Ready to fly, nationally

Latino Leadership Institute becomes independent nonprofit


Something that Alfredo Reyes learned through the Latino Leadership Institute (LLI) is that he wants to be a leader who unites.

Leadership is “not about what can I take, but what can I add,” Reyes said. “It’s important for us to talk about how we can unite again.”

Reyes is the executive director of the Latino Cultural Arts Center, which is a nonprofit organization in west Denver that exists to “advance and elevate the artistic and intellectual contributions of Latinos,” states its website.

Reyes, 31, was born and raised in Denver’s Baker neighborhood and is a 2008 alum of Denver South High School. He holds two master’s degrees and is a recent graduate of LLI.

“It’s OK to be bold and strive for excellence in a way that brings all people together,” Reyes said. “LLI can show that there is a better way of leading together.”

LLI is a Denver-based “organization focused on research and programming that elevates leaders in the Latino and BIPOC communities across all industries,” states a news release.

LLI was co-founded by Federico Peña, who is known locally for being Denver’s first Hispanic mayor in the early 1980s, but he also formerly served as the minority leader in the Colorado House of Representatives; and Timothy Márquez, an alum of Denver Public Schools and the Colorado School of Mines who is now a retired oil and gas executive.

“Our founders had a vision for our future,” said LLI’s executive director, Joelle Martinez. “What wasn’t keeping pace with the demographic shift was Latinos represented in leadership. We were nearly invisible in leadership.”

LLI got its start in 2014, and since then, about 250 people — 10 cohorts — from across Colorado have graduated from the program.

While many of these graduates hold leadership roles, ranging from aerospace to professional sports teams, there is still much work to do, Martinez said.

She points to three main reasons why Latinos are underrepresented in leadership roles. They are:

Technical — meaning there is a lack of self-confidence among some in the Latino population, in addition to some needing skills or training such as public speaking.

Social capital — Latinos may not have connectivity to leaders, both within and outside of the Latino community.

Financial and economic barriers — some do not have means.

Latinos tend to serve where it matters most, Martinez added. For a general example, a Latina mother may feel comfortable getting involved with her child’s school, which may lead to the school board, and then perhaps a nonprofit, Martinez said.

“The corporate world or a career is much different,” Martinez said. “They may feel they have to suppress their identity to get ahead.”

Still, diversity in leadership is socially and economically important, Martinez said.

“Diversity leads to innovation,” she said. But “if we’re going to change the face of leadership, it’s not just preparing the individual — the organizations also have to be prepared.”

Therefore, some of LLI’s work entails convening stakeholders and sharing new methods for workplace inclusion and equity.

Until the COVID-19 pandemic forced many businesses to a remote work environment, LLI was housed at the University of Denver. However, demand and the addition of programming led the organization to outgrow its space on the college’s campus. LLI announced in early June that it is now transitioning to an independent nonprofit organization, which includes serving people nationally, though LLI will keep its headquarters in Denver.

“After a successful incubation period at DU, LLI is primed to become an independent organization,” said DU Chancellor Jeremy Haefner in a news release. “We see our affiliations as an opportunity for DU to innovate programming that makes an impact beyond Colorado, and that’s exactly what LLI has done. Now they’re ready to fly.”

Reyes said LLI provided him with a mixture of personal and professional gains. He was in Cohort 9, which took place in 2019-2020, so a portion of the session converted to a remote setting. In April 2020, Reyes’ father died. He mentioned that though losing his father was hard on him, two of his cohort mates, Adella Lopez and Antionette Garcia, helped him realize the value of completing LLI. Reyes added that LLI as a whole helped him feel part of a network and that he “wasn’t doing it alone.”

“It’s up to all of us to step up and make the world a better place,” Reyes said. “It is yet to be seen what can be accomplished when we’re all at the table, at the right time, with the right intentions, right message, right resources and right action plan.”

Latino Leadership Institute, Denver, Latino Cultural Arts Center of Colorado, Christy Steadman


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