Filipina/First-Generation College Graduate/Daughter/Non-Profit Founder & Executive Director/Harvard Graduate

I am proud to be a Filipina female who is a first-generation college graduate who grew up qualifying for free-and-reduced lunch, is a daughter of an immigrant father with a GED, and a non-profit Founder & Executive Director with a Harvard degree. I straddle both worlds: last year the non-profit, Leaders in Training, I founded had its’ first 6-figure year, while my parents live with me in East Las Vegas. I feel more comfortable blasting J-Cole in a car with teenagers than the formal fundraising meetings I can attend and succeed at. I’ve empowered equitable education and opportunity in East Las Vegas through measurable college access and attainment programming, yet feel guilty every day that I don’t have more resources to support my extended family. I am an old millennial who is an old soul living out Daniel Beatty’s “Duality Dual” on the daily. I put all my chips on the idea that empowering diverse leaders will catapult systemic and structural change that benefits us all, and must start with education, critical consciousness and leadership development of wiling high school students.

I recognized my own power for the first time when I was training to be a Teach For America Academic Dean for summer teacher training at 26. This was the first time anyone had ever told me I had profound additional impact in the work because of my background as a first-generation college graduate who went to seven different schools growing up and not only empathized, but was one of the students that this work strives to empower. It took too long to recognize my power. This is why I do it in my work now starting with 14-year-olds in Leaders in Training. In 2012, I officially launched Leaders in Training, a nonprofit that supports East Las Vegas students to become the first in their family to graduate from college and become future Nevada leaders. The program offers four years of free tutoring, SAT prep, and leadership training during high school. In return, our students pledge to return to Las Vegas and/or become stewards of their communities.Our current college students have already accomplished more than I had at their age– people will realize the true nature and impact of our work in a decade when our students are the leaders in positions of power making decisions that are inclusive, hope-filled and equity building.

I have learned to play the game to change the game, but realized playing forever isn’t wise. My professional emails have a lot of emoticons and exclamation points. I believe in relationships over the work because work comes out of relationships. I have my tattoos and rompers. I “get away” with this now, however, because I already established my success, my worth, etc. I used my 20’s to get the legitimacy and the plan is to use my 30’s to prove there does not need to be an archetype for effective and successful leadership. I’m 5’2, dark brown with freckles, “Revolutionary leaders cannot think without the people, not for the people, but only with the people. -Freire” is tattooed across my arm, but when I wear a suit jacket to cover it, heels to be more prominent, and have to put my Harvard degree in my signature line, I know why I’m doing it and the purpose for doing it. I know at the end of the day, my current actions, work and being is how I will best impact equity in our society and that’s enough for me.

I am still aiming on mastering balance. This past year I started attending a gym, settled on no scheduled meetings on Sundays but still working in PJs from home. I continuously aim to maintain an empowering organization that lasts beyond the founder(me) and can be taken over, improved and expanded by our served high school students when they are adults.With mastering balance, I have also learned how to forgive myself. You can’t do everything, you can’t be perfect, you can’t hit every goal every time. How do I both learn from when I do not meet my own expectations both in future action and in my own empathy not just for others but for myself.


Want to stay connected to Erica and her non-profit, Leaders in Training?

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