When you grow up in a New York City ghetto, you have no choice but to lean in very early in life. It becomes your modus vivendi, a survival skill. For me, leaning in was the only way out of Washington Heights; in the ’90s it was among the top five most dangerous communities in the country.
I leaned in when I dared to look into the eyes of the drug dealers in my building and say, “I’m not afraid, even if you kill me.”
... When I decided to break the vicious cycle of teen pregnancy in my family.
… When I joined the unpopular 14 percent that graduated from my high school.
… When I moved to the other side of the planet to work with Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
… When I volunteered to lead a project for the UN that nobody wanted to take.
And then, for a time, I stopped leaning in.
When did it all change? What happened to that daring and fearless young woman? The answer is simple: motherhood. Over seven years, I gave birth to four blessed children. With them came a sense of vulnerability foreign to my DNA. Suddenly I needed stability and financial security. So I created a development company that built solutions for Fortune 500 companies. It felt safe to steadily maintain a business.
It wasn’t until I founded LATISM (Latinos in Tech Innovation and Social Media) and started volunteering in inner-city schools that I realized the abysmal achievement gap among Latino kids. English-Language Learners (students who immigrate to this country during their formative years) are falling four full grades behind their peers in other ethnic groups. This was a wake-up call. It was time, once again, to lean in.
I spent many sleepless nights fighting infinite doubts about whether to fix the problem. Why risk it all? Who do I think I am? Can someone else with more money and power solve it? What will my family think? Will I lose my education tech clients? On and on it went, for months, until I realized that nobody could do what I could, as a developer, a Latina, an immigrant, an English language learner, and a mother. This was my calling; every cell of my body wanted to lean in.
Jumping into “Startuplandia” yet again, I developed Plaza Familia, the first fully bilingual education platform for Latino kids. I’m still in the middle of the risk, investing all my energy and money. But for the first time in 11 years, since the first day I held my firstborn in my arms, I’m passionately engaged. Now I can look at life straight on and say, “I’m not afraid, even if I fail.”