In honor of Latinx Heritage Month (Sept. 15 – Oct. 15), we are pleased to present an exclusive Q&A with notable Latinx alum Ignacio Salazar, MSW‘72.
Salazar is the eldest son of Rodolfo and Otila Salazar, former migrant farmworkers from South Texas who settled in Michigan.
Salazar serves as president and CEO of SER Jobs for Progress National, Inc., a national network of employment and training providers. SER provides services to more than one million people annually through its affiliates in 24 states as well as Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. Salazar is committed to SER’s mission of transforming lives through employment, education, and empowerment.
He currently holds several leadership and advisory positions, including chairman of the board of the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility; Joint Diversity Council Member, Comcast, Telemundo, and NBCUniversal; Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Board Member with the MillerCoors Corporation; and Alumni Association of the University of Michigan Board Treasurer. Salazar was also appointed to the President’s Advisory Council on Financial Literacy — a consultative commission created by an executive order signed by then-President George W. Bush — a post he held for three years (2008-2011). Salazar also served on the board of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute and was a member of the executive committee for the NAACP Detroit.
Alumni Association: What is your proudest accomplishment and the highlight of your career?
Ignacio Salazar: I would signal out the establishment of the Samaritan Center located on the east side of Detroit. At the time, in 2001, I purchased a former hospital in conjunction with another entity and created the nation’s largest one-stop service center. The facilities are part of a 550,000 square-foot complex that sits on 26 acres of land. Today, it is still owned and operated by SER Metro Detroit and Holy Cross Children’s Services. There are over 80 different mission partners operating in the facility, offering a comprehensive array of services to the local residents. That same year, I expanded operations of SER Metro Detroit to Chicago and parts of Texas, Arkansas, and New Mexico with comprehensive workforce development programming.
Alumni Association: What is your best/worst U-M memory?
Salazar: The best memory I have is the long-lasting relationships that I established while a student at U-M. We established a network of individuals who went our separate ways, yet remained connected. It is invaluable.
My worst memory is the guilt I carried while pursuing my education as a single parent to my eldest son. I always worried I was shortchanging him in the process.
Alumni Association: How did you become involved with U-M Latinx Alumni?
Salazar: I am one of the original founders of the Hispanic Alumni Council (now known as U-M Latinx Alumni). There was a group of us that got together after we graduated to form it, and I have been active with the group throughout its years.
Alumni Association: What do you feel is the biggest challenge in education that faces the Latinx community? And how do you think this challenge can be solved?
Salazar: Census figures reflect that Hispanic children make up increasingly larger percentages of public school enrollments. According to a Pew Research Center on Hispanic Trends analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data, for the first time, starting in 2011, 25% of public elementary school students were Hispanic, up from 19.9% in 2005 and 16.7% in 2000. The U.S. Census Bureau notes that by 2036, Hispanics are projected to make up 33% of the nation’s children ages 3 to 17.
Hispanic students tend to be educated in poorly funded schools, largely due to the economic status of their parents. These schools possess fewer resources, have overcrowded classrooms, and lack college-preparatory guidance and classes — all attributes that contribute to lower aptitude and advancement.
Ensuring that Hispanic students receive a comprehensive, thorough education beginning with kindergarten is imperative to academic achievement and upward mobility when these individuals reach the workforce. We need to invest more in Early Head Start programs, which provide quality early childhood education for low-income infants and toddlers, so when low-income Latinx students arrive at a public school, they are as ready for academics as less disadvantaged children. Without a carefully organized and effective intervention at this young and impressionable age, Latinx children are more likely to fall behind their peers, drop out of high school, and not enroll in college.
America’s future is directly linked to our ability to educate Latinx students, sustain a competitive workforce, and promote business creation. In the coming decades, the Latinx population will continue to drive the growth of the labor force, as they will account for 80% of the nation’s population growth between 2010 and 2050. Success in education and in the workforce for Hispanics is of both immediate and long-term importance to America’s economy.
Alumni Association: What does Hispanic/Latinx Heritage month mean to you?
Salazar: Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month is an opportunity to celebrate the diversity of our nation, the richness, talents, and contributions everyone brings to the table. It helps us to educate and retell stories that were not told in history and gives people an understanding that everyone has talents. Those talents are equally distributed, though opportunity is not necessarily equally distributed. We have all made contributions to the greatness of this nation in various ways.
Alumni Association: How can alumni contribute to the Latinx community?
Salazar: Alumni can contribute to the Latinx community by becoming involved in the activities of the U-M Latinx Alumni and by contributing and sponsoring activities related to the LEAD Scholarship program, which helps promote the inclusion and diversity of all students at the University of Michigan.