Community Profiles: Redefining Leadership for Stronger Communities
During the COVID-19 pandemic, UnidosUS has compiled Affiliate stories that uplift our community’s resiliency and power that bring the Latino community forward. With the help of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, UnidosUS is launching the series “Community Profiles: Redefining Leadership for Stronger Communities,” as a commitment to highlight leaders’ support systems, their collective strengths, and collaborative efforts that shape a more accurate narrative of Latinos as positive contributors to the United States and vital to the nation’s health and well-being.
Leaders come in many shapes and forms, and new definitions of leadership are being developed and implemented to redefine what we traditionally identify as leaders. These new definitions steer away from the “heroic,” “individual” leader towards a “post-heroic leadership” that looks at the potential power of everyone. As noted by McGonagill and Reinelt in their paper, “Leadership Development in the Social Sector,” a “community full of leaders enable more shared leadership.”
Drawing from their own experiences, Promotora de salud Cecilia Cota and Income Support Navigator Mayra Hernandez speak about their roles as community leaders and their shared leadership within the network they belong to. Cecilia, from UnidosUS Affiliate Clínicas de Salud del Pueblo, in Calexico, California, shows characteristics of spiritual leadership, which she uses to motivate others through her values, attitudes, and behaviors.
On the other hand, Mayra, from UnidosUS Affiliate Hispanic Unity of Florida, in Broward County, Florida, embodies the character traits, skills, and emotional intelligence of service leadership, bringing and practicing empathy, compassion, and passion to serve others.
By Beatriz Paniego-Béjar, Content Specialist, UnidosUS
Cecilia Cota and Mayra Hernandez are dedicated to this work: Cecilia has been doing it for 42 years, 22 of those as a volunteer, and now getting paid for it; Mayra for 17, first as a case manager, and now as a promotora. Cecilia shares: “My kids keep asking me when I plan to retire. But why should I retire? I love doing this work, helping people. I still have plenty of energy and passion.” Mayra shows the same excitement, saying about the community she supports: “They are motivated to learn, succeed, and thrive. I’ve seen so many stories of success.”
VALUES THAT GET PASSED ON
Cecilia not only has plenty of energy and devotion; she also has plenty of knowledge to share. She recognizes the value of learning from other promotoras and the work they do in their communities: “You learn a lot from other people who share the same passion and values for this kind of work,” Cecilia shares. For her, those fundamental values promotores/-as must have are respect for everyone, honesty with compassion, reliability, passion for her work, and being of service with the goal of having an impact on people and their lives.
“When I first came to ‘the valley,’” Cecilia recalls, “I had many similar needs and people helped me. I benefitted from social services and others who had it in their heart to serve the community. I began working through churches, not just my own. Soon after that I began working with trusted community leaders. That’s a big reason why I just continued doing this work. I’ve worked hard at building trust within the community.”
Her mom took care of their neighbors and community too, which has been an inspiration for the work Cecilia does: “I learned from her about how important and needed it was to serve and help others in more need in the community.” In a rather soft spoken and gentle tone, she talked about what she tries to offer when helping people deal with—and process—the pandemic’s toll and impact.
After 42 years of doing this work, her experience has deeply shaped her vision and informed the legacy she hopes to leave for the next generation of promotoras. She is proud of having been able to share her passion for her role as a promotora de salud at career fairs and panels in the local high schools of the valley, continuing to pass on the care for her community and her work.
“I’ve been on career day panels with doctors, specialists, firemen, local politicians, business people, and so many other important community leaders and I feel very proud that I’m included,” she explains. “Many of the kids have lots of questions for me. I like seeing that the community sees the importance of the work promotoras do. I think they ask me often because I’ve been doing this so long and many people know firsthand the work that I do, and because I’ve worked hard to maintain the community’s trust.”
WHATEVER IT TAKES
For Mayra Hernandez, her proudest moments are every time a client succeeds. “Those that come this country come not only to work hard and have a better life. They also come with big dreams like owning their own businesses,” she explains.
Just as Cecilia, Mayra also understands their clients’ challenges because she’s also lived them: “The work is often very difficult and heavy because we can relate to our clients’ needs and have experienced their pains,” she says. But, on the other hand, she sees the bright side of it: “The work is also very catchy. It’s almost infectious because you know and understand what people are going through,” she shares.
Promotores need to be aware that their clients look at them as people who they need, as those who are there to help them, Mayra explains. “The best way to address client needs and challenges is to simply do the work that is required. It’s continuously educating myself about available community resources, what the community needs,” she continues. “Sometimes it just requires doing whatever it takes.”
At Hispanic Unity of Florida, they have a strong team of promotores, and they face challenges together: “Unity creates the necessary space that is needed to exchange ideas and share and discuss experiences with one another,” Mayra explains of her team. They take that experience beyond their own organization and look for support from other community organizations and their resources, with whom they have strong working relationships.
What Mayra describes can be labelled as the new emerging leadership paradigm of collective leadership, which recognizes that wisdom can reside within a group. There are a few definitions of this concept, and systems scientist and psychologist Petra Kuenkel describes it as: “The capacity of a group of leaders to deliver a contribution in service of the common good through assuming joint and flexible leadership according to what is perceived and required.”
Also Cecilia refers to this type of leadership when she talks about a “colectiva,” a group of skilled promotores/-as leading and doing this work for years: “There are many passionate, qualified, and hardworking people who want to serve their community and can do this work […]. I think a colectiva would establish a good legacy for newer and younger promotoras.”
Both these leaders embody Latino leadership at many different levels, and UnidosUS is proud to have them in our ranks through our hardworking network of Affiliates, where our promotores/-as have shown not only their commitment to this work, but their willingness to continue growing in this role, learning from each other, and creating collective leadership.