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Legacy Building from the White House - Initiative on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence, and Economic Opportunities for Hispanics

Melody Gonzales, Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence, and Economic Opportunities for Hispanics. The Initiative works to: advance cradle to career education, equity and economic policy goals in partnership with the White House, federal agencies and external stakeholders; lead a 21-member commission that was recently announced; run a federal Interagency work group centered in advancing equity and access to federal resources for the Latino community; and lead in-person and virtual public engagement efforts.

Melody joined the Biden-Harris Administration from the National Education Association, the nation’s largest union representing 3 million educators – where she managed grants, partnerships and advocacy work with Latino organizations and local union affiliates. Her prior experience includes serving: on the Biden-Harris transition team’s Office of Personnel Management Agency Review Team; as a Senior Executive Service-level appointee in the Obama-Biden Administration — serving first as the U.S Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration Chief of Staff and then as Deputy Chief of Staff at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management; as a Legislative Assistant then Director of Member Outreach for former Congressman Xavier Becerra and the U.S. House of Representatives’ Democratic Caucus; as the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda’s Founding Director of the Latino Appointments Program and LatinasRepresent initiative; and as campaign staff to Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam and the Obama-Biden campaigns in 2008 and 2012.

Wealth Stream News (WSN): As the Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence, and Economic Opportunities for Hispanics, your role aligns closely with the goals of the Hispanic Wealth Project in advancing Latino prosperity in the US. Please tell us about your work at the Initiative and its goals.

Melody Gonzales: Our office was created by an executive order that President Biden issued in his 1st year in office. He expanded the scope of this office, which is housed at the US Department of Education, so while education has always been at the center, President Biden also added equity and economic opportunity into our job title. By focusing on educational equity, economic opportunity, and leadership development, we aim to create a pathway to prosperity for Hispanics across the country. We also lead a president's advisory commission on Hispanics. That group of 21 appointed leaders is tasked with making recommendations to the president through our office. So, we share a common goal with the Hispanic Wealth Project of empowering the Latino community and ensuring equal access to educational and economic opportunities.

WSN: Can you share some examples of the collaborative efforts between the White House Initiative and organizations like the Hispanic Wealth Project?

Melody: We collaborate with organizations like NAHREP and the Hispanic Wealth Project to host workshops, panel discussions, and events that promote financial literacy, entrepreneurship, and wealth-building strategies within the Latino community. These partnerships allow us to reach a broader audience and provide valuable resources and support to those seeking to improve their financial well-being. We have a mailing list that shares who we partner with, our upcoming and past events including panels and fireside chats, and our initiatives. I was just in Wisconsin a few days ago to give remarks at the Wisconsin Association of Bilingual Educators Conference. In those workshops, we talked about federal grants and the multilingualism work that the department is leading. We were able to speak directly with students about education, the arts, and promising futures. So, moments like that just fill my heart because I see how some of those students now want to become teachers because of the hard work their teachers are demonstrating to them. We also did a round table with the business community and I did a separate roundtable with higher education leaders.

WSN: Legacy-building is a key theme in your work. How do you incorporate the idea of legacy-building into the initiatives of the White House Initiative?

Melody: Legacy-building is at the core of everything we do. From empowering students to pursue higher education and fulfilling careers to advocating for systemic changes that benefit future generations, our focus is on creating a lasting impact that transcends individual achievements. By investing in education, economic opportunity, and leadership development, we're working in the Biden-Harris administration to lay the foundation for a brighter future for all Latinos. It is about building a stronger nation and community for my siblings. I think it's about really building on this thing that is more talked about today than it was when I was growing up, which is the theme of building generational wealth for them. One specific way we help build legacy is by building our leadership pipeline at the White House Hispanic Initiative Office by hosting interns and fellows to be part of our office either in DC or remotely.

Also, our interagency work group employs different levers to address equity issues in ways that will outlive us. That work can be in addressing for example the fact that Latinos have historically been just 10% of the federal workforce and in some agencies as low as 3%. A point that was made public under the leadership of our SBA administrator is that Hispanic small businesses have historically only received 1.8% of all federal contracts. We are working in the interagency framework to respond to this number and raise representation for Latinos as well.

Another big priority is what President Biden often talks about when he refers to the work of restoring the soul of our nation. We're doing all of the technical work that needs to be done to find ways to make sure that we are continuing to heal, unify, and uplift our community. I think Latino Wealth can be impacted whether it's directly helping people access federal jobs that can position them to be in better financial standing, or whether it's working with our federal agencies to make sure our communities are benefiting. This includes efforts of the Small Business Administration to improve Hispanic contracting or the Commerce Department promoting opportunities with the CHIPS and Science Act. More than anything though, like HWP, we are helping our community understand the wealth that comes from our heritage, our culture, and the resilience that so many of us were raised with.

WSN: Your dedication to serving the Latino community is truly inspiring. How do you envision your wealth legacy being remembered?

Melody: My wealth legacy is not measured in monetary terms but rather in the lives touched and futures transformed. I hope to be remembered as someone who worked tirelessly to empower others, uplift communities, and create opportunities for success. Whether it's through my work at the White House Initiative or my interactions with students, parents, and community leaders, my goal is to leave behind a legacy of hope, resilience, and empowerment.

WSN: Thank you for sharing your insights and experiences with us, Melody. It's been a pleasure speaking with you.

Melody: Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today.

Disclosure: Please note that the information provided in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and should not be construed as financial advice.
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