For her “outstanding contributions to the Latino community” and her dedication as an educator, NEA vice-president Lily Eskelsen was honored by the Latino Leaders Network in Washington DC.
“The future of our Latino community is linked to our Latino leadership. One of our most influential leaders both in terms of education and also as a national labor leader is Lily Eskelsen”, stated Juan Sepúlveda, former director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans, speaking to the group which included legislators, ambassadors, community organizers, civil rights advocates and administration officials, among others.
Sepúlveda explained that Eskelsen, who was appointed by president Barack Obama to the White House Commission on Excellence in Hispanic Education, serves as “a voice for teachers across the country,” who is not afraid to be honest, and who has a personal story that represents the American Dream.
As a member of the commission, Eskelsen advises the President and the U.S. Secretary of Education on ways to expand academic excellence and improve educational opportunities for Hispanics.
“Her journey as a school cafeteria worker to now one of the highest-ranking labor leaders in the country is a story we believe deserves to be told,” stated Mickey Ibarra, chairman of the Latino Leaders Network whose mission is to develop opportunities to bring leaders together regarding issues important to the Latinos across the nation.
In her remarks, Eskelsen described her personal experiences as the daughter of a Panamanian mother and father who was in the U.S. military, her challenges as working mother going to college for the first time, and her struggles and joys as an educator going the extra mile for her students. She also spoke about the importance of the National Education Association as an organizing force for students.
“The National Education Association is not just my union – it’s an amazing organization that gives a good teacher like me the best chance possible to fight and to win something better for the children I have loved – para todos los niños. Todos nuestros niños. For all our children, education is the way for them to find the road to their own incredible lives. And for me that public school is the where that path begins. It is the mission that is written across our hearts.”
After her remarks, Eskelsen received the Eagle Leadership Award, joining other prominent Latinos and past honorees, such as astronaut José Henández, music producer Emilio Estefan, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solís, actor Eva Longoria, and Omar Minaya, first Hispanic general manager of a Major League baseball team (New York Mets).