Tony Lopez believes strongly in giving back. As he was growing up in the South Bronx, volunteers and mentors engrained in him a commitment to investing in his community. Tony, a life-long education reform advocate, supports North Star Fund individually, and also organizes other Latino New Yorkers to join our donor community. We interviewed Tony to learn more about his activist roots and the continuing dedication that connects him to North Star Fund.
What led you to dedicate your career to improving educational opportunities for New York City youth?
I’m committed to all kids of color and poor kids, particularly Latino kids, because I believe that education is a fundamental right. It bothers me that Latino students are entering a school system where there are fewer and fewer voices of experienced Latino educators and leaders.
Early in my career I advocated for language access rights for immigrant students in New York City, and I was an education advocate with the National Congress of Puerto Rican Rights. More recently, I worked as the Executive Director of Aspira of New York and the I Have a Dream Foundation. I also helped create 35 of the 79 charter schools in the city, and my wife and I started the International Leadership Charter School, the first community-led charter high school in the Bronx. I started, and currently direct, the Aprendes Foundation, which is working to improve the quality of education available to Latino youth in New York City.
How did you get involved with North Star Fund’s Community Funding Committee?
I’ve admired North Star Fund for a long time and I was very excited to join the Community Funding Committee (CFC) in 2008. Through the CFC, North Star Fund brings together activists, community organizers and practitioners from different sectors who volunteer their time to make grantmaking decisions. This extraordinary activist-led effort ensures that the grants will have the greatest impact in the community and also brings a diversity of thought into the grantmaking process.
As a member of the CFC, I met amazing organizations that are doing excellent work all over New York City. During every site visit I heard stories about successful community organizing campaigns that were made possible by the support of North Star Fund.
Why did you become a donor to North Star Fund?
I became a donor as a result of what I experienced on the Community Funding Committee. I witnessed how North Star Fund empowers people and communities to do the work to solve critical problems themselves.
As a donor-organizer I have helped bring in more Latino activists and young professionals, who may not identify as philanthropists, to support North Star Fund. I was on the Host Committee for North Star’s first Latino Community Brunch in 2007. It was wonderful to be among colleagues, meet new people, and hear from the grantees. Connecting people who really want to make a difference in New York City is reassuring and validating.
Why is it important to build a diverse community of donors to support North Star Fund?
The Obama election campaign showed that a lot of people giving a little bit can have a big impact. In the Latino community we may not have a lot of money, but we have a lot of people, so work the numbers.
The challenge of the 21st century in communities of color is to create a more diverse donor base and to find the next generation of emerging philanthropists to support the critical work happening on the ground. It’s hard, it’s a challenge. North Star Fund has both the commitment, the capacity, and the know-how to meet that challenge.