U.S. Latino community is experiencing a leadership void on a national level.

In the absence of prominent national figures, many individuals instead become enamored with what I like to call “bright, shiny objects.” These are people whose ideas look and sound great on paper and through popular discourse, but a closer inspection reveals grossly limited knowledge regarding the needs of the Latino community and how to effectively address those needs. These “bright, shiny objects” generally promote three misleading mindsets.

The “just do it” mindset: We see this mindset come from those who generally do lots of talking without much thinking. These are individuals who typically adopt an attitude of “enough talk, let’s do something about (insert highly complex social phenomenon here).” However, their understanding of said phenomenon or social problem is cursory, at best. Consequently, those who fall victim to this mindset are often led to propose highly egocentric solutions, and hence firmly believe that what worked for them personally can be applied to just about anyone.

The “just work harder” mindset: We see this mindset come primarily from those who cling to the false narrative of a “welfare crisis” (in spite of the mountains of evidence that suggest otherwise). They attribute the prevalent systemic poverty particularly seen amongst Latino youthto a supposed unwillingness of these youth to “work hard.” Rather than addressing the systems of injustice that continue to plague certain communities, folks who fall victim to this mindset instead ultimately disparage the very individuals they purportedly serve. Worse yet, they can completely discount the very importance of understanding the role of systemic injustice, simply out of a belief that injustice is a “thing of the past.”

The “education reformer to the rescue” mindset: We see this mindset come from those individuals whose solutions, to addressing the growing achievement gap in public education, consist merely of overly simplistic, smoking-gun type proposals. This is observed in the haste of many to divert much needed funds from “under-performing schools,” or in the infatuation  many policy-makers have with charter schools (in spite of their inconsistent effectiveness, at best). Additionally, and almost remarkably, those who fall victim to this mindset tend to completely ignore the effects of systemic poverty, in spite of its salience as a mitigating factor between individuals and their academic achievement.

In the absence of knowledgeable national leaders, those ideas that emerge from these “bright, shiny objects” are merely reduced to fads after failed attempts at effectively addressing social issues. We, as a community, need leaders who are committed to proposing realistic, grounded, long-term solutions—not charlatans who speak without substance.

About Nick Baez

Nick Baez, M.S. is a native of New York, New York (Lower East Side) and currently resides in Denver, Colorado. Throughout his academic and professional career, he has been a scholar in the fields of psychotherapy, anger and aggression research, trauma, youth leadership initiatives, and teaching. Committed to sound research and program development, Nick has been instrumental in tailoring programs to fit the needs of various communities, and subsequently evaluating those programs to ensure that they meet goals and standards. Most recently, Nick was the Mental Health therapist at Centennial High School in Fort Collins, CO. He has been a psychotherapist for 7 years, and specializes in adolescent populations. He has worked extensively with the National Hispanic Institute for 15 years, serving initially as a junior volunteer and currently as a senior staff member and senior alumnus. Through his work with the National Hispanic Institute, Nick has worked closely with thousands of high school students in helping develop initiatives to prepare them for leadership in the 21st century. Nick has conducted peer-reviewed research on risky behavior, anger, anger expression, and aggression, and has been previously recognized for his work by the Rocky Mountain Psychological Association. Nick has also done research on psychological trauma and its effects on cognition and interpersonal relationships. He has been invited on numerous occasions to give special lectures on trauma, co-dependency, ethnic identity, and social conflict.

A cum laude graduate of the College of Natural Sciences at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, CO, Nick holds a degree in Psychology. He additionally holds a Masters degree in Counseling Psychology from Colorado State University, and is currently a doctoral candidate there.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.

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