By Charlotte Libov
Cecilia Gutierrez goes to work each day in Liberty City, Miami’s poorest and toughest neighborhood, which is where she chooses to be. As President and CEO of the Miami Children’s Initiative (MCI), Gutierrez is not only the neighborhood’s chief advocate, but she urges others to embrace it as well.
MCI is committed to lifting the neighborhood’s children out of poverty by creating a community-based network that uses many tools, but primarily focuses on education as a way out of poverty.
This is a goal that Gutierrez knows intimately.
“I grew up poor and I got a scholarship to go to Boston College, and then I got a scholarship to get my master’s, so I am someone who fundamentally understands that the one thing that will end generational poverty is education,” says Gutierrez.
This is a goal that Gutierrez has spent her adult career fostering, and it is why she will be honored with the prestigious Pa’Lante Award on Friday, Jan. 13, 2017 by the Gay8 Festival, a free Latino art, music and food street festival that celebrates Miami’s diverse communities. The festival takes place on Sunday, Jan. 15 in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood.
While Gutierrez is pleased with the honor, she does not like to have such accolades take away from her attention to her work, she says.
“I have the privilege of working for the poor so for me to be even recognized around the effort that I am investing heart, soul, mind and spirit, reminds me to be focused on the work,” she says.
And her task is monumental, when you consider that Liberty City was showcased as one of the three communities– along with Overtown and Little Haiti – where 8,280 individual gunshots rained down within a year– an average of 22 bullets a day in just a four square-mile area, the Miami Herald says.
But, despite the drive-by shootings and other tragedies, Gutierrez finds Liberty City a story of hope and a place in which she can make a difference.
In working her own way out of poverty, Gutierrez earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology, then went on to earn a Master’s in Public Administration as a National Urban Fellow from Baruch College, CUNY.
She also carved out a career in senior level leadership, focusing on helping students and families gain access to quality education. She served as Executive Director of an education non-profit organization in Miami-Dade County, Breakthrough Miami and as a Senior Program Officer for the Beaumont Foundation of America, managing grants valued at approximately $11.5 million.
Also, for more than three years, Cecilia served as Special Assistant to a member of the New York City Board of Education crafting policies on instructional technology, improving middle-grade schools and strengthening bilingual education.
In 2011, she joined MCI, initially as the Vice President for Development and a now as its’ President/CEO.
It is a career that has intertwined education, senior leadership, and, most of all, service.
And it all led Gutierrez to Liberty City, because, she says, “I want to go not only in the neighborhood in need but to go into the pocket where people say, don’t go there, because you’ll be shot,” she says.
Because it is here that she finds not only tragedy – but also hope. And love. I can tell you, particularly in Liberty City, I have met the kindest, most loving people that I’ve met anywhere in my life. On a daily basis, I get hugs from kids in the neighborhood,” she says.
And, for Gutierrez, this is reward enough.