A central part of Andres Mejia’s work is to make sure that all young people know that they belong. As the director of diversity, equity, inclusion and justice for the Exeter Regional Cooperative School District, he works to ensure that all children understand that they have an important place in the mosaic of their school and community.
To do that well, he has to model belonging.
The Equity Leaders Fellowship strengthened his ability to do that.
The year-long program, created by and for leaders of color, combines intensive learning about equity, systems and policies with relationship building and nonprofit board service to strengthen the state’s network of leaders of color.
“I quickly saw ELF as one of the most important things in my life,” said Mejia, who also serves on the board of Black Lives Matter Seacoast. “ELF helped me realize that people of color have the right to be in whatever space in New Hampshire. They have the right to be on boards, to be superintendents, to be leaders of an organization even if there is no other person of color in that organization.”
Since 2015, 93 people have gone through the program, many of whom are now serving in expanded leadership capacities around the state — and serving as a network for one another.
“This has been the seed that, planted and watered, has extended into creating opportunities for engagement with folks I never would have been in touch with,” said Kevin Pajaro-Mariñez, who serves as assistant director of equity and inclusion at Phillips Exeter Academy and on the board of the Robinwood Center.
People of color have long been absent from many decision-making tables in New Hampshire. In an era when many organizations are trying to correct that mistake, the Equity Leaders Fellowship has helped develop a pipeline of leaders ready to help make the New Hampshire community more equitable for all.
“This is our state to help change and make better for everyone,” Mejia said.