Marco Davis represents a new generation of leadership in the country, running one of the premier groups in the nation's capital as president and CEO of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI). The institute is the nonprofit arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and dedicated to leadership development, primarily among young latinos.
Davis grew up in the New York City area, the son of jamaican and mexican parents, and is a graduate of Yale University. The former Obama administration official brings more than two decades of public policy and community service experience as CHCI's sixth president since its creation in 1978. He spoke with La PolĂtica Online about CHCI's work and his vision for its future.
First of all, let's start out with an explanation of the difference between CHCI and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Is there a difference?
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus is the hispanic members of Congress and their staff who support their work. CHCI is a nonprofit organization, created to be a separate entity from Congress itself, and originally designed as a way for the members of Congress and other leaders to contribute to the Hispanic community to help develop leaders to invest in young people; to actually build a pipeline of folks to help to come to Washington, to be working on Capitol Hill.
We've now grown over the 43 years to where now we're a full-fledged nonprofit organization separate from the (Congressional Hispanic) caucus, although we do have members of Congress who sit on our board of directors, and on our advisory councils, and we still work closely with the members of the caucus and other members of Congress.
But we do two things now. One is our leadership development programs. And it's basically a number of programs that provide public service and leadership opportunities to students and young professionals, most notably working in Congress and internships or fellowships.
We've become a platform that brings together members of the public sector, most notably the members of Congress and their staff, corporate America and the nonprofit sector, community advocates, researchers, academics, community and community thought leaders. We bring all those together to talk about issues of concern to the latino community, with an eye toward solutions.
Tell me the difference between when people talk about your organization and others like it when you advocate for something versus what is known as lobbying?
Lobbying is to support or oppose specific legislation, to have members of the public speak to policymakers and of Congress to have them support or oppose to vote for or against specific legislation. And that's what's defined as lobbying. That is an activity that can be done on a very limited basis by traditional nonprofit organizations, but certainly folks in the private sector can do, too.
Advocacy is a broader set of activities, which is to support concepts and issues, but not specifically to ask for action. So not asking for a member of Congress to vote for or against a specific bill, but to ask members of Congress to be supportive of increasing educational outcomes, right, that's not a specific bill.
There's not a specific law they're talking about. They're simply trying to get members of Congress to find ways to support, for example, educational outcomes for the latino community. And that can be advocacy towards policymakers, members of Congress, it can be advocacy towards the private sector, trying to persuade corporations to hire more latinos in leadership roles can be considered advocacy, right?
It's promoting a perspective or a view on an issue. There is education; we educate the public, and policymakers around issues. What we try to do is sort of say, there is an issue that's of great concern to the community and to the nation, and we need solutions. And we want folks to learn as much as they can about the issue in order to develop solutions and to take action on them. But what those solutions are, what those actions that folks take, we bring other people to speak about. We don't necessarily promote one view over another.
One of the issues you advocate for is a greater representation of latinos in the Biden administration. The institute is also part of Proyecto 20%. While cabinet positions are more high profile -the current cabinet has four Hispanic members -there are nearly 5.000 presidential appointments that include some of the key deputy directors and assistant secretary. Hispanics have filled several of those positions, but many remain vacant.
We do advocate for increased leadership being that we're a leadership organization, the idea being we need more leadership in every place in every sector in every field, including in government in the federal government. We're a part of that coalition that is called Proyecto 20% (based on the fact that latinos represent nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population), which is advocating for an increase in the number of latinos who are in the Biden administration.
And we support the idea of increasing the numbers of latinos in career federal government positions, we're not just an advising for more in the (Biden) administration, but also for increasing latino leadership in the private sector, in corporate America in small business leadership, and in the nonprofit world philanthropy academia world.
We provide professional development experience, actual job experience, in this case in government to help folks be better prepared to take on those leadership roles so that when an opportunity opens up, they will apply, they will run for office when an opportunity opens up.
They will seek a promotion so that they can take on that leadership. And some of those things are the CHCI internships, for instance, where we provide transportation, a stipend and free housing for undergraduate and graduate students to work in congressional offices. They come from all over the United States and Puerto Rico.
We also engage with corporate partners. We receive no public funding, so we have a lot of relationships with the private sector, with corporate America. We bring them on board to our Board Advisory Council, to educate them again, about the community about the issues. We specifically talked to them about underrepresentation (of latinos) in the corporate sector, in healthcare, in the technology, energy, etc.
We point to best practices in diversity, hiring and promotion, within the private sector, so that they hear about ways in which they can improve their own work, their own representation in the private sector. And then, of course, because our work is in Washington, we even share opportunities for job openings in government affairs in the private sector with our alumni network.
With your nonprofit and federal government background, why did you think that this (leading CHCI) would be something that would appeal to you?
When some friends first approached me about it, I actually turned them down. I was happy where I was at the time, working with another nonprofit and not looking for another opportunity. But more importantly, which I think is the real learning lesson, I didn't think I would get it, I didn't think I was ready. I didn't think I would be chosen. It's the president and CEO position, I had actually not been a president and CEO of an organization before then. And again, I thought maybe I wasn't ready to take on that role. And it was a group of friends who were quite familiar with the organization.
One was an alum, one was a former staffer, who thought that my skill set matched what was needed to run the organization.
The bulk of my career has been either working with youth, in youth development or leadership development in some way, or working with the latino community, and sometimes a combination of all three, as in this case. I was familiar with the work of CHCI, I was aligned and supportive of the mission and believed in the work that it did.
You're one of the few Afro-Latino leaders in the country, and I would imagine that's a big deal for you.
I certainly appreciate it, not having grown up seeing many people who look like me, within the latino community, certainly within latino community leadership, or within representations, for example, like in media, and so on. I appreciate that I, hopefully, will serve as a good example for folks who looked like me to be able to see someone in a leadership role.
It's become a much more significant part of my work, and frankly, probably, of my perspective in the world, which is to not only show up as in an Afro-Latino leadership role, but to speak to the fact that we need many, many more representations of Afro Latinos, we need more Afro Latinos in leadership, and we just need the latino community itself in the country overall, to be more aware of this. I do find myself being able to bring that up and to point that out, and to even use it as a as a learning opportunity to help address and hopefully to reduce some of the discrimination that exists even within our own community.
You're already planning for one of your key events, your annual conference in September during Hispanic Heritage Month, in Washington. In-person this year, right?
We're optimistic right now, we're keeping a close eye on all of the stats and all the data being put out (about coronavirus), but we have made plans to be in person, with some sessions online. Having learned over the last two years and having been able to reach a broader audience when we went online (more than 4.000 participants last year during the virtual conference) because of the pandemic, we will be having a hybrid conference - with some sessions online.
The nation is still trying to recover from all of the disruption that happened over the course of the pandemic. It's (the pandemic) going to be an absolutely central piece - about the ongoing challenges and impact of the pandemic. It's also, as we begin to re-emerge, looking at all of the other health issues and challenges our community in the nation has had. (Access to) technology is a really current topic that we've always talked about.
We're also going to discuss economic opportunity, workforce development, increased diversity in the workforce and leadership, access to financial tools and resources to build economic security in the community. We'll also talk about immigration. Many of us in the community have a relative, a close friend, or a neighbor, someone who is impacted by immigration policy. So that's obviously something that's on the agenda. And then the piece I think that's really critical that we're finding there's more and more momentum around is this issue, of our representation; how we show up in media, whether that be in news media, whether it be entertainment, film, and television, whether that's even in publishing in books.
Without representation there is either an absence of a story or a distorted picture of who the Latino community is in the United States, and that often creates problems for our community (so that will be a key part of our discussion).
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