Immigrant Community Gets ‘Ready to Lead’

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - EducationThirty-five Latino, Polish, Arab, African and Asian immigrants and children of immigrants were selected to participate in a statewide non-partisan immigrant candidate training program Saturday, July 9th. The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) and the New American Leaders Project (NALP), in partnership with Wellstone Action and DePaul University, held the “ICIRR Candidate School,” the first program of its kind in the country at the DePaul University Center.

This weekend’s training, Ready to Lead, is a signature program developed by NALP for first and second generation immigrant leaders. This is a training program for potential candidates and other immigrant leaders who want to learn in-depth electoral skills. Training program guest speakers included Illinois’ first elected Latino, Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios, as well as State Representative Edward Acevedo, state and national organizations and official Illinois candidates. “Having leaders as diverse as our population sends a message to the rest of the world about a founding principle of our democracy,” said NALP’s Founding Director Sayu Bhojwani. “NALP focuses on building a network of elected officials who can more accurately reflect and respond to our country’s diversity. This Ready to Lead class represents the ethnic diversity of Illinois and is a window into future leadership.”

ICIRR has run the largest non-partisan voter registration and turnout operation in Illinois for the past four election cycles. In 2010, the organization’s multiple-contract program reached 133,128 immigrant voters. In that time, the Latino and Asian populations have increased by 32 and 38 percent, respectively. In 2008, ICIRR held a pilot training program that produced viable candidates for Alderman, State Representative, and local School Council elections. As such, immigrants have become increasingly aware of their political power and are ready to run. “This program marks great progress towards our goal of empowering immigrants in Illinois,” said Lawrence Benito, ICIRR Deputy Director. “Now it’s time to take it to the next level by prepare immigrants to run for public office.”

The success of this weekend’s Ready to Lead training program demonstrates that ICIRR and NALP in partnership with Wellstone Action and Depaul University are providing an opportunity for Illinois. “The energy and desire to lead is growing within the immigrant community,” said Rudy Lopez, Wellstone Action co-lead trainer. “We are here to provide the necessary tools for all of this amazing potential to be achieved.” For more information about ICIRR, visit For New American Leaders Project, visit

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