I grew up in an amazing family who worked hard to ensure school was a priority. They were my first mentors.
My parents taught us that hard work and focus would provide a pathway to greater success. I remember the consejos from Ama y Apa. One I heard almost every day was:
They put a lot of trust into the school system around us to provide a quality education. My dad worked hard to provide for the family to ensure we always had a roof over our heads and food on the table. He would remind us of his and my mother’s sacrifices to get the family in a position to not have to worry about these essentials.
By the time I was in 3rd grade, my sisters were working to help provide for the family. They would work evening jobs and give the money to my mom to pay the bills. Working extra hours at the local Pizza Hut meant missing school and no time to do homework. They managed the situation the best they could, but for two of my sisters, it led to no high school diploma.
As my sisters started to move out, I needed to step up to help support the family. When I turned 14, I got a job. It felt so great to have money in my pocket, I just wanted to get through high school so I could work fulltime. I moved from a traditional high school to an accelerated high school so I could get my credits and graduate.
At Precision High School, I had the privilege of meeting Mr. Juan Carrillo. Juan was a young Latino man from L.A. who had recently graduated from college. I always left his social studies class inspired. He developed individual relationships with all his students and learned about what they hoped to accomplish.
When Mr. Carrillo noticed that I was beginning to focus a little too much on work, he called me out.
“I don’t know, Mr. Carrillo,” I replied. “I need to work. I don’t know that college is going to happen for me.”
He provided me with some of his own consejos [advice].
Mr. Carrillo’s consistent presence and encouragement taught me the grit to overcome my obstacles. With his support and the values my family instilled in me, I was able to graduate from high school at 15. I enrolled at South Mountain Community College and went on to graduate from Arizona State University as a proud Sun Devil with a double major in Chicano Studies and Political Science.
My experience is NOT rare. There are an incredible number of young people going through a tough time and who don’t have that mentor, that role model who keeps pushing them to work hard and cares about their success.
Francisco leads a group of volunteers at 2016 Arizona StandDown.
In the words of Cesar Chavez:
“Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore.”
Today, I have the privilege of serving with Valley of the Sun United Way. I invite you to be a mentor in our Destination Graduation program. There you’ll have the opportunity to make a meaningful difference in a high school student’s life—the way Mr. Carillo did for me.