The Latina Leadership Institute (LLI), a program designed to engage Rhode Island Latinas in their communities, celebrated the graduation of the Class of 2015 at the State House on Thursday evening. Offered by the Rhode Island Latino Civic Fund (RILCF), the goal of the program is to create and inspire Latinas to take leadership positions within the state. There were seven graduates honored at the ceremony.
The program required the seven women to attend weekly Saturday learning seminars, as well as submit a research project and work together on a group fundraiser. Over the course of their time with LLI, they were also given the chance to network with other prominent Rhode Island Latinas, including Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, who gave the keynote address at the ceremony. Gorbea is the first Latina to hold an elected state office in New England, and one of the founders of the RILCF.
“The LLI is a wonderful example of what happens when people start things,” Gorbea said. “When I created the Civic Fund, this was the last thing on my mind that would come out of it. But how wonderful it is.”
Gorbea said the women who become alumni of the institute show commitment to a new beginning, and signal a bright future for the state. She added that those who graduate must never give up on trying to make a positive change in their communities, even though being a Latina in a position of power can seem daunting at times. Although the opportunities for them to make a change might not always seem significant, Gorbea encouraged them to push through.
“When people talk about seizing opportunities, its not those big ones, its those little tiny steps that get us somewhere else,” she said.
Gorbea said that she is lucky to hold the office of Secretary of State, because she believes she can directly transform how people participate in the democratic process. She told the graduates to embrace their ability to transform government as well, saying that by working to rebuild, strengthen, and expand their communities, they can change Rhode Island for the better.
“That’s why civic leadership is so incredibly important,” she said. “It involves bringing people together in new ways.”
Governor Gina Raimondo addressed the graduates as well, saying that they, as women, have an obligation to get involved in their communities and within the state. She said that better decisions are made when everyone has a voice in the discussion, and that includes Latinas.
“We know you have a commitment to be engaged, and I never want you to questions yourselves,” she said. “I want you to be confident, constantly develop yourselves, and never ask yourselves “Should I be here,” or “Should I be doing this,” because you have to.”
Raimondo also spoke on the power that women in the State House currently have. Thursday afternoon, she signed a bill that required businesses to make accommodations for pregnant women. She also announced that, as the first female governor, she has opened a lactation room in the State House for women who need it.
Two members of the class were given the chance to give their own speeches at the ceremony as well. Andrea James-Gomez remarked in her speech that LLI has given herself and her classmates the tools to move forward in their respective careers through both their group and solo projects.
“Not only did we research, but we had the opportunity to become passionate about the things that are important to us,” she said.
James-Gomez also said that the program did not just give the class the chance to develop themselves as career women, though. They also formed a sisterhood, helping each other to grow as people as they apply what they learned because of the institute. Olga Encarnacion, another member of the class, agreed.
“We empower each other as Latinas. That alone is an important lesson,” she said. “This is just the beginning, and this is not the last time you will see us.
Along with James-Gomez and Encarnacion, the other five graduates were Ivonne Cam, Michelle Carrasco, Miguelina Perez, Yajaira Reyes, and Jahaira Rodriguez. A special LLI Alumni Award was also given to Sabrina Matos, the first Latina member of the Providence City Council. The Rhode Island Welcome Back Center also received a Community Partner Award for its assistance to the LLI and the RILCF.