Taking Action Together to Tackle Student Loan Debt

In 2019 student loan borrowers from across Connecticut gathered to share stories about their student debt and strategize ways to help one another in the absence of institutional support. Borrowers recognized that student loan debt is a policy choice that impacts half a million borrowers in Connecticut and 45 million nationwide. We understood that no one was going to save us and that we needed to organize, advocate, and help ourselves stand up for collective liberation.

From that meeting grew the Student Loan Fund (SLF) and the Borrowers Collective, an all-volunteer group led by student loan borrowers with a fortified commitment to change the predatory systems of student debt and higher education financing that disproportionately impacts people of color and first-generation students. We came to this work from all walks of life, we are nonprofit leaders, artists, truck drivers, lawyers, social workers, chefs, teachers, and much more. We are working to cancel student debt and win free public college for all.

Throughout our work, we realized that many of our members were alumni, coaches, or facilitators for the Leadership Development Roundtable (LDR). LDR played an important role, not only in helping us develop as leaders, but also provided the container to expand our networks and connect us to a vibrant and diverse community of leaders looking to make lasting change.

As a younger woman of color LDR played an important role in helping harness my leadership skills and in creating the necessary connections for opportunities and leadership positions too often unavailable for people of color. I would not be the Executive Director of the Student Loan Fund, if not for the support of LDR coaches like Marina Rodriguez and Anne Watkins, who supported me through my time at LDR and opened doors previously unimaginable.

Through our affiliation with LDR, we met each other for the first time or had the opportunity to nurture pre-existing connections and build on important relationships with one another. Today, I want to highlight the amazing leadership and organizing of LDR leaders who are members of the SLF Advisory Council. Every day they show up and continue to guide us and ensure we are borrower-led and with a clear mission to champion racial and economic justice for student borrowers across the state. Leaders directly impacted who have dedicated their time, energy, and expertise to address this critical issue.

SLF leaders Joel Rivera Hicks, Marina Rodriguez, Lindsey Tengatenga, and founding member Anne Watkins are all part of the LDR family. Not only did they help build SLF from the ground up, but they also help us continue to build intersectional networks that uplift our individual work and recognize the interconnectedness of our struggles.

Marina Rodriguez, who currently serves as New Haven Senior Director and Mentor Coach at All Our Kin, Inc., is a 2016 LDR alum who has been coaching LDR for five years. She continues to bring her heart and nurturing spirit to all that she does as she highlights the profile of early childhood educators. Just this year, Marina helped organize a childcare walk-out that inspired a national movement to recognize the looming crisis over the childcare industry, which has long been undervalued and underfunded while relying on the labor of women of color, many of which have student debt.

Joel Hicks-Rivera, who currently serves as the Senior Community Impact Officer at Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, is a 2017 LDR alum who has been both a facilitator and coach at LDR for the last five years. Joel continues to bring his contagious joyful energy, talent for strategy, and commitment to ending cycles of oppression to his work at SLF and with everything that he does. This year Joel received the Legacy Honors Social Impact award from the Urban League of Greater Hartford, which looks to honor and recognize residents during their annual Black History Month celebration. The event showcased the achievements and contributions of African-American, Afro-Caribbean, and Afro-Latino cultures in the Capital Region.

Lindsey Tengatenga, who currently serves as the Executive Director at Public Allies Connecticut, attended LDR in 2015 and has been an LDR coach for the last five years. Lindsey continues to bring her enthusiasm, passion, and ability to build partnerships to SLF and all of the work she continues to do.

Anne Watkins, Founder of SLF and Principal at Watkins Strategy Group is an integral part of the glue that connects us all. She is a long-term facilitator, program director, and lead coach for LDR. Anne continues to bring her dedication to racial and economic justice to the forefront of her work.

These are just a few of the many LDR leaders who support SLF and are connected to our work. There are many other LDR leaders, who show up for actions, donate their time, energy, and brilliance, and who continue to make our work possible. We couldn’t do this without them.

written by Cristher Estrada Perez

Are you burdened by student loan debt? Interested in working with others to address the systemic inequalities inherent to student debt? If so, contact Cristher to learn more.