By Rachel Werner

“And once they understand that the opportunities are endless, we can all be a part of building our future.”

DISCUSSIONS ABOUT RACE AND equity have been a constant drumbeat in Madison since a 2013 report found significant and shocking racial disparities in Dane County. In response, one group of women united to help level the playing field for Latinos, Dane County’s largest minority population.

“The Latino Professionals Association (LPA), formed that same year, works to enhance the lives of Madison’s Latinos through community engagement and professional career development. Organizers want to build an active group of Latinos who stand out as visible leaders at work and in their neighborhoods.

“We want to be the source organizations and nonprofits come to when they seek talent and influence,” says Sandy Morales, LPA president and co-founder. “We are a group from different walks of life. Some of us were born and raised in the United States and some of us came here as adults, but our Latino culture and heritage unites us and we want the LPA to be a space where that is recognized.”

“The LPA targets emerging and established professionals. Its executive team is comprised of six women, and the organization is 140 members strong, with a goal to grow to 200 members by year’s end.

Membership co-chair Maria Lopez is inspired by how quickly the association has expanded. “We have taken the time to meet aspiring young Latino professionals with the energy and belief that they can change the world.” “The LPA provides the confidence and support its members need to take on new roles such as mentors and directors.”And once they understand that the opportunities are endless, we can all be a part of building our future.” Lopez says.

Six percent of Dane County’s population is Latino and the median age of Latinos is 24, according to the 2010 U.S. census, “The number of Latino families with children in Dane County is nearly twice as high as that of the white population. “That robust younger population would especially benefit from good role models, LPA leaders say.

According to Morales, “”These children are the next generation of leaders and professionals in our community. We need to establish a foundation of Latino professionals that Latino children and youth can see themselves in.”

Nationwide, more Latino students are going to college—but staying in college and graduating is the challenge, “The LPA also wants to ensure Latino students finish college and build a network through the LPA so that they also stay in Dane County. In addition, the LPA is working to motivate more Latinos to seek careers in management, business and science, where their numbers statewide lag behind the overall state population, at 17 percent and 34 percent, respectively. To boost those job prospects, the LPA is working with partner organizations such as Dane Buy Local, Sustain Dane and Urban League Young Professionals.

Marketing chair Leslie Lang maintains LPA’s long-term vision is inclusive by enabling Latinos and non-Latinos alike the opportunity to learn more about the ethnic, cultural and experiential diversity that exists across the Latino population. “We are intentional in our recognition and advancement of our members’ personal as well as professional lives, and we collaborate with other community groups to ensure our diversity initiatives, professional development and community engagement efforts are not performed in isolation.” For more information click here.

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