Hispanic Development Fund ignites more than 300 dreams
Cristina Jiménez was all set to become a first-generation college student during her junior year of high school.
Top 10 percent of her class; check. National Honor Society; check. Strong and varied record of extra-curricular activities; check.
Social Security number: n/a. And just like that, her guidance counselor told her, she could forget about ever going to college. Jiménez ran from the room in tears.
Now living in Washington, D.C., Jiménez told her story to a roomful of future college students and their families at Swinney Recreation Center on the University of Missouri-Kansas City campus. And while her story includes tears, it doesn’t end in them.
Her parents, who fled Ecuador and brought their undocumented family to the U.S. when she was 13, refused to let her give up on her dream. Her father insisted she live the dream that he had deferred.
“I wanted to be a lawyer, but I had no opportunity to go to school. So I want you to be a lawyer,” her father told her. “I want you to go to school. I want you to be the first person in our family to go to college.”
And thanks to her family’s ongoing sacrifices – and to legislation in New York State that allowed undocumented high school graduates to attend public colleges at in-state tuition rates – she indeed did go to college and become a lawyer.
Today, Jiménez is co-founder and managing director of United We Dream, the largest immigrant youth-led organization in the nation. The sacrifices made by her family, and thousands of other families in similar situations, made no other choice seem right.
“I felt that I needed to join the effort. That’s how I got started as an activist,” she said.
Jiménez was the keynote speaker at the annual Greater Kansas City Hispanic Development Fund Scholarship Program, held on the UMKC campus June 4.
The event brought together more than 800 parents, students, community leaders, Latino business supporters, and college and university representatives to honor and support the more than 300 2015 HDF Scholars. This year the fund will award over $450,000 to students from both sides of the state line. In the span of over three decades, more than 3,600 Hispanic students from the metro have received college scholarships from HDF, a fund created by local Hispanic community leaders and the Hall Family Foundation.
The class of 2015 HDF Scholars will attend more than 56 different colleges and universities locally and across the country; 50 of the 326 students are enrolling at UMKC. The HDF Scholars are pursuing a wide variety of degrees; the top three fields of studies for this year’s class are STEM, health and business. Additionally, 25 HDF Scholars are pursuing post-graduate degrees in law, medicine, business, education and health.
All this is possible, Jiménez and other speakers said, because of ongoing support from the community to grow the fund.
She called on the young people to work hard during and after college in order to pay the previous generations’ sacrifices forward.
“It’s not just about access to college,” she said. “It’s about access to jobs. It’s about access to health care. It’s about not living in fear.”
UMKC Chancellor Leo E. Morton told the scholarship recipients that the fund is “a strong sign of the faith the community has in your ability, and your commitment.
“This is also a sign of how much a university and its community can do with combined effort and the willingness to put young people first,” Morton added. “There is so much opportunity ahead of you. Education puts you in place to climb the ladder. With each subject you master and each year you complete, you are building a future for yourself.”
The Hispanic Development Fund was created in 1984 by the Hall Family Foundation. In 2006, the Hispanic Development Fund became a regional affiliate partner of the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation. The fund’s vision is to inspire philanthropy, increase educational access, and build strong leaders. Through its Scholarship Program, the fund’s goal is to increase the number of scholarships awarded and mobilize the community to make college education a top priority for every Hispanic family throughout the metro.