striding

Jefa Series: Profiling Poderosa (Powerful) Latinas Pt.1

What is a Jefa?

The term Jefa refers to a “female boss or leader; a woman in charge.”  When thinking of the word Jefa I believe it means more. I believe the world has changed tremendously and definitions evolve over time. Jefa in todays world is to lead by transcending cultural expectations while being intentional about mentoring others, therefore making space for Latina’s everywhere to take on roles that weren’t created with us in mind. It’s in these spaces that we shine the brightest.

As we enter Hispanic Heritage Month, I started thinking of all the inspirational Latinas in my life who influence their community, shine in their career, and have conquered the obstacles that come with being Latina in a world that doesn’t always see our value. These brave chicas transcend theater, merge corporate and public sectors, and enhance the higher education experience as well as the judicial system. Their influence comes from a long line of brave mujeres who have left their country of origin to pave a new life in America. Their mothers were brave, and they have risen to the challenge to do the same.

How do I know this? These Jefas are beautiful and ponderosas (powerful). They have inspired a movement and they just so happen to be my family. I’m introducing real women, with real lives that are not always perfect. Women who were not buried but rather planted with deep roots. That’s why I admire them most of all. Their stories are of triumph in a world that sexualizes us rather than envisions us in the boardroom. These women have a story that’s rich, deep, and inspiring. Here is just a piece of their journey. For more about them, their movement, and vision I encourage you to follow their social media accounts. Shine bright ladies, shine bright! The following women exemplify the true Jefa spirit in more ways than one.

 Meet Clarybel

Clarybel Peguero is one of my favorite primas (cousin) and believe me I have many. Growing up we would spend summers together either in Washington Heights (NYC) or West Palm Beach FL. As an Afro Latina, Clarybel has always stood true to who she is. One thing I admire most about this Jefa is that she is unapologetically herself which allows her to shine in spaces where many of us would not.  Her strength has come from being raised by a single mother from the Dominican Republic who taught her to carve a life for herself in spaces where daughters of immigrants rarely enter. She did just that.  

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“A Jefa is not afraid of transformational change.”

In 2010, Clarybel joined the staff at Duke University where she now serves as the Senior Director for Volunteer Engagement.  In her role, she is responsible for overseeing the management of the “volunteer pipeline” which includes identifying, recruiting, and providing training and recognition of alumni volunteers. Clarybel earned a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from the Maxwell School of Citizenship at Syracuse University and holds a Masters in Higher Education Administration from the University of South Carolina.  In 2014, she successfully defended her dissertation entitled “The re-conceptualization of historically white fraternities and sororities; the black students experience” earning her Doctorate in Organizational Leadership and Communications from Northeastern University.

When asked how she would define a Jefa, Clarybel shared that “about a year ago the President of Duke University, Richard Brodhead, was asked by alumni “What advice would you give a young person today?” and he answered with certainty and said , “it’s advice I would give anyone…. YOU MUST HAVE THE COURAGE TO LIVE.” Those words have had a profound effect on me. To me, Jefas must have the courage to live.

“For the past 9 years, I have worked at Duke University for 8 out those years I served as the Director of Fraternity and Sorority Life.  Over a year ago, I accepted a new position at Duke and so today I am the Senior Director for Volunteer Engagement at the Duke Alumni Association.  I have been in the field of Higher Education for 20 plus years and have worked at some very prestigious institutions including American University, Johns Hopkins, Boston College, and UVA.  I have three degrees and I’m proud to say that in 2014, I successfully defended my dissertation where I critically examined racial issues within the Greek community. I am very proud of my professional accomplishments. However, being a true Jefa means knowing who you are and what you value.” She goes on to say ,”A Jefa is someone that believes in people and making sure everyone around her is achieving their best self possible. A jefa is not afriad of transformational change and is determined to be about self-betterment. A jefa knows to never dim her light. A true Jefa gives as much as she has taken from this world.”

Meet Helen  

Helen was one of my first childhood friends and is also my prima (cousin). We grew up in Washington Heights, NYC and over time she grew into a strong professional in the judicial arena. Helen earned a Bachelor of Science in Political Science from Fordham University and holds a Master’s in Public Administration from John Jay College.  Early in her career she was a clerk for superior court while also teaching undergrad students in areas like politcal science and criminal justice. Once her kiddos have “worked on developing their dreams” she hopes to pursue her PhD.

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“Jefa’s do what they are supposed to do.”

Helen is not only a Jefa in the courthouse, but she runs a tight ship at “Hacienda Ramos,” where she and her husband raise 3 kids all under the age of 5. Did I mention her girls are twins!! When asked what it means to be a Jefa Helen shared that “over the past year, people constantly say to me I don’t know how you do it all. This question often comes because I have 3 kids, work full-time and have a deployed husband. My answer is and will always be, I am doing what I am supposed to do. Jefa’s do what they are supposed to do. I am not doing anything out of this world. Am I tired? Yes, with 3 kids under five I live a tired life. However, I have healthy, happy children. In addition, I am the healthiest I have been in years.” Helen recently took charge of her weight dropping over 30lbs.   

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When asked about her marriage Helen shared that “although we don’t have a perfect marriage our marriage is perfect for us.” Running an active tribe of while having a deployed husband Helen says “I tackle what each day brings and leave what has passed is in the past. I deal with the tomorrows when they need to be dealt with.” To learn more about her eating plan, exercise routine and the funny things her little girls say you can find Helen on her Instagram Page.

Meet Laura   

Laura is my little sis who just so happens to be a super creative chica. She is an actor and singer, but her biggest role at the moment is that of being a new mother to the cutest baby boy. In addition, she recently took on the role a Breastfeeding Counselor in Bronx, NY. She graduated from the Two-Year Conservatory at the Stella Adler Studio of Acting (NY) and has been fulfilling her acting career on both coasts. Laura is currently represented by Plaza 7 Talent Agency and Lil Angels Unlimited. For more information on her latest acting work, visit www.imdb.me/lauraguzman.  

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“A Jefa empowers other women because she knows that there is power in numbers.”

Laura Guzman

As an Afro-Latina actress Laura has often experienced type cast roles that do not always represent who she is ethnically. Being Afro-Latina is something she takes pride in and she hopes that as the new wave of Hollywood actors, directors, and produces take over that there will be space to have difficult conversations of how Latinas are diverse in the roles they can take on and their apperance. She hopes to change the narrative of what “typical” Latina roles look like.

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As if she’s not busy enough, Laura recently launched her new YouTube Channel where she shares thoughts about her career as an actor, motherhood, curly hair care, and her afro Latina experience. When asked what it means to be a Jefa, Laura notes that “una Jefa is a woman who is unafraid to go after her dreams. A woman who walks in her truth. She empowers other women because she knows that there is power in numbers and we can all win. She knows there are enough seats at the table for us all. She doesn’t compete with anyone but herself.” You can also follow Laura on her Instagram Page.  

Meet Jenny

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Jefas remain grounded.

Jenny Pichardo

One of the neat things about this series is that I am being intentional about promoting the many wonderful women in my life like my sister Jenny. We grew up listening to hip hop and making up dance routines to free style music. She is a trendsetter and inspires women everywhere she goes. Jenny has also found a away to change the narrative for teens in the community we grew up in by connecting the public and private sector to provide them a stellar education.

Jenny joined Inwood Academy for Leadership from the International Leadership Charter High School (ILCHS). At ILCHS she secured a $17.5M municipal bond financing for a new facility, becoming the first NYC charter school to secure funding through Build NYC. Prior to joining the charter community, Jenny worked in the financial sector for over 14 years. Currently, Jenny is the COO/CFO at Inwood Academy for Leadership in New York where she successfully completed a second bond financing for her Charter school.

She began her Wall Street career in 1997, working at Muriel Siebert & Co. Inc., in the firm’s retail division. In 1999, she joined Siebert Capital Markets, working directly with the managing director and assisting the sales force and traders with equity, fixed income and mutual fund trades. From 2001 to 2009, she was Vice President—promoted from AVP in 2005—of the Institutional Equity Sales and Trading Division and developed and managed institutional relationships at Utendahl Capital Partners, LLC. Jenny graduated Magna Cum Laude and received her BA in Economics from Lehman College. She previously held FINRA Series 7, 24, 55, 63, 65 and NY State Insurance Licenses. Jenny is a Washington Heights native and is married to Zoilo Pichardo. She is the mother of two children, Ethan and Abigail.

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Breaking ground for new Charter School she helped secure funding for.

When asked what being a Jefa means to her Jenny shared the following truth: “Being a Jefa is modeling for my team and peers to serve others well.  Its to place the needs of the stakeholders first. For me, those stakeholders are the students we serve every day.  Its mentoring students in the neighborhood I grew up in. Often times those kids resemble my siblings and I. That is motivation enough to keep going.

Jefa’s remain grounded and teach students that they can do it too. My goal is to lead like Jesus. I am not Jesus in many ways, but I can lead with grace and with an expectation of excellence. Lastly, I hold my team to high standards regardless of the positions because we are all impacting our students lives.”  With Jenny at the Helm it’s no surprise that the vision for Inwood Academy for Leadership is “Empowering students in Inwood and Washington Heights to become agents for change through community-focused leadership, character development, and college preparedness.”

Striding: Finding Your Joy in the Noes of Life

"Return home and tell how much God has done for you…" Luke 8:39 (NIV)

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Do you have a story? I'm pretty sure we all do. Does your story have value? Absolutely. Can your story influence others? Without a doubt. So why is it that we are often reluctant to share the hard moments of our lives with others? I think sometimes it’s because those hard times are often reminders of the firm noes we have experienced in our lives. I wonder if we have come to the point where we find joy in the noes of life.

I’m often asked why I finally decided to go live with my intimate life stories about loss, adoption, infertility, and our multiracial family experiences. It wasn’t an easy decision. I remember nights discussing with my husband about how this might impact our family. Ultimately, we made the right decision.  I think it’s because the hard moments in our life taught me the biggest lessons of my life. I’d like to think that when I share the grief I experienced with infertility that it will help another couple heal. I hope that when I talk about the hardships interracial families experience today that other families don’t feel so alone.

Many of the noes have been hard. A great example of this is when I applied for a job I really, wanted. Our son was young, and I knew that the job would not only advance my career but also give me time at home to be with him. I didn't get the job. I wasn't the first choice as I had hoped. I was second. Second didn't win me a prize. When the firm no came my way, I was crushed. What I didn’t know is that six years later I would oversee that position, unit, and team. Like many others, the joy came later.

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Our miscarriage was probably the most bitter NO of my life. We had sacrificed so much time, money, and energy with fertility doctors only to get a firm, bitter no. That no cost me my health, requiring surgery and our emotional wellbeing. That no was bitter. To rub salt in my wound my closest friends were pregnant at the same time I was. We were supposed to raise our children together. Our miscarriage happened right around Mother’s Day. I was at my lowest. What I didn’t know was that the way we would grow our family would be through adoption and not by birth. Meeting our son's birthmother that same year and witnessing the birth of our son the same month (and year) our birth child would have been born was nothing I could have ever envisioned. God knew that I would be a mother before my pregnant besties. I didn’t.  Today, I am a mother because I got a firm NO.  The heartbreak and pain didn't determine our future. Yet another firm no that lead to the greatest joy of my life.

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The noes of life can break your heart. For me, my twenties was a time where I experienced tough noes from God. At the time those noes broke my heart. Have you ever felt like that?  In the past, I could barely talk about those noes without crying. Recently, my Alma Mater, Nyack College interviewed me for a piece they were writing about my work in adoption

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That interview reminded me of those noes. It also gave me time to reflect on all the yeses I stepped into. I think that is why I love being a seasoned 40 something. I’ve lived long enough to see how those firm noes lead to the yeses of my life later.  I can honestly say I am joyful for every no because it lead me here. To me, the world will not change until we get real with ourselves about the pain, rejection, and losses we have experienced. It’s in those hard times that we truly understand our humanity. That we are all the same.

Finally, to answer the question; Why do I share my stories?  I share them because they shaped me, and I hope they will help others in similar situations. I have learned that God never wastes our pain. Only we do that. God has a great purpose and a beautiful future for all. Not despite our past, but because of it.

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