Meet TOA’s Board: Maritza Guzmán

| Maritza Guzmán

This fall we welcomed two new board members to The Opportunity Agenda. Today you get to meet Maritza Guzmán, Philanthropy Consultant. Maritza tells us more about how her Puerto Rican parents taught her about the strength of “Jíbaro [sounds like HEE-bah-roe] ingenuity” in finding creative solutions for taking care of family and community.

Stories play a considerable role in changing hearts and minds. What is the first story that you recall having that impact on you? It could be a family story, a book, a show, etc.

When I was thinking about this question, two things came up for me. First, I think of the story of my dad coming to this country as a Puerto Rican immigrant and finding creative ways to make ends meet. When he came to New York City, he used to have to walk miles to get to work because he couldn’t afford the subway. Eventually, he became a taxi driver, which provided both income and transportation. Underlying the classic immigrant story, is an understanding that my dad brought with him, Jíbaro ingenuity. My dad grew up in Cabo Rojo, in Puerto Rico and early on he learned how to find creative solutions to problems while using only the resources that were at hand. A lot of this ingenuity is about strength, resilience, and intelligence, not just book smarts but life smarts. Community was an essential part of that, essential, because if you were ever missing something then you knew your community well enough to be able to check if your neighbor had what you needed. My maternal grandfather picked pineapples and sugar cane to make a living. I remember my mom telling me about how they grew up in rural areas that were poor, but there was an abundance of love and spirit, they were always able to put food on the table and make their own toys.

Who is a hero in your life, someone who inspires you?

There are quite a few heroes in my life. Of course, on the top of that list are my dad and my mom because of their perseverance in overcoming the struggles they encountered when they came to this country. Looking beyond my family, the other person who comes to my mind is Michelle Obama. She is really one of my sheroes. I relate to her strength because Michelle Obama and I both grew up in poor communities, and we were also granted the opportunity to attend prestigious universities. I have a great appreciation for her grace, her charm, her patience, and her ability to authentically connect with people. Michelle Obama is a great example of what it takes to rise above the noise to be able to focus on a collective good. For example, like her, I believe in the transformative power of a quality education for all children.

What would you say is your superhero power?

I am not sure if this is a superpower, but I do think I am a good listener. I am not necessarily the most vocal person in the room but when I have something to say, then I say it. I think listening is a disappearing art that should be emphasized more. I have the distinct ability to really listen to someone and to be able to repeat back what I heard in a way that can help grow our shared understanding.

Is there a particular issue TOA works on that you feel personally identified with? Why is that?

I am most drawn to The Opportunity Agenda’s work on economic opportunity and immigrant rights. My interest in these areas very much draws upon my own lived experience and history as a daughter of immigrant parents. This country is stronger when everyone feels empowered to contribute to society.

What is something you would like The Opportunity Agenda community to know about you?

Part of the reason I am so excited to join the board is because of my own personal belief in opportunity as a collective good. I am the first one in my family to graduate high school, to go to college, and obtain an advanced degree. I recognize how fortunate I am to have been able to achieve so much with my education and I want to make sure that I support an environment where more young people feel empowered to use their gifts to achieve their dreams. Sometimes those gifts are harder for other to recognize — like Jíbaro ingenuity — but we need to foster an environment where everyone’s gifts can be recognized.

The Opportunity Agenda is a social justice communications lab, what does that mean to you?

A social justice communications lab means contributing in a positive way to the national conversation and helping people like me, people in the field, or like-minded people be heard amidst the national discourse. As a lab, The Opportunity Agenda helps people talk about issues that affect everyone. The other piece I think about when it comes to a social justice communications lab is the idea of fostering opportunity for all. For me, a good way to think about it is as the “curb cut effect.” The curb cut effect essentially says that policies that benefit one specific group can also have residual effects for everyone else. For example, a curb cut is primarily focused on increasing access for people in wheelchairs, but it also provides benefits for other people, such as people with strollers, elderly people, and children. It’s fascinating to see how many people use the curb cut for many reasons. This makes me wonder what other solutions are out there can have a targeted benefit for one group while also benefiting a much broader group. This is where The Opportunity Agenda comes in, being able to communicate the power of benefits that extend beyond the target population.

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