Greensboro Student Hopes Presidential Candidates Pay Attention to Education

Jul 8, 2020

Some people choose their life's path. For others, it’s seemingly chosen for them. For 19-year-old Afro-Latino Brayan Guevara, his career goals can clearly be traced to his family.

Guevara comes from a long line of educators; his mother is a college instructor and his grandparents were teachers in Honduras.

He's a sophomore at Guilford Technical Community College in Greensboro, and he also plans to become an educator.

Before the pandemic, and while school was still in session, Guevara spent his weekdays at Irving Park Elementary, helping kids with their schoolwork and what he calls "behavioral issues."

"At the time, I was working with kindergarteners and first graders," he said. "They're still in their fundamental stage where they need to do [work on] three-letter words or four-letter words. I will just help them do that and mostly get their own behavior in check."

Guevara's mother, Nodia Mena, is a Spanish language instructor at UNC Greensboro.

Mena earned her teaching certificate in Honduras. She immigrated to the U.S. in the 1990s and worked in the corporate world in New York. She moved to North Carolina several years later and receive her master's in Spanish literature before she began teaching.

Teaching is Mena's passion, and as an Afro-Latina educator she wants to expose her students to a different world.

"I realized that most of the Latino students are not aware of the presence of Afro descendants in Latin America, the lack of presence in the media," she said. "It does not include Afro descendancy in it, and it's hurtful for me."

The lack of Latino educators, especially Afro-Latino, is an issue that the North Carolina Society of Hispanic Professionals is working to address. The nonprofit works to promote education among Hispanic youth in North Carolina.

North Carolina Society of Hispanic Professionals Board Chair MariaRosa Rangel thinks there needs to be more intention when it comes to recruiting Latino educators.

"If we truly believe in equity and if we really want to make a difference, we need more Latino teachers," she said. "We also lose a lot of students because they don't see themselves reflected in the curriculum, they don't see themselves as reflected in the classroom."

The lack of Latino educators is one of the reasons Guevara wants to become a teacher. He wants to change the way teachers interact with students, especially minorities.

"How teachers treat Black kids, which I have experienced in my time, it's just the stigma that they already have for these kids," he said.

In 1990, only 10 percent of recently arrived Latino immigrants, aged 25 or older, had a bachelor’s degree or higher, according to the Pew Research Center. In 2018, roughly a quarter of Latino immigrants had a bachelor’s degree or higher.

This increase is welcomed by organizations that value Latino education, like Excelencia in Education, but they note that there’s still work that to be done. Only 24 percent of Latino adults in the U.S. have an associate’s degree or higher, compared to 44 percent of all U.S. adults.

Excelencia in Education is a national nonprofit aimed at increasing Latino student success in higher education. Co-founder and CEO Deborah Santiago said it’s a myth that Latinos don't value education, and this election gives them the chance to dismantle it.

"I think that Latinos represent the potential for how to redesign and restructure education that can serve all students of all backgrounds better by starting with this young group," she said. "It has to be part of the voting opportunities because the elections impact investment in education and disproportionately that's increasingly going to be authentic and it has to be the way we're investing in our future generations of populations."

Election Day is abour four months away. Guevara hopes President Donald Trump and Joe Biden will talk more about the issue that's closest to him: education. Where they stand on the topic may be the deciding factor on who gets his vote, especially when it comes to student loan debt.

"As a broke college student, we don't want to have a burden of the four years that we spent just to even get our degree," he said.

Guevara's mother also hopes presidential candidates will take Latino education seriously.

"As soon as we are identified as being immigrants, then we are treated with that stigma, the negative stigma and then all of a sudden, whatever comes out of our mouth is really seen as deficient," Mena said.

Guevara wants to continue teaching and inspiring students, just as his mother and his grandparents have done. 

"God puts you on this Earth for a reason," he said. "I know I'm still young, but this is my purpose."