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MEMPHIS CROSSROADS: 4 and 40 - Advancing the Memphis Latino Community

The following is a feature from the Memphis Crossroads winter issue. To view the entire digital magazine, click here.

As Mauricio Calvo sees it, “if you’re working, you should be able to reach the American Dream.”

The Executive Director for Latino Memphis and new board member of the Greater Memphis Chamber has his work cut out for him. In endeavoring to boost the Hispanic community here, he keeps the numbers 4 and 40 at the forefront. The unemployment rate for Latinos in Memphis has been reported to be a remarkably low 4 percent, but 40 percent of the Latino population live in poverty. “When you look at the very low unemployment rate and the very high number in poverty,” he said, “you can’t help but ask what’s wrong here.”

In order to right the wrong, Calvo said, Latino Memphis is working on two fronts. One is to get more young Hispanics into post-secondary education to be prepared to enter the workforce, and the other is to encourage more Latinos to open businesses.

“This community has a lot of potential and the elements for success: family, faith, culture and a high work ethic,” Calvo said. “As an organization, Latino Memphis has taken a hard look at ourselves and asked what we have to do to make a significant change, not only to benefit the Hispanic community but the entire community.”

With his recent appointment to the Chamber’s board, Calvo sees a mutually beneficial partnership. 

“Latinos are very entrepreneurial,” he said. “When you drive around various parts of town, Winchester and Summer Avenue for example, you see more Latino businesses going up.” He said being on the board enhances the ability of the Chamber to reach out to Hispanics and for the Latino community to step up and take advantage of opportunities provided by the Chamber with workshops, networking and advocacy.

Leigh Shockey, Chairman of the Board for the Greater Memphis Chamber, had heard Calvo speak to organizations and felt he would be a strong asset to the Chamber’s mission. “The Chamber strives to have a board that is inclusive of all cultures," she said. "We we wanted to reach out to Mauricio as we felt he would bring great insight and input on how our organization — as well as our city — can best  impact and assist the growing Latino community.”

“It advances the Chamber’s mission, it advances our mission and ultimately advances the whole community,” Calvo said. “A stronger business base will help everyone.”

Chamber President and CEO Phil Trenary said Calvo’s presence on the board adds muscle to the Chamber’s mission. “The Chamber is all about leadership,” he said, “and we’re using leadership to resolve issues in the community and move us forward. Mauricio represents leadership in a segment of the community we haven’t done as well a job of reaching out to as we want. He has been working on this for a long time and has a level of knowledge, context and influence that we haven’t.”

Trenary said the connection with the Latino community helps the Chamber’s efforts to reduce the poverty rate. “We’re making sure we’re on the right path with the programs we’re pursuing focusing on having a job-ready workforce in Memphis and growing the middle class.”

Calvo said the work of Latino Memphis centers on three words: connect, collaborate and advocate.

“We have to be very strategic in working with the community,” he said. “It’s not going to succeed by accident.” So the nonprofit has developed four programs that cover a wide range of needs:

  • El Centro is our physical space,” Calvo said. “We served 2,600 families last year with information and referrals on schools, utilities, landlords or whatever. We have become an expert in different ways to help people navigate and this lets us keep a pulse on the community and gives us a better sense of the landscape of services out there.” 
  • Abriendo Puertas (Opening Doors) is an idea started by former Latino Memphis director Jose Velasquez that today helps college bound students with mentoring and providing assistance,” Calvo said. “These kids are often the first ones in their family to go to college, and this gives them help in navigating the way.” 
  • The Derechos (Rights) program is centered on providing legal information to low income families. “We have an atorney on staff,” Calvo said, “and the program offers workshops and affordable access to legal advice.”
  • Tu Voz (Your Voice) is a legislative advocacy effort that works with lawmakers at the city, county and state levels, and is part of a national network. 
The growth of the Hispanic population in the Southeast United States has been rapid since the 1990s. Latinos were already long established elsewhere in the country — Texas, California, the Midwest, the east coast — but opportunities widened in the ‘90s and people looking for work brought families and friends. “It shook things up a little bit,” Calvo said. “For the most part, people have been very welcoming if a little cautious. But the community grew so fast that the infrastructure wasn’t able to keep up.”

Working with the Chamber and with individuals and groups around the city will, Calvo said, bring about the desired changes. “Latino Memphis is an organization that is both pushing and yet diplomatic. We want to work with others to see how we can do this together. Sometimes it seems like a slower approach, but I think it’s a better approach.”

Posted: 6/2/2015 7:30:00 AM | with 0 comments

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The latest news from the Greater Memphis Chamber. For more information, contact Director of Communications Christina Meek at (901) 543-3504 ( or Communications Specialist Jenny C. Fish at (901) 543-3558 (