‘Belonging’ focus of Los Cien event at SSU

10th annual “State of the Latinx Community Address” held in the Student Center
September 28, 2023
Herman G. Hernandez

Herman G. Hernandez, executive director of Los Cien, addresses the group's annual gathering at SSU.

Individuals must proactively use new listening, bridge-building, and outreach methods if they hope to one day live in communities that are truly inclusive and foster a sense of belonging for everyone, Latino leaders told a large and diverse audience at SSU on Thursday.

“The Power of Belonging, Shifting Mindsets, and Transforming Communities” was the theme of the 10th annual “State of the Latinx Community Address” held in the Student Center at Sonoma State University. The annual event is put on by Los Cien, Sonoma County’s largest nonprofit Latino leadership organization. SSU was the presenting sponsor for this year’s event.

Herman G. Hernandez, Executive Director of Los Cien, opened the half-day event with an overview of Los Cien’s ongoing efforts to address systemic inequities within the communities it serves and its recent push to expand the scope of topics the organization addresses, reflecting the increasing complexity of people and societies. He was followed by SSU President Ming-Tung “Mike” Lee, who shared that while the university’s campus climate survey shows that 70-plus-percent of Latino students feel welcome at the University and within the community, only 42 percent feel a sense of belonging.

Noting that there is a difference between feeling welcomed and experiencing a sense of belonging, “We have a bit more work to do to help them feel they are shaping and designing this campus,” Lee said.

That distinction was reflected in speakers’ and panelists’ comments throughout the event, as instilling a true sense of belonging in others involves deeper listening, greater connection and understanding, and shared empathy and compassion to truly take hold.

That journey begins inside every individual, said Oscar Chavez, President and CEO of the Community Foundation of Sonoma County, who emceed the day’s activities. “We must be the change we seek before we can expect transformation from others. We must resist the urge to go back to ‘normal.’

“Our fates and our futures are tied together. We need each other.”

Keynote speaker Evan Holland, co-founder and senior consultant for Seed Collective LLC, which supports the sustainability of entrepreneurs and communities through education, policy and advocacy, asked audience members to think about three questions: “What does it take for us to belong? How do we get to a more just society? Are justice and belonging connected?”

Holland believes four factors combine to create true sense of belonging: inclusion, meaningful participation, co-creation, and shared power. She also emphasized the power of  building and maintaining bridges of communication, for “in order to sustain belonging, we must bridge.” Deep listening, empowering oneself to make brave choices, and targeted universalism – the setting of universal goals and using targeted processes to achieve those goals – also are keys to the “belonging” process, she said.

The “State of the Latinx Community Address” also included two panel discussions – “Hope for Belonging” and “Systems Change and Transformation” – and a special “My Belonging Story” by Herman J. Hernandez, the founder and past board chair of Los Cien. Hernandez, broker and owner of Hernandez Realty, received an honorary doctorate from Sonoma State University in May, recognizing his commitment to building an equitable community.