With a new leader taking the helm of the National Council of La Raza for the first time in three decades, the nation's largest Hispanic civil rights nonprofit organization is poised for significant change at a pivotal time in history.
Hailed as groundbreaking by community leaders in the nation's capital, the selection earlier this year of Washington veteran Janet Murguia, 43, as executive director and chief operating officer to replace Raul Yzaguirre, 64, who is stepping down, is widely expected to reinvigorate the group's appeal to the next generation and rejuvenate its advocacy efforts in Washington.
"This is a good decision and sends a message that Latinas and young people are also leaders in the community," says Marisa Demeo, former Washington director of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) and currently a lawyer with the U.S. Attorney's Office. "[Ms. Murguia will] be a trailblazer and she'll be able to engage the next generation in the work that NCLR does."
Executive director, COO |
Joined NCLR: 2004
Education: Bachelor's in journalism, University of Kansas; Bachelor's in Spanish, University of Kansas; law degree, University of Kansas Board seats include: Independent Sector, YouthFriends
Adds Larry Gonzalez, of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO), "She represents the next generation and the new wave of Latino leaders. Oftentimes young people look at Hispanic leaders and say they don't feel a connection to them. That will change with Janet. She brings a certain sophistication and the experience of working within the system. She is well regarded for working well with both sides of the political aisle. It's a different kind of political activism."
The appointment of Ms. Murguia comes at a key time for NCLR as the outcome of this year's political races hold the potential to reshape wide-ranging policies amid growing national attention to issues facing the nation's 39.9 million Hispanics.
In its advocacy role, NCLR has developed a strategic policy agenda with priorities in several key areas, including increasing access to health care, improving educational attainment and employment opportunities, boosting homeownership, improving economic and financial mobility, and continuing to advocate equitable civil rights. Amid a rapidly growing second- and third-generation Hispanic demographic, public policy focus on such financial and economic empowerment issues is expected to increase.
Change in leadership also comes as the organization faces new challenges reaching out to Hispanic communities emerging and growing in new areas of the country. Last year, NCLR added 26 new affiliates – four of them in states not previously represented by its network: Alabama, Alaska, Maine, and Tennessee.
"One of my top priorities is to work closely with our affiliates, to create a new covenant with our affliliates, of reinforcing their role and the work they do," says Ms. Murguia, who has undertaken a "listening tour" to meet with affiliate members across the country. "We have grown fairly quickly in a relatively short time, with 300 affiliates in six different regions of the country, which reflects the growing demands and interests of the Hispanic community."
The current step forward in growth is the latest for the group transformed over the years by Mr. Yzaguirre from its regional roots into a leading national organization. From its founding in 1968, NCLR has increased to include offices in Chicago, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Sacramento, San Antonio, and San Juan, Puerto Rico. Its affiliate network includes more than 300 Hispanic community-based organizations that serve 41 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia and are involved in services from education and job readiness to homeownership and health. Last year, NCLR reported 35,000 members and revenues exceeding $42 million.
"When I took over in 1974, we had 17 affiliates, five employees and one funding source," says Mr. Yzaguirre. "Now there are various funding sources, 140 employees, and we have an institution that is the largest Hispanic service provider in the nation, and we pioneered public policy in the Latino community that was empirically fact-driven."