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Juan Carranza describes himself as a reluctant leader. As the eldest of nine children growing up in El Salvador, he really had no choice in the matter. “I had to take responsibility for the younger children and show a good example.”
And when he found himself in Toronto engaged in the local solidarity movement denouncing human rights abuses in his native country, his proficiency in English landed him the role of media spokesperson. The group organized a highly successful symbolic election that brought in Salvadorans from several hours away and drew ample media attention.
Carranza is quick to discount his influence, pointing instead to the power of the collective. When asked what advice he might give to budding leaders he focuses on the importance of others. “Surround yourself with people who share your values and who have skills you don’t have.”
His values were heavily influenced by his father who instilled in him a strong sense of identity – both cultural and class. “He had us identify with the poor and helped us see the profound inequities that existed in our society.”
Today Carranza is a founding board member of Casa Maiz, a Latin American community centre that convenes painters and performers and runs youth leadership programs. He references research that points to higher levels of academic success among children who are firmly rooted in the culture of their families. “It creates a ‘we can do it’ attitude,” he says.
In the end leadership, however it may be acquired, is about action and Carranza understand this. “You have to have a cause and be passionate about it. Find out what makes you move.”
Juan Carranza was appointed to the board of Centennial College through DiverseCity onBoard. He also sits on DiverseCity’s steering committee.