Rosie Molinary is an accomplished author and the founder of Circle de Luz, a non-profit giving-circle and community for Latina teens. Molinary has made it her mission to empower young Latinas by supporting and inspiring them in the pursuit of their possibilities through extensive mentoring and scholarship funds for further education. Join us as we shine this week’s Latina Spotlight on Rosie Molinary and the Circle de Luz!
What inspired you to found Circle de Luz?
I am Puerto Rican and moved to the states when I was two. My first career was as a high school teacher, and so given my personal and professional history, I am particularly sensitive to the difference that an education can make in the life of a girl, especially an immigrant girl who comes from a country whose norms for women are not the same as they are here in the United States.
After writing Hijas Americanas: Beauty, Body Image, and Growing Up Latina, I felt an incredible sense of responsibility to alter the reality that Latina girls faced as they approached their futures. I started thinking about what the best practices were to address these issues from the experiences I had as an educator and began having really meaningful conversations with women that I knew about these issues. Though we were women of all ages and all walks of life (and not all of us were Latina), we all really coalesced around these issues and conceptualized a program that was comprehensive and powerful. Our dreams and design yielded Circle de Luz, an incredible program that radically empowers young Latinas by supporting their transformation through extensive mentoring, holistic programming and scholarship funds for further education.
We came up with a six year model (our members are in the program from seventh grade until high school graduation) that blends extensive mentoring with holistic programming and offers the girls a scholarship for further education when they graduate from high school.
Describe the Circle de Luz program:
In many ways, Circle de Luz operates as a typical non-profit. We write grants and host fundraisers to provide our transformative programming and cover our administrative expenses, but what makes Circle de Luz really special is our giving circles. The promise we make to our girls is a minimum of a $5,000 scholarship when they each graduate. In order to secure those funds, every single Circle de Luz class has a giving circle to support it. A giving circle is a group of like-minded women who want to be a part of making this dramatic difference and thus commit to giving $100 a year to each of the 6 years that their class of girls is in the program. That money goes directly to the scholarship fund and then each giving circle member, we call them mijas, can be as involved as they would like. Some of our mijas are local to Charlotte and can be involved in programs but our mijas come from over 25 states and countries and so many are engaged from a distance. We keep them up to date with our program through emails, videos, newsletters, and other connections.
How have you seen your work impact others?
It is really amazing to be with our hijas for six years because we get to see so much of their development. While I can share what I see, it may be even more significant to hear from one of the girls.
This year, one girl shared these observations,
Three years ago, I dealt with really horrible anxiety. Anxiety caused me to fear a lot of normal activities other kids were able to do and I couldn’t. I started middle school where I interacted more with books than I did with people and, although I had really supportive parents, I had really low self-esteem…
For me, Circle de Luz started as a way to academically help me. I went to a school where we were being preached more about how people “like us” didn’t make it to college or even high school. Circle de Luz was different… After my first year with this program, I slowly witnessed my confidence growing within me. I began doing things in and out of school and even started Tae Kwon Do!
These past few years, Circle de Luz has not changed the person I am but rather helped shape it. I earned my black belt this year. I thank Tae Kwon Do and Circle de Luz for helping me grow into a more outspoken, confident, and spunky individual. My family has also learned through the program and (it has) inspired us in many ways, including my parents going back to school to get further education. I am proud to say that college has become a casual topic at dinnertime and even taught me a new appreciation for my culture… I am blessed to be part of Circle de Luz and to have met the most supportive and influential people behind it all. You inspire me. Thank you.
Who or what inspires you to think big?
In the case of Circle de Luz, the hijas are our inspiration. When we conceived CdL, we all had a loose expectation and dream but meeting the girls and walking this journey with them has made our dream clear and huge. It is so important for women to find what gives them a sense of purpose and alights their passion and to plug into that—rather than diffusing their energy by trying to do too many things that don’t hold profound meaning for them. What I think we have all found with Circle de Luz is that it lights our fire and because it is so clearly our passion and purpose, we are always thinking bigger. When you are plugged into what you are meant to be doing in this world, you cannot help but to think bigger.
How do you deal with [the idea of] the “F-word”—failure?
I just don’t think failure is real. I absolutely do not believe in perfection and if perfection isn’t real then, guess what, its opposite—imperfection—cannot be real either. Things just are and difficult situation aren’t meant for judging ourselves, they are meant to give us information. If I make a mistake, I didn’t fail. I have the opportunity to learn something.
I believe that learning is paramount to living, that what matters is the heart and energy I put into things, that my being gentle and kind towards myself is the best foundation for giving kindness and grace to others which is so important to me. My first thought when something doesn’t go the way that I hoped is, “What can I learn from this?” I spend no time in judging or shaming myself, it is just not helpful energy and we’ve only got so much time and I only have so much energy. I am not going to waste any of it in the unproductive space of being negative, fatalistic, whiny or diminishing. I figure out what my note for myself is in any situation and I use that note to improve, not to berate.
What is your advice to aspiring and established Latina professionals?
Release yourself from any standards that aren’t of your own imagining and that keep you from being your best—and anything that keeps you from thinking positively about yourself and behaving respectfully towards yourself falls in that category. I want us to take the time and make the effort to get to know ourselves and then to move forward from an authentic place.
We have to champion all women. As long as one woman is crippled by feelings of inadequacy, then the world that we have created is inadequate. Supporting one another and freeing one another from the limiting messages that we internalize can be revolutionary. We make the choice whether to internalize these messages. We make the choice whether to build up or tear down. We can have power in our lives by not taking in negative messages, and we can empower other women by not sending out negative messages.
We can choose to create a society that encourages women to be healthier and more whole, a society that unites us in our commonalities while acknowledging the depth of the individual. The more we challenge the limits we place on each other, the more open the world will be to all of us.
Note from Rosie: Circle de Luz is recruiting our newest class of hijas (what we call our members) this fall, as well as recruiting a class of mijas to support them. If you are interested, please go learn more. It would be our honor to have you be a part of our team.