In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15 – October 15), the Trust is featuring a series of conversations with Latinx philanthropists and leaders who are making a difference in the region.
As a student at Georgetown University, Alberto Morales found his purpose in opening doors for others through education. He began his career with the Georgetown Scholars Program, which supports and empowers first-generation students like himself. He has also supported education-focused grant making at the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, and school growth and student recruitment for the Cristo Rey Network. A year ago, he launched Morales Consulting, a social sector consulting firm partnering with mission-driven organizations to advance strategic planning, DEI, grant making, program design, and more. He is a 2020 recipient of Chicago Scholars “35 under 35” award that recognizes “a group of talented young professionals making an impact in Chicago.”
He also serves on the steering committee of Nuestro Futuro, an affinity fund of the Trust that supports Chicago-area organizations and programs aimed at improving the quality of life for the Latinx community, and will soon step into the role of co-chair. He sat down recently with Meghan Lewit, communications manager at the Trust, to discuss how giving is deeply embedded in the Latinx community, and his own “north star” of advancing equity. Some questions and answers have been condensed and edited for clarity.
Meghan Lewit: Can you tell me a little bit about how your philanthropic and social impact journey started?
Alberto Morales: I was born and raised in the Gage Park neighborhood of Chicago. My parents arrived in Chicago in the late 80s and settled on the Southwest Side, and I consider myself a proud Southsider. I had an amazing experience growing up in that neighborhood and was surrounded by family who really looked out for each other. I was put on trajectory for success in high school. I went to Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Pilsen, and so many doors began opening for me. They created a pipeline to college, alongside other organizations that supported me such as Chicago Scholars and Mikva Challenge.
As a result of this support, I enrolled at Georgetown University, where my awakening to social impact and justice began. I was a fish out of water in a place that is visibly elite, wealthy, and had few Latinos on campus. It was then that I understood that invisible ladders existed for people to get to a place like Georgetown. And I had to unravel and make sense of all this privilege that I now had being a student at a place like this, and I came to deeply appreciate my Mexican culture and working-class roots. Inspired by my parents’ journey, my entire career has been focused on social impact and education.
ML: You’re clearly very passionate about education and the role it played in your life. Is there anything else that inspired you to pursue a career in social impact?
AM: My background as a first-generation, formerly low-income student; identifying as LGBTQ; coming from a Mexican immigrant family; having been born and raised on the South Side of Chicago—all of these intersectional identities are my north star for pursuing racial equity and justice. They inform how I hope to influence the world in my own small way.
I survived a fragmented and underinvested system. I am on the other side now. I am a professional and have a career because of the village that supported me. There are many young people currently struggling to get through that same system, and we need to mobilize around them and show up for our Latinx community. If not us, then who?
ML: Given your personal and professional background, how would you define “philanthropy”?
AM: Because I have worked at a philanthropic foundation and currently work with many philanthropic clients, I have two definitions. There is the profession of working in philanthropy and stewarding resources to underinvested areas. Then there is the more personalized approach that one takes with their individual giving. A good philanthropist can catalyze and inspire funding to those issues—either through their giving, or by mobilizing their networks and saying, “Hey, pay attention to this.”
ML: Can you talk about your experience with Nuestro Futuro and why it is so important to you?
AM: I first learned about the Nuestro Futuro fund at the Trust while I was working at the Robert R. McCormick Foundation in 2016. I was immediately drawn to NF’s focus on the Latinx community because I had not seen any strategic, philanthropic focus on our community. The Latinx community and Latinx-led organizations are underinvested in philanthropy. Nuestro Futuro is directly addressing that investment gap and is providing much needed resources to the Latinx community. Our focus on immigration and early childhood, and now incorporating mental health, is so critically important as these are some of the biggest needs that the Latinx community has. I am honored and excited to step into a leadership role with NF because of the opportunity to catalyze more funding to our community. We will continue to leverage NF’s fund and microphone to mobilize philanthropic resources to the Latinx community.
ML: What advice would you give someone who is starting their philanthropic journey or looking for ways to become more engaged in their community?
AM: I would encourage people to not be intimidated by the word “philanthropy,” and the connotation that you must be an ultra-wealthy individual to give back. That’s absolutely not true. Philanthropy includes volunteerism and resources. If enough people give in small amounts, those resources can be pooled to directly change a community.
ML: As we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, could you describe the spirit of giving and community in the Latinx community?
AM: Latinxs are philanthropic at our core, because one of our core values is “comunidad.” We show up for our friends, families, religious and civic institutions. There is research that demonstrates that two-thirds of Latinx households give to charity each year. We also showed up for our families during the pandemic, and we showed up after the murder of George Floyd to support social and racial justice causes.
It is exciting to think about our community’s trajectory in this country. The median age for Latinxs in the U.S. is 30. As our generation continues to grow older, earn more throughout our careers, and hopefully increase in social mobility, I imagine these giving trends will continue because comunidad is our gravitational force.