TULSA, Okla. — "Our mission is to achieve respect and understanding for all people. We do that through education and dialogue," Moises Echeverria said.
Echeverria is a man on a mission. Born in Monterrey, Mexico, his family emigrated to the Bixby, Oklahoma in the late 1990s.
"My parents knew that they wanted to provide a hopeful future to their five children," Echeverria told 2 Works for You. "They knew people who were in Oklahoma, so they made the very difficult decision to leave their home country to provide a better future for me and my siblings."
A shy, studious child, he said he struggled to learn English and fit in during middle school in Bixby and later at Central High School in Tulsa. He is grateful to the teachers who helped him "and encouraged me and pushed me and challenged me to, to learn, to grow to, and to be all that I, you know, to to reach my highest potential."
It was during high school, shortly after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, that Echeverria attended a Anytown Leadership Institute, a course put on by the Oklahoma Center for Community and Justice. The organization works to "create inclusive communities through dynamic, diversity and inclusion programming for all ages." During the week-long Anytown event, students join in workshops and activities that help develop leadership skills in a diverse society. It was that exposure to the concept of social justice that would change his view of the world, as well as determine his life's direction.
"It was the first time in the United States, where I felt celebrated for my diversity," Echeverria said. "And when I realized that my diversity was going to be a benefit to my community if I continue that trajectory of leadership. Before then I just, I was ashamed of being bilingual. I was ashamed of my skin color."
Echeverria said that eye-opening lesson in diversity and leadership helped him grow. He became involved in many clubs and in organizations involving students of diverse backgrounds and interests. As a high school senior, he was invited to serve on the OCCJ board with its powerhouse lineup of successful business and community leaders.
"And I remember, because Anytown was such a transformative experience for me, I remember going to these board meetings, and seeing all these men and women in their suits and what I consider successful people, just thinking they don't know me but they care about me because they're serving this organization that will change my life," Echeverria said. "And I remember thinking when I grew up, I want to be like them. And I want to be able to give back."
After serving as a student board member, it would not be long before he joined OCCJ as a member of the staff. After obtaining a Bachelor's Degree in business administration from Oklahoma State University and a Master's Degree in human relations from the University of Oklahoma, he now lives his goal of giving back to the Tulsa community by leading the OCCJ as its President and CEO. As the top executive for the past four years, he sends a message to the next generation of student leaders whom he said is the most diverse in the nation's history.
"You are worthy, you belong. And we are, we will be a better community because you are in it," Echeverria said. "I often see myself as, as this, as this young immigrant kid who struggles to speak English. If I can do all of these things and anyone can do just what I've done it and even more than what I've done. So, just keep at it. Continue to learn, continue to develop yourself and we need you. We absolutely need you to be the change agents of our country and our nation needs."
Echeverria calls on all Oklahomans to link arms and work together to help eliminate bias, bigotry and racism in this lifetime. It is a lofty goal, yet one that he is convinced can be accomplished.
For more information about the Oklahoma Center for Community and Justice, click here.
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