Episode 61: Miguel Solis and Latino Leadership

Miguel Solis, DISD Trustee and president of the Latino Center for Leadership Development - LCLD, discusses the challenges of education, immigration and leadership facing Latinos as they become the majority of the U.S. population in coming years, with Dr. George Mason on Good God.

Listen to the podcast and read the transcript below, or click here for the full video.

George Mason: 00:00 Latinos are becoming the majority in our cities state and all through the country in the years ahead. And are we ready for the challenges of education and immigration and leadership that are going to transform our country? Miguel Solis is going to talk about that with us today on Good God. Stay tuned.

George Mason: 00:26 Hello, I'm George Mason, host of Good God, conversations that matter about faith and public life. I'm pleased to welcome Miguel Solis as our guest. Miguel, it's wonderful to have you back.

Miguel Solis: 00:39 Thank you for having me.

George Mason: 00:39 Enjoyed our first conversation. During that time, we talked about your experiences with your precious daughter, Olivia, and we're delighted that she's growing and recovering and healthy now after she went through such a traumatic experience with the heart transplant after birth. And then we talked some about your role as a trustee with DISD and education and what's happening in Dallas. But today I'd like to pursue some of your other activity. And your main job is that you are the president of the Latino Center for Leadership Development right here in Dallas. And important role that you are passionate about, not only because you are Latino, but because of your sense of the importance of helping to grow Latino involvement and engagement and leadership in our community and achievement and all of that.

George Mason: 01:37 So tell us about this organization. How did they get started? How did you get involved in it and what does it do? That sort of thing.

Miguel Solis: 01:43 Really the, the organization was born from a few experiences that I had, but also experiences that the founder of our organization, Jorge Baldor, who is a local businessman, an SMU grad, and actually a Cuban immigrant, experienced. So the idea began to emerge really at the time that I had just been elected to the Dallas school board. I'd had a conversation with George about the fact that I was running for a position, one of nine that would govern a district that basically out of 160,000 students, was made up of that, 72% Latino student population. And yet, once I was elected, I was the only Latino on a board of nine. That was shocking. To me. And then as I started to do the research and looked around other municipal institutions, governing institutions, that was the same case, not just here in Dallas, uh, but in Fort Worth and in other areas in Texas, and quite honestly across the nation. Latinos are just not in positions of decision making, particularly in the public policy realm. And that was shocking to me, but it was also sort of a challenge to want to do something about it. The other thing was I was a millennial, and I was 27 years old and was elected and now in this position of extreme responsibility for the future of our city.

George Mason: 03:21 You had to grow up fast.

Miguel Solis: 03:23 Very much so. But I also recognize that, you know, there were other millennials out there that I knew that absolutely had the ability to be able to do what I was doing. And if not, they were probably more prepared than I was to be able to do this, but they weren't choosing public life. They'd been maybe turned off from it or just didn't see the value in it. And so I said, look, if our nation's going to continue to become more and more Latino, yes.

Miguel Solis: 03:50 And in some ways, the destiny of our nation is tied to the experience of Latinos, then we better make sure that the people that are in positions of decision making in the policy realm at the local, the state and the national level at the very least can empathize with the Latino experience. Yes. Can identify the opportunities and challenges and then put solutions in place. And that could be a Latino or someone who's not Latino but wants to know more. And so we created from that the Latino Center for Leadership Development. And very briefly, we do three things. We have a year long leadership academy where we're training people from the ages of 25 to 40 who want to pursue public office on the value of doing that. And then how to do that. And then how to succeed once you are in office. We have a policy institute where we're creating new ideas to try to solve some of the issues Latinos face in the public policy area. And then special projects that try to highlight and address current challenges that Latinos face.

George Mason: 04:51 You made a really interesting point about if America is going to continue to grow in it's Latino influence and the statistics tell us that it's demographically moving in that direction. This also is speaking as a white male. I would say what we're experiencing in our country right now is the growing realization among white Americans that their day of dominance, our day of dominance in public life and in industry and all of that is coming to an end. And, so I think what we're seeing is we're seeing some people wanting to double down on that role of dominance and saying, we need to draw lines. We need to protect the fact that we've been responsible for the flourishing of this country up until this time. And yet there is another way, the other way is for us to grow in our understanding of the Latino experience and realize this vision of how we can actually be enriched by our relationships. If we will open ourselves up and learn to walk hand in hand and be neighbors with one another.

Miguel Solis: 06:07 I mean, you captured it perfectly, George. I mean this, this is the story of America The good and the bad. America has always been a nation. And it was a nation founded on welcoming others, welcoming the outcast, welcoming the exile, welcoming those seeking opportunity, and then building a foundation around that for a country, yes. That would ultimately become the, you know, the shining city on a hill, right. The example to the world about what could happen when you embrace diversity. But at the same time, wave after wave of new people coming to America, there was always a power structure that pushed back against that new way.

George Mason: 06:52 Oh, and even in a, you know, we seem to talk about nowadays how we thrived because of European immigration and that that was sort of an ideal time, but I'm from the northeast and I know that there was a time when Italian Americans were not as welcomed, when the Irish were considered to be a people that we had to be careful of and all that sort of thing. So there it's not entirely just about European immigration being good and Latino immigration being bad, but we are seeing that being more focused now, aren't we?

Miguel Solis: 07:33 Certainly. So, I think we live, we obviously live in very different times. We live in a time where hate and fear can be stoked in a very quick way through social media, different mediums of technology. The ability for us to be able to cast stones and not have to worry about the consequences. Those are things that are new and unique to this time. And it's important that we recognize both that phenomena, but also that we instill in those who have the ability to make an impact in shifting the dialogue to the courage and the boldness to be able to do, then we think that's critical too. Especially public servants, right? Those who get to shape the national discourse, those who get to shape the decisions that will ultimately impact future generations.

Miguel Solis: 08:26 And so look, I mean, you can either embrace the new demographic change or not. If you don't, you're going to be left behind. And if you see things through the lens, purely of power, right, that because this new change is happening, my power is being depleted. Right? You're going to be left behind, but the facts are this, you know, we are more and more a Latino nation. Just in the city of Dallas alone, it's 44% Latino and we're going to be a majority Latino community in the next 10 years. And really it's a positive thing because in the general scheme of things, Latinos are younger. And while our European and our Asian counterparts are aging out of their systems, Latinos are bringing the median age of Americans down. Allowing us to thrive in the global economy. If we ensure that those Latinos have economic opportunity, that they've got education, that they've got the healthcare that they need, that they're rising out of poverty. And all of those things which are critical to the future of our country, require policies that will embrace this diversity and help grow the opportunities for Latinos, which will ultimately help rise the tide for all of us.

George Mason: 09:45 The rising tide lifts all boats is, is one of the classic statements of economic opportunity, that instead of viewing it as a zero sum game where there is only so much to go around and we're going to have to divide it up. The idea of expanding in economy and expanding people's participation in it is a beautiful way to think about that future. But you know, you and I were talking earlier off camera about how, you know, if we don't realize this opportunity for growing leadership in the Latino community, then what we're going to get instead are only activists who are pushing back against the limited opportunity and the tension will rise instead of fall. And the truth is activists have an important role to play on the vanguard of any movement, but they don't always translate into effective leaders when they're in positions of power. And it seems to me that, so the, the part that, you know, traditionally Anglo Americans can play in this is actually to support efforts like yours where you're building into the youth and the future confidence and competence in leadership.

Miguel Solis: 11:12 Absolutely. I mean, the historical narrative of our country is rooted in the evolution of activism to governance, right? I mean, we became a country because we had activists. Who decided to say, we will no longer accept the status quo. And we seek to forge a new way. But there's a reason why we remember Paul Revere and Samuel Adams one way and we remember Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson, George Washington a different way. They are both essential to our nation and getting us to where we are today, but they played two very different roles. And so, you know, we think at the LCLD that there's no reason to be ashamed of where the Latino community has come through activism in that you have to, you have to sort of fan the flames. You have to bring issues to light and you have to raise your voice to make sure that those issues are taken seriously.

Miguel Solis: 12:08 But we also recognize at some point it requires solutions. And in many ways you can scream as loud as you want, but if those solutions don't manifest themselves at some point you're going to get hoarse. And so you need to ensure that, you know, where the levers of power are and how to take hold of those levers of power in their particular ways to be able to do that. And that doesn't mean you need to, as you have to make some Faustian bargain and sell your soul to certain powers in order to be able to be at that decision making table. You can still hold true to your values and your principles and your desire to want to change the status quo, but there are particular ways that you can do it. And that's something that I've even experienced and had to learn while serving on the school board.

George Mason: 12:52 I remember when I was first here in Dallas, we had the decisive vote. Goodness, it's probably 27 years ago now. Something like that, to move to single member districts and the city council. And there was a tremendous debate especially in the Anglo community, over the fact that we would, they wanted a 10-4-1 plan where there would be four more at large districts. And we ended up with the 14-1 plan and there was fear that we'd end up with balkanization and, you know, district politics that people wouldn't be able to cooperate. But gladly, I think what we saw is we saw some leaders speak up. I remember Roger Staubach, for instance, speaking up in favor of 14-1, because unless there is an empowerment of people in their neighborhoods and district, where they feel a sense of that if someone isn't just looking after them, but they are looking after themselves and looking after each other and then they can look after the common good. Unless that happens, we'll always be in a kind of a patronage society. And patronage is always going to have a sense of some people being up and some people down.

Miguel Solis: 14:22 Absolutely. You know, one of the best books that I've read about the history of Dallas, and it is a, it's a very honest history is The Accommodation. By the Dallas Observer columnist, Jim Shoots. You know, and that history of accommodation and patronage, I think in some ways while it led to the tamping down of racial tensions, a one time and revolution...

George Mason: 14:52 it was a compromise. It was an accommodation that we then paid a penalty for.

Miguel Solis: 14:58 And that's sort of, so that's the second piece, right? I would say that 14-1 was probably the most, the biggest sweeping civil rights accomplishment in Dallas. And that it truly gave a voice to the disenfranchised. But I would also argue that we are still sort of in this evolutionary process of ensuring that 14-1 is living up to its truest ideals. I mean I do still feel like they're in some ways are elements of this ward politics mentality. We need to ensure that the only way to break that is to ensure that we are truly empowering our constituents to be able to see right from wrong. To be able to understand who is doing the job for them and who is not. And I think you know that that comes with education, but it also rests to some degree with those who are being elected to positions of power. What are we doing to grow our community and empower them to truly shape the destiny of their communities?

George Mason: 16:05 There's so much more to pursue here. Let's take a brief break and promote a nonprofit in our community and we'll be right back.

Jim White: 16:13 Children's Medical Center's mission is to make life better for children. Here are some of their heroes. They had their lives saved by children's and then help others by giving back. There are so many more and you can help them by supporting the fundraising efforts of children's Medical Center Foundation. Just go to childrens.com and click on I Choose Children's. Be a hero yourself.

George Mason: 16:42 We're back with Miguel Solis. Miguel, we were talking about the growing Latino influence and the opportunity for leadership in our community and our state and in our country. We have some tremendous pressures happening politically right now at the border. And we're hoping some of those are being mitigated as families are being reunited. But it was a painful experience for Latinos in particular. How can you give voice to what you felt in the Latino community during this period of time, as people were coming across the border and families and children being separated and all of this taking place? It must've been a painful thing.

Miguel Solis: 17:26 Certainly. So, I mean, I think it's first important to state the obvious. And that is that the Latino community is a strong community. And one that shares similar experiences. You can't paint the Latino community with a broad brushstroke. Right? I mean, there are Latinos that are new to this country. There are Latinos that have been here for literally generations. And so I would hate to speak on behalf of all Latinos, but I can tell you that those that I have spoken to as we've experienced, not just this wave of the migrant crisis, particularly the youth migrant crisis from Central America, but the previous one back in 2014 is a general feeling of "I'm not feeling like you are included in the American process." Not feeling like this country welcomes you. You know, and there's a quote. That I consistently reflect on when we're talking about immigration. It's a quote that Bobby Kennedy once delivered and he said, you know, "You and I are Americans. It's not really easy to know what that means, but in some part, to be an American means to have been an outcast, an exile, a stranger. And to know that he or she amongst us who denies the outcast, the exile and the stranger, they deny America." And there are far too many people today that feel empowered and emboldened to deny the very things that made America great to begin with. And again, we know I've talked about this historical perspective of this is sort of a dialectical process. It's not the first time that we have seen this manifest itself, this nationalism, this desire, to put everything into a Manichaean box of you know, us versus them. But each time that it rears its ugly head, it requires those people who are willing to do it, to call it out. And to remind us of what made our country great to begin with.

George Mason: 19:40 It seems to be interesting to me and tragic that many people who are committed to the idea that America was founded on biblical principles, on the values of the Judeo Christian tradition and who actually borrow language about America being a city on a hill, things like this. And in many of these folks who want very much for the values of that tradition to be encoded in American life, seemed to make an exception when it comes to this very specific language about welcoming the stranger, about the duty to remember that you yourself were once strangers and foreigners. You were aliens in a place. And so the whole identity of the people of God in a biblical religion is, is formed around this. And if we really can't have it both ways, we're either going to say that we're going to be a nation like everyone else with cultural limits and borders, or we're going to let the biblical wisdom infuse our understanding of who we are. And if you do that, you have to have an openness to the stranger and the foreigner to the oppressed, to those who are coming. And you know, drawing lines against some when you were once that, is really not a biblical witness.

Miguel Solis: 21:13 So there's really not much more that I can add to what you just said. I mean, I think you captured that beautifully. I mean, we have to call out what this is. And in many ways it's hypocrisy. You cannot choose texts from the Bible to both the new and the Old Testament to support your arguments and then ignore others. Ignore others. Right? I mean, some of the most famous migrants in human history are rooted in the Bible. Right? Adam and Eve were migrants. They left the garden and they were, they were undocumented too because they came with no clothes and no papers or anything, right? So they're migrants. Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Mary and Joseph were migrants.

George Mason: 21:51 Left Bethlehem and couldn't go back to Nazareth and went to Egypt for safety and, yeah, absolutely.

Miguel Solis: 21:59 So, you know, it's like, so we cannot pick and choose if we're going to truly live the principles and the ideals and the teachings of our faith in situations that fit our political agenda, we have to do it 24-7. And it's a struggle. I recognize that.

George Mason: 22:21 It is a struggle because to make a politically important argument though in the whole process, is to recognize that, you know, we can't obviously operate with open borders either. There has to be some process whereby we have orderliness about people coming and, and how that happens. And we've never seemed to have been able to agree on that historically. And so people love to talk about how the system is broken. And it feels to me, I don't know about this with you, I'd be interested in your take on this, but I think people left and right politically both agree that this is broken, our immigration system is broken. And yet I've yet to hear anyone who seems to have the political courage to say, here's how we should fix it and let's work on fixing it. Because it seems to me that Democrats and Republicans both keep coming up against a choice between, keeping it broken is a better political opportunity for us to blame the other person than trying to fix it.

Miguel Solis: 23:34 I, yeah, I completely agree with you and I, you know, I would say that there are, you know, I am certainly not somebody that just believes we need to allow everybody into the country, regardless of their circumstances and what that would mean to the future of our country. I mean, there are sensible policies that can absolutely be put into place and some of those policies do, you know, require us ensuring that we have secure borders. Right? I, but there's also some things that are not so crazy when you look across the globe, policies that can be put in place that for whatever reason, are not politically palatable, or are third rail policies when it comes to America. And you look at the EU, the EU is a secured but open border contingent of, and coalition of countries, they have figured out a way, not perfectly, but they have figured out a way to try to make those things work.

Miguel Solis: 24:35 And for some reason that is completely unfathomable in the Western Hemisphere. And so there are policies that we can put in place. At the same time, the hyper partisanship of our politics has started to erode the fundamental elements of our democracy necessary to help advance our country. And we've used the term existential a few times. I think the most existential issue that our country faces is the erosion of our democratic republic and the ideals established within the, the founding fathers documents that they establish to try to create our government because of party politics. We were warned of this at the beginning of our country. I mean, you know, Madison famously said, political parties can lead to the evolution of our democracy. Washington in his farewell address said, beware of political parties, and we have not seemed to heed that advice and that will continue to become an issue.

George Mason: 25:49 So in recent days, you have begun using social media with tweets to establish more and more of your sense of vision of what has to happen for the transformation of our political culture, for the growth of our city and state. Some of the things that you see beyond just your role in DISD, but, but also in the city. Tell me about the motivation for expanding that conversation and laying out that vision.

Miguel Solis: 26:22 Absolutely. So the first piece of motivation comes from a quote from Tennyson that I have frequently reflected on. At least since I decided to run for the school board. And that is, "What shallI be at 50, should nature keep me alive, if I find the world so bitter when I'm but 25." Dallas is a city that I intend on living in for the rest of my life. It's the city that I'm going to raise my daughter in, and I'm going to raise a family in. And if I want to see the city of the future that I believe we need to have in order for my family and many other families across our community to live the good life, I need to do something about that now. And so the second motivation is wanting to try in some ways as this next municipal election cycle begins to emerge, to introduce concepts and ideas into the public domain for debate about what policies will be necessary in order to solve some of Dallas' most critical issues, including things that are at the Gordian knots like poverty and segregation. And so I, you know, I, I really want to make sure that we shape the dialogue of this next election cycle in a way that will allow those, that then get elected, to take action on these issues.

George Mason: 27:51 And I know that among those things that you've laid out or that we continue to grow in all the many, many programs that have been supportive of change in DISD it really hasn't been, one thing has it, it's been an extraordinary list of, you know, my goodness, all sorts of partnerships and nonprofit activities and reading partners and every, every sort of thing that you can think of. So there's been that and then the need for affordable housing, the need for grow south to continue to achieve, and more strength and rebuilding the infrastructure of Dallas. These were all things that you've been laying out in part of the political agenda as well as the growth of leadership, in the Latino community and, giving more voices to otherwise disenfranchised people in political power.

Miguel Solis: 28:42 Disenfranchised individuals, but also people that I believe, as new generations of leaders emerge in our city, ensuring that they've got the ability to be able to give back to their community through public service. I mean, the, I am of the firm belief that there is no better way to make an impact on your community, whether it's at the local level, the state, or the national level, than to involve yourself in public policy, in public service as an appointed, an elected official, a community leader. But doing that allows us to really ensure that we've got the best and the brightest at the table, helping us create the community that we ultimately deserve. And lastly, yeah, there's another quote that I go to that was, that was delivered again by Bobby Kennedy, "Some people see things as they are and ask why? I dream of things that never were and ask why not?" We really have got to stoke a culture of why not in this next generation of leaders so that they decide to envision a new Dallas and then take the action to really mold that Dallas.

George Mason: 29:47 Well you have laid out vision, which often is a part of the activist characteristic and yet you also have the capacity to serve and to exercise power in appropriate ways in leadership and you are that transformational kind of figure, I think, Miguel, that we're hopeful for more and more in Dallas and in our country. Thank you for sharing your vision of all of this way.

Miguel Solis: 30:15 Thank you George. I appreciate it.

Jim White: 30:17 Good God was created by Dr. George Mason, produced and directed by Jim White, guest coordination and social media by Upward Strategy Group. Good God, conversations with George Mason, is the podcast devoted to bringing you ideas about God, faith and the common good. All material copyright 2019 by Faith Commons.

Jim White: 30:46 Children's Medical Center's mission is to make life better for children. Here are some of their heroes. They had their lives saved by Children's and then helped others by giving back. There are so many more and you can help them by supporting the fundraising efforts of Children's Medical Center Foundation. Just go to children.com and click on I Choose Children's. Be a hero yourself.


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