The current assistant director of the Office of Equity, Mobility and Immigrant Integration for the City of Charlotte, Federico Rios, will become the first Latino to be part of the leadership team of the Robinson Center for Civic Leadership (RCCL). In April, he will begin to fulfill his functions as vice president.

The announcement came on March 17th from the Foundation For The Carolinas. Rios will participate in leadership, strategic planning, and civic engagement management through RCCL.

“I am very pleased to join the wonderful team at Foundation For The Carolinas and continue serving our community by building on the Robinson Center for Civic Leadership’s foundation of incredible work,” said Rios.

The Robinson Center for Civic Leadership is a program of the Foundation For The Carolinas and takes the lead on investing in different local initiatives related to: art, culture, community development, education, environment, and housing, among others.

Federico Rio parents prioritized his education

Federico is the child of immigrant parents. In 1969 his mother, Sofia, moved from Colombia to the United States. There she met Alejandro Rios from Puerto Rico.

Alejandro remembers that although his family did not come from extreme poverty, they were part of the working class and could not afford everyday luxuries. For his parents, their greatest investment was the education they could provide for their children.

“They gave me everything. They worked like crazy to give us a better life than the one they had, and worked hard to pay for me to go to high school in New York. They sacrificed everything to give me opportunities. Their focus was always on making sure we had an education, even at a time when people did not put a lot of trust in the New York public education system. With the little money they had, they paid for me to go to a Catholic school in the neighborhood, making sure we had the best education they could afford,” Federico told La Noticia.

For more than three decades, Federico's parents worked to give their children a good education. Rios recalls that his mother worked for 30 years preparing food for the airlines at John F. Kennedy International Airport. He remembers when his father had an accident and was hospitalized for three months after falling into a water condensation tank.

“Despite the injuries, he always found a way to help his family. I remember a time when I did not have enough money to pay for my school semester, so I told my dad: 'I have to pay, but I don’t know how’. He left the house, returned an hour later, and put the money in my hand. He told me, 'son, go and pay for your education.' I was so moved by this because it showed me that as a father, he was always going to make sure that his son had what he needed,” he said.

“I remember that my mother only had two pairs of shoes and three dresses, and my father only had a jacket. However, they worked to give us the education that they never had,” he added.

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Statistically, what I have been able to achieve is not a reality for most people

Aunque los padres de Federico vieron un gran potencial en él y trabajaron para ayudarlo a alcanzar sus metas profesionales, el dinero representó un desafío mientras estudiaba arte en la Universidad de Stony Brook en Nueva York.

Federico recuerda que en un momento no pudo obtener más préstamos ni becas para pagar sus estudios, y su trabajo no le permitía cubrir el costo del semestre.

“I called my older cousin, Gabriel, to help me. But he was in the middle of buying his house. Sadly, a week later, his wife died in the attack on the Twin Towers. I remember accompanying him through that time because she (his wife) was part of our family. My cousin told me that with the insurance money, he was going to pay for the rest of my university. That was something I was not expecting.”

“My life has been full of people who have given me so much. Thanks to them, I’ve had opportunities that have later opened many doors for me. Statistically, what I have been able to achieve is not a reality for most people. I believe that as the son of immigrant parents, there is an expectation that you will not only achieve what they were not able to, but that you will do even more because of all that they have suffered and been through. It gives a greater significance to all of their efforts,” he reflected.

For 18 years Rios has been working for the community

One of Rios's first jobs was as a crisis intervention specialist at MercyFirst, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing social services to children, adolescents, and families in need in New York.

“I remember there were about 130 adolescents caught up in the court system, some because of mental health issues, juvenile delinquency, or foster care. That's when my career and desire to serve began. At that time I was one of the few Latinos who worked there, even though many Latinos were there receiving services. That opened the door for me to want to help the community,” he said.

Cuando se mudó a Charlotte, Ríos trabajó como tutor para las Escuelas de Charlotte-Mecklenburg (CMS). “Cuando comencé, (los estudiantes a los que enseñaba) eran 50% latinos y 50% afroamericanos. Cuando me fui, el 60% eran latinos. Fue entonces cuando me di cuenta de que (en CMS) no había personas bilingües ni personas que entendieran a la comunidad latina. No entendían cómo servir y apoyar a la comunidad latina”, dice.

A lo largo de los años, el actual subdirector de la Oficina de Equidad, Movilidad e Integración de Inmigrantes de la Ciudad de Charlotte ha acumulado 18 años de trabajo con la comunidad a través de instituciones públicas y organizaciones sin fines de lucro.

In his new role as Vice President of the Robinson Center for Civic Leadership, his duties will be to research and help develop strategies for civic leadership programs and initiatives. The foundation's mission is to foster philanthropy and empower individuals to build better communities.

“Quiero poder abrir las puertas que se abrieron para mí. Pero para hacer eso, el sistema necesita cambiar, al igual que nuestro pensamiento y nuestra forma de hacer las cosas. Para traer un entendimiento diferente, porque mi historia es diferente a los que están generalmente en este tipo de trabajo. Quiero ser parte de ese cambio. Quiero ser alguien que pueda ayudar a toda la comunidad de Charlotte, pero especialmente a la comunidad inmigrante, sabiendo que soy parte de esta comunidad como inmigrante de segunda generación. Quiero asegurarme de que ofrecemos ayuda a todos”, dijo.

Encuentra este artículo en español aquí .

Periodista de profesión, ávida lectora por vocación. Tiene un máster en Ciencias Criminológicas de la Universidad del Zulia, Venezuela. Le apasiona conocer nuevas realidades y contarlas.