A Message from Executive Vice President Danny Cortés to Esperanza Academy Educators

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I want to thank David Rossi and the school administration for getting us to the beginning of the new school year.  A lot of preparation happens in a few summer months to make this possible. Gracias.

As most of you know, I am the person that oversees the day-to-day affairs of Esperanza.  What I mean by that is my job is to assure the effective day-to-day management of the corporation and that we stay true to our core values of Faith, Excellence and Integrity.  I work to inculcate, instill and make these values normative in the life of the work we do in the service of others.

While my concern is focused on the overall work of the Esperanza organization and programs – I can only do that as I concern myself with the individual wellbeing of each particular Esperanza program.

I am concerned about our smallest programs, AMLA and EILS.  I am concerned for our biggest programs, the Academy, the CareerLink and the College.  And, I am concerned about all those in between like our Community Development and Business Development efforts and our National programs, our Cyber School and housing work.  These and a sprinkling of other programs make up and speak to the breadth of our work and reach.  These programs along with the administrative units of Finance and Accounting, Development, Human Resources, and Marketing and Communications work with the Office of the President, where I reside, to make it happen.  Each must be cared for, nurtured and, helped to grow.  When we do that well, the totality of our work is consistent with our core values of FAITH, EXCELLENCE AND INTEGRITY.

That is my job: Thinking about how to engage 350 people, $40 million in programming and an ever increasing and expanding capital program, to ensure and manage the complexities of this work around a concerted vision of what we are called to be in this community.  To do this, I depend on a competent group of people who all have others they encourage and challenge to be about the work of serving others.

That work happens right in nuestro barrio, with wonderful Latino children and adults from this community.  They are served by a cross representation of cultures and races, of political expressions and postures – conservative and liberal, agnostic and atheist, Christian and Jewish, LGBTQ and not – who ever we are and whatever we bring, we are here to be about the work of service.  It is a service grounded in an understanding of the intersection between the divine and the human.  Esperanza’s founders and current leadership believe strongly in God’s intervention in human history and God’s call to “serve the least of these” – Faith.

That service we understand must be at a level and standard that honors that call – Excellence.

And that Excellence must keep in tension what are, at times, the ethical challenges that present when internal or external demands require a choice that must align to our vision and our call – Integrity.

That is the wonderful challenge and the wonderful opportunity that Esperanza represents.  Some days, I just want to stay in bed, but most days, I enjoy thinking about what contribution I can make to being and making that difference.

As many of you have heard me say, coming to work is about being the hands and feet of the Almighty in the world.  God’s palpable and concrete expression, right here and right now.  That is what gets me out of bed.  Knowing that the call of the Almighty is to be and make a difference right now.  What we do daily in this place called Esperanza is nothing short of awesome, and life transforming.  We are changing lives and future generations of Americans.  Those lives we touch are our miracles but there are no heavens opening up, not great epiphanies or ground shaking, no loud voices from God sending us forth.

No, on the contrary, these miracles are the stuff of hard work.  The awakening and the corresponding transformation of the lives we serve is slow and gradual.  It is what, Paulo Freire referred to as “the unfinishedness”: an essential component of our human condition.  The slow natural process of concientizacion, which, he compared to a cherry tree growing in his garden.  It is the wonderful process or realization of a child learning that he or she is unfinished.  Still in formation.  It is helping another come to an awareness that the conditions of their growth and success are resident.  Teaching can bring a person’s critical consciousness to life.  The child’s intellectual, self-reflective, worldly engagement can blossom and allow them to confront their limits and opportunities.

This is the constant hum and drum of your persistence.  It is your dogged determination to offer illumination where illumination may not have existed.  Where due to life circumstances or societal failure, a child did not understand that he or she could in fact achieve success and eventual greatness.  It is you and I sharing a message of Esperanza – HOPE.

It is offered with as much as a smile, a challenge, or a demand for the very excellence we hope for in ourselves.  It is the unwillingness,  as the year drives on, in the weeks to come, to not succumb to definitions that are inconsistent with the view that all are made in the image of God and that success, progress, happiness, smiles and joy are innately present in all God’s creatures.  It is to understand, in those we serve through your daily work of education, that developing a student is an ultimate act of humanity since it is their capacities to intervene, to compare, to judge, to decide, to choose, to desist…that makes a child capable of greatness, of dignity and at the same time, of the unthinkable in terms of indignity (Freire).  In short, education is humanization.

Failure for us as educators can only be an awakening on the road to success, a tool in our kit to encourage and support and to move people forward in life.  Failure is not and should not be accepted as the inevitable paradigm that informs our work.

Freire once said of a teacher:

The gesture of the teacher affirmed in me a self-confidence that obviously still had much room to grow, but it inspired in me a belief that I too had value and could work and produce results – results that clearly had their limits but that were a demonstration of my capacity, which up until that moment I would have been inclined to hide or not fully believe in.

The failure of Public Education in America, that paradigm of failure and defeat, is rejected here at Esperanza.  We see failure, not as a determinant that predicts the future of our children, but as that challenge of an unfinished product we will push and prod our children into becoming.

That paradigm of failure we reject and replace with a demonstrated list of incremental achievements that set a trajectory to what we can become.  What we can become we when we work, struggle and persist in the direction of success.

For me, this persistent struggle for achievement becomes our collective excellence and, once achieved, a new normative…we want new normative, new levels of success driving us and our children forward to higher levels of achievement.  It is the inevitable persistence that must define our culture of education.

For those of you who are new and those that have been with us before this is what we aspire to and expect – achievement; slow, steady and sure.

In Spanish there is a saying…grano a grano se llena el buche.  Grain, by grain the chicken fills the sack.  A slow, constant and persistent pecking.  Fill the sack with small epiphanies for students, small steady growth, awareness and recognition of the capacity within, the gifts of critical reflection and engagement as your gift to them and to yourself.  That is what we aspire to: That these slow and persistent achievements for yourself and your students, won daily in classrooms and hallways, will grow our excellence; that this commitment to self and other will lead to personal and institutional success.  As Freire said, no one is fully formed: it is through self-expression in the world that we become what we are; an unfinished artist working on their canvas as they help others work on their own canvas.

As we begin the school year, let’s remember these words from Freire, “Education does not make us educable.  It is our awareness of being unfinished that makes us educable.’”  In the year to come, help your students come to the realization that they may be unfinished, but we will work together to move forward to a richer expression of ourselves. “You are the artist that makes it possible for the student to become themselves.”

To conclude, I will leave you with a reading that informs Esperanza’s work.

What good is it my brothers, if someone says he/she has faith but does not have works?  Can that faith save him or her?  If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled”, without giving them the things needed for the body (or the mind), what good is that?  So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

James 2:14 -17

The reading is about 1) faith, 2) excellence of service and 3) integrity of purpose.  I started by suggesting that my job is about the care of the programs and the grounding of that in or core values of Faith, Excellence and Integrity.  I hope in the words I have shared with you about Esperanza have in some way spoken to that mandate.

I hope I have communicated to you what we believe at Esperanza: a world view grounded in Faith.

I hope I have communicated what and how we strive to be in that work: Excellent, the art of the unfinished.

I hope in reflecting a bit on an educator/philosopher that influenced my thinking about teaching and ministry that I have challenged you as teachers to be the best damn artists you can be.

In the end, education work is Godly work.  Helping someone to see what was hidden in them, is awesome work.  In that sense, I call you to the best of your craft and to your personal integrity and through that to our corresponding corporate integrity.

Thank you for the opportunity and let’s have a great year.