Celebrating Latinx Heritage Month: Our Stories Part One

As Latinx Heritage Month comes to a close, we’d like to share some reflections from Nellie Mae staff and board members on what their heritage means to them. Read these personal and important stories below.

Delia Arellano-Weddleton, Director of Engagement and Partnerships: Mi Historia

I identify as Mejicana, Chicana and Latina and I often deal with the tension that comes from being a first-generation American. There is an expression — ‘Ni de aqui, ni de alla’ which describes how I often feel. I don’t always feel that I belong in this country, but I know that I don’t belong in Mexico either.

My family comes from Guanjuato Mexico and belongs to the Guamare Indigenous community. That history gives me great pride and strength. I come from a line of warriors that have had to overcome many challenges.

I value showing up as who I am 100%, be it my accent, my brown skin or the straight hair that connects me to my indigenous roots.

I find pride in the stories that have been passed down to me, whether it is about curranderas or stories that show the strength of my people. These stories give me strength.

I find great joy, knowing that I’ve fulfilled my parents’ American dream and that they can look down and say’ ‘mija you have done us well’. I find joy in passing the torch to my children, nieces, and nephews so that we don’t lose our stories.

The youth give me eseperanza. Historically, social movements have been led by youth and there are many great examples of how Chicanos, Latinos have been leading change. For example, the 1968 high school walk outs in LA, the Young Lords, and the farm worker huelgas.

Youth are having the difficult conversations that other generations haven’t had, whether it is about LGBTQ rights, anti-Blackness in the Latinx community or climate change. They are our hope and I’ll always support them.

Marcos Lucio Popovich, Program Director of Grantmaking: My Reflections

My family comes from San Luis Potosi and Jalisco, Mexico. For several generations (probably beginning in the late 1800s), my family began traveling from Mexico to harvest crops throughout the United States. They were migrant farmworkers working in Texas, Ohio, Oregon and everywhere in between, picking cotton, tomatoes, plums. My grandmother would say that they were not rich in material things, but that they were rich in faith, rich in family, and rich in culture. She taught me to be proud of being Mexican, of being Mexicano, even when the world told us otherwise. She taught me to be proud of our culture, language, and history, and to be proud of the many contributions we’ve made to the U.S. even though it is not written in our history books.

I’m proud of our resilience and work ethic, our courage to risk it all to create a better life for our families. I pray that when the history is written about our current times that we don’t forget to recognize the contributions of migrant farmworkers during this pandemic. They fed our country while working under dangerous conditions.

When I went to college, I met other Latinos that shared similar experiences: Puerto Ricans, Peruvians, Dominicans, Salvadorans. While we each had our own unique histories and cultures, we realized that we faced similar challenges, had similar interests, and that by creating a bond across our various cultures, we could create power, political power, power that can effectuate change. “In unity, there is strength” was our motto. “In unity, there is strength.”

I carry that with me today. No matter what we call ourselves, Hispano, Latino, Latinx, Chicano, Borinquen, we are stronger when we are united. And, we need to continue to find ways to bridge divides, build community, be inclusive and grow the movement for our collective liberation.

Latinos will soon make up 30% (2050) of the U.S. population. My hope is that we foster a people that knows and remembers its history, maintains its pride in its culture and language, rejects assimilation and welcomes acculturation, has opportunities to thrive and succeed, and charts a new and better path forward. The next generation of activists brings me hope that this is possible. “Si, se puede.” Yes we can!

While Latinx heritage month ends after today,

we think it’s important to celebrate Latinx heritage year round. Therefore, look out for the next part in our series coming soon.

Additionally, we understand that language is ever-evolving — and how individuals with Latinx heritage describe themselves varies. We understand this complexity and invite you to learn more here.

Intersectionality in Action: A Conversation with Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw



Known for her foundational work around critical race theory and intersectionality, Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw will join us to discuss her work and how she is advancing conversations about intersectionality in our communities and nation. In an intimate conversation hosted by Incoming Interim Nellie Mae President & CEO Dr. Gislaine Ngounou, we’ll hear about the work. Professor Crenshaw is leading through The African American Policy Forum, and through efforts like the #SayHerName campaign and Black Girls Matter initiative that center the experiences of Black women and girls.

What does critical race theory and intersectionality in action look like in public education? What can funders glean from these concepts to inform their practices?

The Nellie Mae Education Foundation champions efforts that challenge racial inequities and advance excellent, student-centered public education for all New England youth. 



Dr. Gislaine Ngounou
Incoming Interim President & CEO

Gislaine joined the Nellie Mae Education Foundation in 2019.

With more than fifteen years of experience working across the education sector, Gislaine brings to the Foundation a breadth of experience that includes work with nonprofits, individual schools, and school districts. Most recently, she served as the Chief Program Officer for Arlington, Virginia-based Phi Delta Kappa International, a professional organization for educators.

In this role, she designed and led programs that supported school district leaders, provided leadership coaching surrounding issues of equity and social justice, and created and facilitated an ongoing community that allowed system-level leaders in districts from across the country to learn from one another.

Prior to her work at Phi Delta Kappa, Gislaine worked for school districts including Hartford Public Schools, Montgomery County Public Schools, and Kansas City Missouri School District. She is passionate about social justice, racial equity, adult learning, youth and community empowerment, system change, and increasing educational opportunities for all students.

Kimberlé Crenshaw
Co-Founder & Executive Director

Kimberlé Crenshaw is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of the African American Policy Forum, and the founder and Executive Director of the Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies at Columbia Law School. She is the Promise Institute Professor at UCLA Law School and the Isidor and Seville Sulzbacher Professor at Columbia Law School.

She is popularly known for her development of “intersectionality,” “Critical Race Theory,” and the #SayHerName Campaign, and is the host of the podcast Intersectionality Matters!. She also is a columnist for The New Republic, and the moderator of the widely impactful webinar series Under The Blacklight: The Intersectional Vulnerabilities that the Twin Pandemics Lay Bare.  She is one of the most cited scholars in legal history and has been recognized as Ms. magazine’s “No. 1 Most Inspiring Feminist;” one of Prospect Magazine’s ten most important thinkers in the world; and even listed in Ebony’s “Power 100″ issue.

Hope for a Brighter Future

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

This new year has caused me to pause and reflect over the past 12 months. The events of the past year have made me even more aware of hope that I have for a brighter future for me, my family, and the youth that I have the honor of working with at Elevated Thought, an art and social justice organization based in Lawrence, MA.

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

This past year has been shaped by a global health crisis, the prevalence of anti-Black racism, and an election plagued by misinformation and white supremacy. It has also emphasized that this world is fragile and its inhabitants are finite beings that often dance with the opportunity of embracing truth, yet ignore the love, justice, and morality that truth produces.

I know and believe at my very core, that my own child and every child, everywhere should have this opportunity; to love, to ask questions, to believe and disbelieve, to dream and experience those dreams coming true through each brushstroke.

I believe that every child should have an education where they can dream in the classroom, hug trees while walking in the woods, and be handed the world as an empty canvas to paint, all while being given the simple instructions of “just try your best”. I know and believe at my very core, that my own child and every child, everywhere should have this opportunity; to love, to ask questions, to believe and disbelieve, to dream and experience those dreams coming true through each brushstroke.

Yet the past four years have reminded me that not everyone wants this dream to come true. I’ve seen public funds re-directed to benefit the dominant caste in society; stretching the already gaping abyss of education inequality in this country. The presidential election in 2016 caused many to be taken aback by the direction our country chose to blatantly move towards. During this moment in time, The Nellie Mae Education Foundation (NMEF) was working with youth and parent organizers, led mostly by people of color, supporting people of color. To say that these community members were nervous about what the election meant for them and others who historically have been marginalized is an understatement.

Fortunately, NMEF chose to step into the urgency of the moment and provide rapid response grants to eleven grantee partners. Based on conversations with grantees, this blog post was written to challenge the philanthropic sector to decide whether to be spectators or participants in the work at hand. As NMEF’s work with grantee partners evolved so did the understanding of the importance of centering community voice in the work.

In early 2019, NMEF extended their table by creating a Community Advisory Group, of which I am a member largely composed of leaders of color closely connected to the communities the Foundation supports. And in January 2020 a new strategy was launched that brought to life a recently adopted racial equity lens, even as we were unaware of what was in store in the months ahead. Due to this new way of working, NMEF made significant changes in how it approached supporting racial equity in education.

There was intentionality about centering youth and leaning on community-based organizations closely connected to young people and their families. Supporting the work of these organizations has allowed for entering into conversations from the perspective of those most closely impacted by the historical inequities that youth of color have been subjected to in the current education system. The Foundation has been able to support organizations working on school discipline policies that over criminalize youth of color, increasing the number of teachers of color, and implementing culturally relevant curricula, to name just a few.

When will this country understand that a larger collective reckoning is in order?

Yet alongside this great work, history continues to repeat itself. When will this country understand that a larger collective reckoning is in order? The next big revolution needs to plant its feet and pivot from this consuming sphere and turn to an evolution of consciousness, action, and care for each other. Though we are an incredibly adaptive species, we continuously fail to aggressively confront our innate desire for power and accumulation and our gnawing existential fear conjured by our capacity for perception and creation. This has led to long-held systems of purposeful oppression, subjugation, and manipulation of those few elements of existence we may be able to grasp as objective truths. Regardless of what we were doing before, we are faced with a now that is pressing on so many levels.

Young people have been especially equipped and adept at turning hope, love, and justice into definitive change and possibility.

For many of NMEF’s grantees, the growing support of the Foundation is tangible hope. Hope that has sprung alive informing the work our young people have done and continue to do. It is an example of philanthropy seeing where they operate and stepping down to serve in unison with brothers and sisters fighting for those few precious, abstract truths that can help lift humans from the chaos, find footing, look around and see the many possibilities of life, and develop ways others can experience that who might otherwise not. Young people have been especially equipped and adept at turning hope, love, and justice into definitive change and possibility.

As we are in the midst of a new year, I challenge the Foundation to continue doing their own internal equity work, all while externally not losing the focus, drive, or determination in centering youth and community-based organizations that are closely connected with youth and families. It is my desire for other philanthropies to take this moment to join NMEF in walking alongside their grantees in the fight for racial equity, as it will take collective action for change to take place in this country. And may we look back in 2025 and be able to see the hope that drove us to making our public education system a place where every child not just hopes, but dreams — and sees those dreams come true.

By Marquis Victor, Founding Executive Director, Elevated Thought and Community Advisor at the Nellie Mae Education Foundation

Hope for a Brighter Future was originally published in Nellie Mae Education Foundation on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.