We had the good fortune of connecting with Stephanie Parra and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Stephanie, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
For a long time, I have reflected on why I am so deeply committed to issues of social justice and equity work. I realized over time that it was more than just caring about other people and their well-being. Certainly, that has always been a major component of why I am committed to this work, but why education? Why low-income children, youth and families? Why did I care so much that the sense of urgency around the issues negatively impacting communities of color kept me up at night? I came to realize that many of these issues have been ingrained in my own family’s experience, and much of my own.
I am the proud daughter of immigrants from Sonora, Mexico. My grandfather migrated to the United States in the 1940s through the Bracero Program. As an immigrant farm worker my father now shares stories of living in extreme poverty and experiencing hardships. My mother tells me similar stories about her own experience living in poverty in Mexico, having to live in an abandoned building made of adobe. Because of their personal experiences, my parents raised me to value and respect the American public education system. I grew up with the understanding that attaining a high school diploma and college degree would afford me opportunities that my parents did not have access to as children in Mexico or America, for that matter. It is their lessons, stories and experiences that have shaped me into the fearless advocate for public schools and Latino families that I am today.
Despite my passion and commitment to equity, local Arizona politics and anti-immigrant rhetoric were pushing me to consider leaving my home state for a more welcoming and inclusive environment. After expressing this to a mentor of mine, her response became a pivotal moment in my life and career – “Stephanie, you can leave like everyone else leaves AZ in frustration, or you can stay, and we can invest in your leadership so that you can be the change our community needs.”
These words had such a deep impact on my life that I chose to take the risk of staying in Arizona, establishing myself as a fierce advocate for equity in education. I consider this a risk because when I say I was done with Arizona, I was done. It had been years of feeling unwelcome, unsure, and unsafe in this state. Part of me felt stuck and as if my work would not be valuable. This risk turned out to be the biggest moment in my professional life. While the passion for the work was always there, this ignited a fire in me that has been instrumental in every career move from that moment.
I believe that if risks are motivated by passion, it should be a risk that is taken. I prefer to approach my life with the mentality of never having to wonder what could have been, but what was – even if it led me to an experience with an outcome that wasn’t what I was hoping for.
Currently, I am the Executive Director of ALL In Education, a recently formed education nonprofit-organization that is advocating for access to opportunity and justice for ALL students. If I hadn’t taken the risk of staying in Arizona, I may not be living this amazing experience at this moment. This work is deeply personal to me, because it is part of who I am. I see myself in our young people striving to make their parents proud of all the sacrifices they made for their kids to obtain a high school and college degree. And I see my parents in the families working incredibly hard to ensure their children have access to the opportunities that were not afforded to them.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
One thing I have learned over the years, strong leadership is not about a position or title. It is about the person, their values and how they carry out their work. Strong and effective leaders are courageous, compassionate and bold in their convictions to create change for their communities. They lead with their values, not their egos. They stay connected with their community, take the time to assess needs and focus their solutions on what is important to improve outcomes for those they serve. We need values-based, daring leaders to serve across our systems and communities.
Professionally, I have always been exposed to this type of leadership. It is that values-based approach that has gotten me where I am today and has helped me overcome challenges. The road here wasn’t easy. It was frustrating, full of barriers and bumps along the road – but my passion to advocate for students and my community is what kept me going. It is still what motivates me and gets me out of bed every morning. Thinking of what our communities could look like if we just provided ALL students with an equitable and just education, that provided them with opportunities for success – our state would flourish.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I love my culture. Being Mexican is my identity and what inspires me. I also love Arizona and all the amazing food and attractions it has to offer. I would start of by taking them to one our hiking trails, it’s something I do weekly and would love to show them the natural beauty of our state. Next, I would take them to brunch or for coffee at Fair Trade Cafe and then off to explore Roosevelt Row or the Phoenix Art Museum. I would cap off the night by going out to dinner and drinks at Chantico, it is currently my favorite restaurant.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Andrea Stouder Pursley
Upon finishing my graduate program at ASU, Andrea Stouder Pursley hired me to run operations for the Sanford Education Project at ASU. Shortly after that, Andrea recruited me to join her at Teach For America national. She was the first manager who made an explicit commitment to develop me into a leader in Phoenix and Arizona.
In an honest conversation with Andrea, I expressed that local Arizona politics and anti-immigrant rhetoric were pushing me to consider leaving my home state for a more welcoming and inclusive environment. Andrea’s response will forever stay with me, “Stephanie, you can leave like everyone else leaves AZ in frustration, or you can stay, and we can invest in your leadership so that you can be the change our community needs.” Andrea truly created space for me to grow and lead, needless to say I decided to stay and create change in the state that I love.