Two weeks ago, I attended the United States Hispanic Leadership Institute 36th National Conference in Chicago, February 15-18, 2018.  As always, I thoroughly enjoyed the conference!  I have been participating in and providing workshops for the conference since 2004.  I always make an effort to do whatever I can to support the organization.  (See USHLI Regional Conference 2012; USHLI National Conference 2012; USHLI National Conference 2011; USHLI Regional Conference 2010.)

Based in Chicago, the United States Hispanic Leadership Institute (USHLI) is a nonprofit organization devoted to empowering the Latino community and other disenfranchised groups.  Through a variety of programming, USHLI promotes education, leadership development, unity and non-partisan civic participation.  Led by Presidential Medal of Freedom and Ohtli recipient, Dr. Juan Andrade (of Brownwood, Texas! might I add), the USHLI is one of the most influential Latino organizations in the country.  What an honor and delight it is for me to participate in and contribute to their national conference every year!

Purposeful students of Ivy Tech Community College

The students who attend USHLI are scholars, activists and leaders from colleges throughout the country.  Their mere presence challenges all of the stereotypes about Latinos.  Intelligent, studious, passionate, focused, ambitious, gifted and talented, these college students prove that Latino youth are all of THAT and MUCH MORE!!!

My “Sin Fronteras” Workshop

This year I presented “Sin Fronteras (Without Borders): A Workshop on Building Multi-Cultural and Multi-Racial Alliances and Partnerships.” The purpose of this workshop is to provide individuals and groups with the knowledge and tools they need to break down the borders that divide diverse groups with common interests. In this workshop I teach leaders and organizations with common interests but from diverse backgrounds strategies on how to work with versus compete against each other in order to maximize resources and results. By combining and focusing their energy, people and resources on a common goal(s), I believe that diverse organizations and communities will unleash their unlimited power. (For more information, see workshop synopsis written by a Alyssa Hinojosa of the University of Oregon Delegation.)

As always, the USHLI hosted an incredible conference this year.  Below are my top 10 takeaways from USHLI National Conference 2018:


    1. The conference attracted a HUGE attendance this year! Students, educators, nonprofit leaders and corporate representatives from all over the country participated in the event.  In fact, this year’s conference was the biggest that I have ever seen!
    2. Denice Frohman

      As always, the keynote speakers were absolutely outstanding! The conference featured some of the nation’s and world’s most influential leaders, among them: former Surgeon General Dr. Antonia Novello, Chief Education Officer R. Mateo Magdaleno, diversity expert Dr. Samuel Betances, US Congressman Hon. Raja Krishnamoorthi, and many others.  The conference also provided a spotlight for poet Denice Frohman, a special treat this year.  The hallmark of each of the speakers was that every one of them inspired, motivated and empowered the audience, charging us to devote ourselves to academic excellence, leadership and service.  Just when you thought the speakers could not get any better, there was another, who, in their own unique voice and style, lifted the audience higher!

    3. Dolores” and Dolores Huerta was in the house! To my delight, the conference featured a screening of “Dolores,” a documentary about the life, leadership and legacy of Dolores Huerta.  (I must acknowledge, “Dolores” is one of the best documentaries that I have ever seen!  As a historian, that says a lot!  My family and close friends attended the screening in Atlanta in October of 2017.  If you have not seen “Dolores” yet, make the effort to do so, and make sure to take your family and friends with you!)  On top of the screening of “Dolores,” Dolores Huerta herself graced the conference with her presence, delivering the welcoming remarks at the Latina Empowerment Breakfast!  What an absolutely thrilling surprise!!!
    4. Civil rights icon Sylvia Mendez appeared at the conference, receiving the National Hispanic Hero Award! Sylvia Mendez is the plaintiff in Mendez vs. Westminister (1946),

      Sylvia Mendez and her sister!

      which challenged school segregation in Orange County, California.  She was eight years old at the time of the landmark desegregation case that successfully ended segregation in the state.  The Mendez decision set the precedent for ending segregation in the US.  In fact, Thurgood Marshall, who later became the first African American US Supreme Justice, worked on the Mendez case and used many of its arguments in the groundbreaking Brown vs. Board of Education case that ended school segregation throughout the nation.  Because of her and her family’s service to the country, in 2011, President Barack Obama awarded Sylvia Mendez the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  Thank you, Ms. Mendez, for your service to our country!

    5. This year, more so than any other, students came with an elevated level of focus, energy, enthusiasm, passion, and intensity. It was clearly evident:  these leaders are centered on their purpose!  In fact, the students were so engaged and intense throughout the conference that you could have heard a pin drop during some of the keynotes—in a packed ballroom!  America and the world better take heed.  These leaders are on a mission!
    6. My friends!

      The Oregon delegation, led by John Haroldson, District Attorney of Benton County, Oregon, brought a whopping 200 students to the conference! What a spectacular achievement!   Do you know the commitment, dedication and sheer determination it takes to logistically plan and provide conference registration, flights, hotel rooms, ground transportation and meals for 200 people???  Hats off to all of the crusaders—visionaries, sponsors, advocates, parents, families, padrinos y madrinas—who made this possible!  Your tenacity and generous efforts have truly impacted the lives of many!  Thank you!!!

    7. It is always such a delight to connect with old friends and meet new ones!

      Ms. Mary

      Every year I eagerly anticipate seeing and visiting with friends that I have met over the years.  Additionally,  every year I establish new friendships.  This year was no exception.  I met numerous educators as well as a host of students.  Notably, over dinner I learned the fascinating history of USHLI from Jose Ruano, member of the USHLI Board of Directors.  I was indeed surprised to hear that the USHLI is a product of the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project and the National Council of La Raza.  Who knew???One of my most memorable experiences this year was meeting Ms. Mary of Kansas.  After raising a family, Ms. Mary decided to pursue her college education and, notably, will graduate in May!  Congratulations, Ms. Mary!!!

    8. Unable to attend the conference, Juan Andrade delivered a compelling speech via video. In the thirty-plus-year history of the organization, this year was the first time that Dr. Andrade missed a conference; however, that did not stop him from participating!  Dr. Andrade inspired and captivated the audience through his video, explaining the value of Latino leadership to the nation and the importance of young people continuing the crusade of fighting for the rights of Latinos and other marginalized groups.  Amen!
    9. What a treat it was to witness the passing the torch from Latino/a pioneers to the new generation of Latino/a scholars, activists and leaders! Rituals and symbolic ceremonies

      USHLI passing the torch!

      play a significant role in communities of color.  In various types of services, elders, who are highly respected in the community, pass down their wisdom, knowledge and hallowed traditions to the young.  Although it was not a formal ceremony, the act of actually passing the torch and the symbolism it evoked embodied the purpose and the heart of such sacred practices.

    10. USHLI staff!!!

      The USHLI plans and executes this extraordinary national conference, manages the day-to-day operations of organization, and coordinates additional outstanding programming with a modest staff of seven!USHLI staff exemplify what it means to be focused and intentional!  Congratulations to the USHLI staff for a successful conference and a job well done!  You are truly making a tremendous impact on our community, nation and world!

Ramona Houston frequently participates in organizations and events within both the African American and Latino communities. Her extensive knowledge of, expertise in and relationships within these two communities makes her an invaluable resource for organizations seeking to reach, serve and impact these important constituencies. Contact Ramona Houston today to provide training and/or assist your organization in its community engagement efforts.

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