The White House Office of Public Engagement and Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships honors 10 individuals who are doing tremendous work in the fields of fatherhood and low-income men and boys. Because of his work in this field Jerry Tello is being recognized as a Champion of Change.
I always feel humbled when I am acknowledged for the work that I do and the accomplishments that have taken place. The lessons that carry me and serve as the foundation of my work come from a long history of people that had a dream based on a strong love for their children and principle of giving and serving others. My ancestors including my grandparents and parents were my foundational teachers. Bringing those lessons from Mexico, through Texas and finally raising us in south central Los Angeles brought many opportunities and challenges that I lived through and from which I learned.
The love of family, hard work, strong values, traditions and spirituality were the roots that were planted in me. At the same time seeing my family deal with the issues of racism, discrimination, and poverty in a community struggling with drugs and violence and the trying to raise a family in two cultures, our traditional culture and that of society, brought much pain and confusion. The impact of these challenges and the death of my father when I was 13 forced me to reach deep for solutions. But my mom would always say in Spanish “No Hay Mal Que Por Bien No Venga” which in essence means out of every experience you can gain a lesson. It is these lessons and others along the way that have truly become my inspiration and basis for this work. Although my professional work started 35 years ago, what I didn’t realize is that my family and community experiences were all a part of the preparation process.
So over the last 30 years, I have dedicated my efforts to preventing and healing the pain of relationship/community violence, teen pregnancy, fatherless-ness and internalized oppression. I have had the privilege of speaking to over half a million people and training thousands of facilitators across the nation to address these issues. Then in 1988, together with a group of other dedicated men, we developed the National Compadres Network, an organization dedicated to building and strengthening the positive involvement of Latino men in the lives of their children and families. From this base, the National Latino Fatherhood and Family Institute was launched to build the capacity of individuals, organizations and community groups to address the needs of boys, men and their families. We have spearheaded campaigns to address the issues of fatherlessness, teen pregnancy, domestic violence, and illiteracy. We concentrate on male rites of passage, mentoring, community peace and working with returning veterans.
We have recently focused our work on healing the generations of boys and men of color that live in our communities as well as those who are returning from war with the wounds of their life and life circumstances. Our most recent effort is the National Boys and Men of Color Initiative where we are challenging all men to come together for peace and healing in our communities. One campaign in this initiative is The Healing Generations Project, where we are challenging Elders to SPEAK UP about the sacred truths of manhood, for Fathers to STAND UP and be the best father they can be so the Youth can SHOW UP and feel safe, loved, protected, inspired to fulfill their purpose in life.
In spite of all these accomplishments, I readily admit that my greatest honor and privilege is being the proud father of three children; Marcos, Renee, and Emilio; and now the grandfather of an inspirational granddaughter, Amara. I am blessed to do the Creator’s work and be the voice of so many with no voice and to fulfill my mother’s wishes to serve others.
Jerry Tello is the Director of the National Latino Fatherhood and Family Institute.