Siler City student chosen as a LatinxEd ‘20 Under 20’ youth leader

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A Chapel Hill education nonprofit organization, LatinxEd, has chosen Siler City’s Kevin Manzanarez as one of 20 Hispanic youth leaders statewide to form part of its fourth “20 Under 20” youth leadership cohort.

LatinxEd received 73 applications from Hispanic youth leaders across North Carolina, according to the organization’s announcement last Thursday. Just 20, including Manzanarez, made the final cut. He’s the only youth leader from Chatham County in the entire cohort.

“Being chosen as Latinx 20 under 20 leader means absolutely the world to me, and now the rest of the world will be able to see what I have to offer for our community,” Manzanarez, 18, told the News + Record. “Hearing the news was exciting, not only because of recognition, but as well as having the opportunity to work with other students who have similar goals and visions as I do to create change in our communities.”

First launched in 2018, “20 under 20” is a yearly initiative that identifies and works to cultivate 20 young Hispanic leaders and advocates across the state.

Managed by LatinxEd, it’s the only competition in North Carolina designed to elevate Latinx youth leaders. LatinxEd provides multi-year educational support to and seeks to expand educational opportunities for North Carolina’s Hispanic students and immigrant families.

“A lack of representation of Latinx youth leadership has prevented strategic planning processes from being truly representative of the changing face of this state, especially when planning local and state investments and policy-making,” the nonprofit wrote about the initiative on its website. “To remedy this, we seek to build a trusted network of Latinx youth leaders who are ready to take the next step in their leadership journey and join LatinxEd in advocating on behalf of the Latinx community.”

The 2021 cohort selection committee sought Hispanic students and graduates who understood the barriers Hispanic immigrant families face within North Carolina’s education system. Judged on valor, vision and voice, successful applicants both navigated these barriers and actively worked to expand opportunity for the state’s Hispanic community through education.

“At LatinxEd, we believe that our youth are essential voices to creating positive change in our education system,” LatinxEd co-founder and executive director Elaine Utin said in the organization’s Thursday announcement. “The 2021 cohort represents incredible Latinx youth leadership in North Carolina, and they will be joining a powerful network of leaders eager to transform Latinx education.”

A four-year veteran of the Hispanic Liaison’s youth group, Orgullo Latinx Pride, Manzanarez graduated from Jordan-Matthews High School last year and now attends N.C. State, where he’s majoring in agricultural education. The second oldest of seven children, he’s a first-generation college student and the son of Mexican immigrants.

His experiences in high school, he said, ultimately inspired him to apply for the leadership initiative.

“I noticed that our voices wouldn’t be acknowledged by our school staff and faculty, and even if they would acknowledge us, nothing much was done to fix the problem or issue,” Manzanarez said. “They would play things off as unimportant. I, for one, was tired of waiting for change that probably wasn’t going to happen in our school systems, so I decided to pursue a career in education and hopefully come back to my community to advocate for these students.”

His goal, he added, is to pursue a master’s degree in school administration and return to Chatham County “to become one of the first Latinx principals” in the school district.

Manzanarez joins only two other Chatham County students who were chosen as 20 Under 20 leaders throughout the initiative’s four-year history: Jordan-Matthews High School graduates David Gonzalez Hernandez, who now attends UNC-Greensboro, and Jacquelinne Marroquin Tobar, a first year at Wake Forest University.

Both Siler City residents formed part of the 2020 cohort.

The son of immigrants from Guatemala and El Salvador, Gonzalez Hernandez formed part of the Hispanic Liaison’s youth group, Orgullo Latinx Pride, with which he volunteered at various community events and initiatives.

Marroquin Tobar immigrated to Siler City from Guatemala with her family when she was 14. Thereafter, she entered J-M, enrolled in ESL classes to learn English and created the school’s first Water Bottle Recycling Project, a campaign intended to teach students about the importance of recycling and change their habits.

“It’s such an honor,” Marroquin Tobar told the News + Record in 2020. “ … The LatinxEd ‘20 Under 20’ is just trying to show the world what the Latinx students are doing in North Carolina ... that we are trying to give back. It’s a great way to show the world, to show North Carolina, that we are doing something.’”

In just a few weeks, Manzanarez and his fellow leaders will begin receiving regular mentorship and attending virtual monthly workshops to develop their storytelling and leadership abilities. By the end of the spring semester, they’ll have co-created a 2- to 3-minute video about their visions for promoting Hispanic student success in North Carolina.

“With the help of LatinxEd, I will be able to share my story by storytelling in hopes of advocating for my fellow peers to get the change we so wanted to see, and to make it clear that as a students of color, we shouldn’t be afraid of the ‘impossible,’” Manzanarez said, “because with the help and unity with others, we can very much make it possible.”

Reporter Victoria Johnson can be reached at victoria@chathamnr.com.

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