In June, Education Pioneers was proud to host the annual Chicago Agents of Change Luncheon, where we honored 10 EP Alumni who work in Chicago education organizations on behalf of underserved students and demonstrate results toward achieving educational equity and opportunity in many ways, including innovation, entrepreneurship, and community advocacy and empowerment.
One of those Alumni, Adrian Segura, was named the EPic Chicago Alumni of the year for his work as an advocacy and government affairs professional who largely advocates on behalf of public school students. (The EPic Chicago Alumni Award is modeled after EP’s successful EPic Alumni Award. Read more about the 2016 EPic Alumni honored at our National Conference in San Francisco).
We sat down with Adrian about his experience as a child raised by migrant parents, and his evolution to become a dedicated leader who now serves Chicago, and the school he once attended.
EP: You were raised by migrant parents who arrived from Mexico in the 1970s. How did your upbringing influence your experience attending neighborhood public schools in Chicago?
AS: Neither of my parents ever finished elementary school. That wasn’t by choice. My mother was the eldest daughter, and was forced to stop going to school so that she could stay home and take care of her siblings. My father was a runaway teen, who fled the border city of Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua. My parents are genuinely good, humble, and modest people, however, neither had ever seen a high-quality education, and because of that, they couldn’t necessarily demand I receive one. That said, my parents reminded me regularly of their sacrifice so that my brothers and I could have access to a great education and opportunities they were denied.
EP: What is is like working as the Manager of Community Affairs for the Noble Network, overseeing the advocacy and organizing department? How do you view the school differently as a staff member than you did as a student?
AS: It’s been a labor of love for me to build out Noble’s Community Affairs program, and while we’ve made leaps and bounds this year, we’re only getting started, and I’m excited for what the future holds. I make it a habit to interact with our students regularly. This is two-fold, one to remind myself of the amazing things that are happening in all 17 of our high schools, and two, to show our students what’s possible with hard work, dedication, and perseverance. As a student, it was easy to get frustrated at the little things, and feel there was no end in sight, now in management, there’s still no end in sight, but the little things that once frustrated me now make sense.
EP: Your work includes training and leading parents to become their child’s biggest education advocates and champions for great schools. How do you go about empowering parents, and what lessons did you incorporate from your own upbringing?
AS: As Manager of Community Affairs at Noble, I am in charge of leading a dynamic team of community organizers to help our families infiltrate spaces and have their voices be heard. This year alone, we’ve had over 20 parents address the Chicago Public Schools Board of Education, we’ve trained over 200 parents on the principles of community organizing, and in the span of 10 months, my team has met with over 500 parents, 400 staff members, and 800 community leaders, totaling over 2,000 one-on-one meetings, all with the purpose of changing the narrative and giving the power back to our families and communities when it comes to their children’s education.
In everything I do, I incorporate lessons from my upbringing. There are many myths when people talk about parent engagement: it’s too hard, parent’s don’t want to be involved, we’re the educators, and the list goes on… The reality is this: Parents want one thing - regardless if they’re an ‘engaged’ parent, or one who, like my dad, had to work long hours to provide for their home - parents simply want what’s best for their children, and want to provide their kids with better opportunities than they were afforded. With my work, I am able to support our parents in not only working through local issues, but other major issues that affect their students, and all of Chicago’s students. It’s really rewarding work.
EP: You have mobilized thousands of parents to advocate for more school funding and schools the serve all students. How do you generate this type of enthusiasm among parents?
AS: When I did Organizing for Action, stemmed from President Obama’s Organizing for America, I was able to learn from some of the best organizers and leaders in America. There were so many lessons learned, but the two that I carry with me in everything I do are: 1) People don’t remember what you said, they remember how you made them feel, and 2) People don’t trust campaigns or slogans, they trust people. That said, I spend a bulk of my time building and fostering meaningful relationships with our families and trusted leaders. This makes mass mobilizations and events more personal and engaging, rather than a burden.
EP: In 2015, you co-founded Future Leaders of Chicago (floChicago), a leadership development program operating in partnership with the University of Chicago and the Chicago Community Trust. Each year, floChicago selects a diverse group high school leaders, and provides them with opportunities to meet with business, non-profit, and government leaders, engage with diverse student leaders from the Chicago area, and gain exposure to a wide variety of challenges and opportunities in Chicago. What inspired you to co-found this program?
AS: floChicago was one of those right place at the right time deals. I was looking to grow a new skillset in project management and operations, and had heard of a group of private and civic leaders looking to start up a leadership development program for high school youth. After meeting with the founder, Matt Brewer, I was sold. I asked to come onboard and spearhead floChicago’s operations, code of conduct, and parent engagement. It was really exciting to be a part of a startup culture, and to be surrounded by a group of diverse leaders who want to inspire Chicago youth to be our city’s next leaders.
EP: In 2016, you completed a Visiting Fellowship through EP, meaning you joined your local cohort of EP Fellows to participate in EP programming and develop a capstone project. How has the work you did on policy and advocacy issues regarding race and class as an EP Fellow influenced your work as a leader for social change and impact?
AS: The work I’ve done at Noble in the past year stemmed from my capstone project with Ed Pioneers. I was able to work alongside other leaders from my cohort, and took full advantage of all EP had to offer, including: strategic planning development, consultancy protocol, and many after hours drinks discussing my plan to innovate Noble’s community affairs program.