By Alejandra Campoverdi
“Why aren’t you applying to Harvard?” It was a simple question but one that shook me a bit. I was 25 at the time and sitting with my GMAT instructor making a list of graduate schools that I was planning to apply to.
The days of deciding to go to college, wading through financial aid paperwork, and hustling to land an internship were gone. The nights of pep talking myself before job interviews, googling “masters degree,” and repeatedly taking GMAT prep in order to make up for anemic high school math classes, were past.
Yet here I was, with 10 years of knowing better behind me, and I was counting myself out. I didn’t have a good answer, other than to confirm the assumption that I didn’t belong there. So I added Harvard to my list. after all, what was one more application?
Years later, I recognize all of the near misses, lucky breaks and angels who came into my life at just the right moment, as I navigated the educational road alone for the most part.
My mother raised me on her own after immigrating from Mexico just a few years before I was born, and various programs along the way played a huge role in illuminating paths I didn’t know even existed. And as I’ve spoken to others in our community through the years, I see that their journeys have been similar to mine.
Recognizing how critical it is to share our lessons learned with one another, I recently founded the nonprofit organization A Fighting Chance Now (AFCN) to do my part in marking the trees.
The mission of AFCN is to empower Hispanic youth to reach their full potential by connecting them with the support, resources, and tools to take their future into their own hands.
To meet this need, AFCN currently offers three pillars of encouragement.
The first is quality word-of-mouth recommendations of “pipeline” programs and support systems that either myself, or someone I know, has participated in or can vouch for. We continuously aggregate these recommendations in one place based on whether students are currently in Junior High, High School, College or preparing for Graduate School/Professional Development.
A second is our personalized annual mentoring program, Mentors That Matter. Everyone knows how crucial good mentors can be, yet many in our community lack the family connections or social networks that lend themselves to organically finding mentors who can answer questions or even just provide support during pivotal decision-making. Recognizing that access to a network of accomplished industry and community leaders is limited in underserved communities, Mentors That Matter strives to close this gap.
Third, AFCN’s Campaign Coalition Fund is tackling the under-representation of Hispanics in political campaigns at every level, especially nationally. Many times, unpaid or low-paying positions are the only available entry points into campaigns. Without financial support from one’s family to offset costs, many Hispanic youth find themselves cut out of the equation because they are unable to take on the financial burden.
When I joined the Obama campaign in ’08, I had no choice but to live completely off my credit card and to rack up debt. The choice was worth it to me at the time, but it’s a risk that Hispanic youth should not be forced to take. It is also one that has long-term ramifications -our community’s under-representation in political campaigns and our share of the government workforce is directly correlated. Recognizing this domino effect, the Campaign Coalition Fund offers non-partisan scholarships for Hispanic youth to work in local, state or national political campaigns.
Nine months after making that initial list of schools, I walked into my first-year student orientation at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. I pocketed a paper napkin with the Harvard seal on it when no one was looking. And I noticed a new classmate of mine sitting alone at a table in the back. He told me that he didn’t feel like he belonged at Harvard because of where he came from, so I shared my story with him as well. You could tell he felt a little relieved, yet so did I.
Somehow the fact that there were, at least, two of us there that didn’t traditionally fit the Ivy League mold, made us both belong all the more. And that will become increasingly the case, as we work together to ensure that those who follow us will have A Fighting Chance Now.
For more information on AFCN and to make a contribution to the Campaign Coalition Fund, please visit www.afightingchancenow.org
Alejandra Campoverdi currently appears on DNA, an interactive television show that airs M-F 6pm ET on Fusion, ABC/Univision's joint cable network, and is a Senior Advisor for Univision Network News. Previously, she served as White House Deputy Director of Hispanic Media in the Obama Administration. @acampoverdi