MDC Staff Profile: Elsa Mota, 2016-2017 Autry Fellow
In August, we welcomed Elsa Mota, the 2016-2017 Autry Fellow, to the MDC Family. Welcome, Elsa!
Elsa was born and raised in Miami, Fla., and is of Dominican descent. In May 2014, she graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of Florida with a B.A. in criminology and law and a B.S. in psychology.
Upon completing her Fellowship, Elsa will join 16 other Autry Fellows who have completed a year at MDC dedicated to increasing the Fellow’s understanding of social change and place them on their own path to promoting equity.
In this interview, Elsa shares her mobility story, her passions, and her secret talents. Read on!
Why does working at MDC appeal to you? What attracted you to MDC and the Autry Fellowship?
I applied to many post-grad opportunities, but MDC truly stood out. I love MDC’s mission and the way we work to ensure that our vision becomes reality for Southerners. As an organization, we look at root causes, like racial inequity, education, socioeconomic inequities, and work with communities to address how these root causes can be changed at a systemic level. My personal life mission is to equip people with the tools they need to succeed and rise to their maximum potential, no matter where they may have begun in life. And my work at MDC helps me do this important work.
What projects and programs are you excited about working on here at MDC?
I am thrilled to work on many projects related to education. I am working with Great Expectations, an initiative that recognizes how important it is for our youngest learners, students aged 0-6, to be ready for kindergarten and for success in school in the long-run.
I am excited to be working with students and staff in community colleges to ensure successful student transfers, increase in graduation rates, and building pathways from college into meaningful living-wage work.
I am also coordinating the search for the 2017-2018 Autry Fellow, and am pleased to share that the application period for the Fellowship has already begun. I hope we will continue the trends from prior application periods to attract a wide, diverse, and competitive applicant pool for the Fellowship.
What do you hope to learn, achieve, do, observe, or participate in during your Fellowship year?
I hope to learn more about state and federal policies that help and hinder certain social, political, ethnic, and community groups in the United States, and what nonprofits can do in those arenas to increase equity. I would also love to participate in research, grant writing, and presentations.
Do you have any secret talents or passions? What is it / are they?
I don’t know if it’s a secret but it’s definitely a passion… memes!
On a serious note, I love to dance to bachata, merengue, and salsa. When’s the MDC staff dance party?
What’s your mobility story? What factors helped or hindered?
My parents immigrated to the United States in 1990 and I was born in 1991. Having just arrived, speaking no English, trying to find a way to support me and my older brother, they were forced to take very low-paying jobs. And yet, they still couldn’t afford to take care of us; so we were sent to live with my grandmother in the Dominican Republic until they were able to provide a more comfortable life for us.
When we came back to the United States, my parents believed in the American Dream: that if they worked hard, they would be able to buy a car, and then, eventually, a house. We thought we were on the right path; then, the recession of 2008 came along. We lost our house. We had to start from scratch; we were still a family, for a time. In the fall of 2009, I won a scholarship to attend the University of Florida, and my family also shattered as a result of domestic abuse. My mother and brother fled the state; I chose to stay in Miami to retain my Florida residency so that I could attend school and pursue my college education. I moved out, packing all of my belongings into my first car, a 2003 Nissan Sentra, and became homeless for a time.
To finish school, and support myself, and save money for college, I worked for minimum wage, took 5 AP classes, and leaned heavily on what support networks I did have left, through school and church.
I feel lucky to have been able to attend the University of Florida (go Gators!), and though I did not know it at the time, to be among the shockingly low 11% of first-generation college students who graduate within six years of enrolling in school. Due to my scholarship, the Florida Opportunity Scholarship, I became the first in my family to graduate from college. Education helps change the trajectory for those who pursue it; this is why I was driven to serve as a Teach for America Corps Member, and that is what has drawn me to work at MDC.
What are you passionate about—outside of work?
I’m passionate about treating others the way you want to be treated, which stems for my Christian faith. I’m passionate about homelessness and poverty. I’m passionate about my culture.
Do you have a favorite quote, poem, or passage? Why is it your favorite?
“Never give up what you want most for what you want today.”
This quote keeps me motivated to look toward the future and my ultimate goals in lieu of my current, sometimes small, mind may want. It applies to keeping strong relationships, discipline, and health.
What are your career goals / what is something you want to do long-term?
In the long-run, I hope to run a nonprofit legal service that offers pro-bono services for immigrant families. In the meantime, I plan to pursue a career working in family law. I also plan to run for a local public office at some point in my future.