Young Teacher Promotes Leadership Among Latinos


(Wednesday, May 23, 2007 7:19 AM EDT)

Arlington native Gustavo Monje Ustares is 24 years old, but doesn't let his relative youth stand in the way of making a difference in the Latino community.

“It's about giving back,” Monje said in a recent interview. “I feel a strong responsibility to inspire others to use their intelligence and creativity to benefit all.”

A teacher of developmental English at Northern Virginia Community College and an English reading comprehension and ESL teacher at Best Academy in Springfield, Monje last fall was invited to be keynote speaker at Arlington Public Schools' Latino Youth Leadership Conference.

He grabbed the opportunity, because working with the next generation of leadership is very satisfying to him.

“I love young people,” Monje said. “Whatever I can do to inspire other young people, I'm up for the privilege.”

Monje has found that the most effective way to motivate today's youth is to be direct.

“Tell them what's going on, be real with them,” he said. “They want to help, but they need support from their elders. If you tell them what's wrong, they grow into a sense of responsibility and functionality. They realize their purpose in the world isn't to watch MTV.”

Monje's own motivation comes from two main sources: his parents, who emigrated from Bolivia, and the writings of jailed activist Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Although Monje said he sees young people's ties to their Latino roots as a positive thing, he hopes they will share their point of view with many different groups of people.

“They are very proud of their identity, and are protective of it,” Monje said. “They juggle being Latino . . . and being part of mainstream culture. They need support and role models to inspire them and to help them extend that identity, and allow them to share their perspective.”

His advice for young Latinos today is three-fold. He said they should pinpoint their strengths and use them to help others, identify their “commonalities with the entire universe” and challenge themselves to fix what is wrong with the world.

His message to youth is “don't sleep,” and to take an active role in making the world a better place.

When Monje isn't busy teaching and motivating young people, he enjoys meditation, yoga, playing guitar and traveling.

Gustavo Monje Ustares is bringing his message of empowerment to Latinos across the local area.
(Photo by Kristen Armstrong)

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