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The Real Work

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Tell us about yourself.

My name is Itzel Velazquez. I am the Little Rock Kiva Hub Capital Access Manager for Forge as well as the Little Rock Business Consultant for Conexion de Negocios Latinos (Latinx Business Connections), where I provide support to Latinx business owners. I have a master’s degree in Higher Education from Loyola University Chicago and a bachelor’s degree in International Studies and Political Science from the University of Central Arkansas. I serve as a board member for Create Little Rock and am a member of Junior League Little Rock.

You are a few years out of college, but you are already a massive voice for the Latino community. What makes you care for your community, and what are you primarily advocating for?

While I was raised in Little Rock, I grew up in a very traditional Mexican household. My parents worked hard to retain my Spanish and instill pride in my culture and language. I also grew up in Southwest Little Rock, a predominantly Black and Latino community. I went to college and had opportunities that others don’t have access to, not because they don’t want to but because of systemic barriers that continue to exist in the U.S. My education allowed me to understand this, and after reflecting on my own lived experience, it ignited a passion for making sure that I work towards breaking some of those barriers down. My work within the Latino community started while an undergrad at UCA. I am a first-generation college student, and I wanted to find a way to support other Latinx students who wanted to go to college as well. A big passion of mine is access to higher education and equity in education as a whole. Immigrants’ rights and entrepreneurship are also areas where I want to continue to advocate for the Latinx community.

What should people know about diversity, equity, and inclusion?

I think we all have a role to play in DEI work. I remember in 2012 when former President Obama approved DACA. I was inspired by all the young people that had worked to make that a reality. It was then that I realized that I, too, could have a say and impact regardless of my age. I think there is a lot of work to do and we need as many people doing it! This work requires a lot of learning but also unlearning. Unlearning stereotypes, unlearning history that was not told correctly, and opening ourselves up to new information we did not have access to. I work a lot with the Latinx community, but I believe in solidarity. Many of the issues other communities are trying to advocate for are essential, and standing in solidarity with other movements, organizations, and people is necessary.

How can society help cultivate a more inclusive workforce for Brown people?

I have seen many companies hire people to do DEI work which is excellent and needed. However, we need to realize that the goal is not for one person to do this work alone but to ensure that the entire company or organization is changed, so everyone feels welcome. I also believe leadership buy-in is essential. DEI Training for staff is also important but cannot be a one-time event; this work is ongoing.

Additional thoughts?

Thanks to everyone pouring back into their community and working to make a change!