The Leon Hess Business School, First to Fly, and the Intercultural Center co-sponsored an event titled, “From Where I Stand,” featuring guest speaker Saul Flores on Monday, Nov. 7.
The purpose of the event was to inspire first-generation college students and those of varying backgrounds to overcome their personal, academic, and financial barriers in pursuit of a college education.
Flores was the first person in his family to graduate high school and college. As result of Flores’ persistence in the face of opposition, he received over 20 college scholarships, affording him the ability to attend college and graduate from North Carolina State University.
According to NAFSA: Association of International Educators, Flores is a photojournalist, philanthropist, and nationally recognized speaker. During one of his most recent projects, Flores walked over 5,000 miles across Latin America fundraising for the reconstruction of an elementary school in his mother’s native hometown in Atencingo, Mexico.
Flores started his presentation by sharing some of his experiences growing up with his family in Brooklyn, New York. “My mom would take us to work with her on the weekends…In those moments I knew I was loved. That’s when you realize that somebody is sacrificing something for you,” he said.
He continued to telling stories of his mother scrubbing the floors of a penthouse suite in Manhattan, the smell of the Clorox, as well as his first experience eating a croissant with his sister.
“We struggled being raised by undocumented parents. They came to the U.S. for a better life, the opportunity for education, and the chance to escape poverty— all while learning English,” reflected Flores.
Curious about his own identity, Flores and 15 other school friends flew to Mexico on a school trip. While staying with his family, his grandmother brought him to visit the school that his mother had attended as a child. As they were leaving, he heard from one of the students that the school was to close due to economic difficulties.
Flores elaborated, “I came back to the U.S. thinking of ways I could prevent the school from closing. My mother’s recognition of the power of a good education is one of the reasons she left her family behind in the first place.”
Understanding the negative impact the school’s closure would have on the children living in that area, Flores started “The Walk of the Immigrants” journey. In an effort to save the school, Flores crossed nine borders among ten countries, heading back to North Carolina after three months.According to the philanthropist, Flores’ journey was not without hardship. “While there were hard times, I am grateful to the friends I made along the way, like Fish, Felipe, and Raimundo.”
He continued, “I was so emotional when I arrived back at the school we helped save, and about a hundred kids began singing Mexico’s national anthem…It was so gratifying to give back. 134 students were able to graduate upon the renovations being finished.”
“This journey will forever be embedded in my memory. In an unexpecting place, I discovered a community I was meant to serve,” concluded Flores.