I moved to the Madison Square / Garfield Park neighborhood of Grand Rapids when I was 9yrs old. Now, almost 18yrs later, as I survey the area in which I live, I don’t see too many of the people I grew up with. Most have moved to other parts of the city, suburbs, or across the country. Those that do stick around, are the ones who stand on the corner or meander from here to there with no real prospects. I bump into the latter when I’m at the grocery store or when sometimes walking through the shadows.
“Being a part of CCDA’s Leadership Cohort has really transformed my life. I feel like I have back-up from all over the country in doing some of the things that I’ve been wanting to do for a while; creating conferences, connecting people, etc.”
I made a conscious decision to stay in my hood when I was a teen. My first job was at the local library and when they transferred me out to another library as a promotion, I requested to be sent back to Madison Avenue (or Mad. Ave. as its sometimes called). Growing up in a Latino church with no real leadership and in a place I felt was in need of hope, I chose to stay in my neighborhood. I rallied a group of Latino students in high school to go to my old elementary school with me to tutor first graders struggling with reading and learning English. My journey into development ministry was just beginning at that time. I can’t tell you how alone I felt over the years; a Latino guy in a predominately African-American hood, in a Dutch run town. I got a degree in international business, with the opportunity to travel the world. But God was saying, “My people are right here. Right where you live.” Someone told me yesterday, “Ricardo, you’re one of the youngest ‘remainers’ I know of.” I can say the same thing to myself, but then I consider those who do remain in Madison Square, not by their own choice…
I didn’t learn about CCDA until 2009. I went to the National Conference in 2010. I became a member of a CCDA Leadership Cohort in 2011. Being a part of CCDA has been such an empowering part of my life. Walking into a conference where thousands of people are searching for what God is saying about working with the marginalized and connecting with others who have the same vision… It’s powerful. It’s even more powerful to discover someone else saying the same things you’ve been saying all along (the 8 Key Components). Being a part of CCDA’s Leadership Cohort has really transformed my life. I feel like I have back-up from all over the country in doing some of the things that I’ve been wanting to do for a while; creating conferences, connecting people, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I would be doing these things regardless, but doing it with a group of supporters makes all the difference.
Probably one of the highlights of being a part of the National Conference this year was being able to teach and share information with others about development issues that are close to my heart, like Latino Youth Culture and Leadership Development. I’m still getting positive feedback on the workshop Eduardo Rodriguez (CCDA Intern) and I led, about “Living in Spanglish.” It’s our story, and someone needs to take it back. Someone needs to redeem our story. One person commented, “You just made my childhood make sense to me.” I cried at those words and it affirmed my decision to take back our story.
I say all of these things in order to express my gratitude. I love CCDA. I love the work that we’re doing and I love being a part of a Leadership Cohort. Thank you for standing with me as I cry out from the deserts of Grand Rapids. Thank you for your encouragement, empowerment, and embrace into our community of community developers.
R. R. Tavárez