Whether he’s influencing board decisions to give equal opportunity to students of all races in Fort Worth schools or empowering youth toward achieving their dreams, Jacinto Ramos never forgets where he came from – it’s key to his success.
That became very clear shortly after I drove through the Texas Christian University professor’s neighborhood to interview him. Initially, I thought, “He lives here? He must’ve moved back to his childhood home.” Ramos was born and raised in the North Side of Fort Worth, also known as “Northside,” a predominantly Hispanic community categorized as economically disadvantaged. I had yet to find out the profundity of pride in his roots and commitment to giving back.
Apart from being a teacher, Ramos is a community services restitution supervisor at the juvenile detention center in Tarrant County and holds a seat on the Fort Worth Independent School District Board of Trustees.
“I moved out to Haslet, thinking I had ‘finally made it,’ even though all the work I was doing was back home,” Ramos said. “I wasn’t happy. After seven years, I realized I wasn’t needed there. Thankfully, my wife had been feeling the same way, and it just so happened her parents’ home in Northside became available after its tenants moved out.
Within a month, our house in Haslet was sold. It was meant to be.”
Born to immigrant parents from Coahuila and Michoacán, Mexico, Ramos is Purépecha Indian from his mom’s side of the family. “That’s a big part of who I am. I know I belong not only to this home, this family, my parents, and my Mexican identity, but also my indigenous identity. Knowing who I am is what’s allowed me to operate in a very politically explosive environment, especially in times like these,” Ramos said.
The Fort Worth native wants all “brown kids” to have that same sense of pride. He believes it’s his responsibility to help them find it, something he’s been doing for years now. One of his fondest memories is working on the “Rebirth of Aspiration” mural at the Northside Community Center alongside artist Manuel Pulido and 10 youth, who he encouraged to come up with their own theme. To his amazement, they went with their indigenous roots. The mural, which almost didn’t happen because the city initially opposed it, was completed around 2009 and remains untouched by graffiti.
One of his main goals is for Latino kids to reach their full potential, with the knowledge that it all starts by making a difference in their “hood,” their community. “When we are rooted into a community, instead of leaving it, great things can happen,” Ramos said. “When we move out of our neighborhoods, we take all our resources with us. I learned that lesson myself.”
“Now, I bring my TCU students every semester, and show them where I live, even though most have avoided it because of the things they’ve heard,” he added. “I take them to East Side and have them interact with community leaders, to the super mercados and taquerias. It isn’t how they think it is. Some of them even end up volunteering at the recreation center.”
Ramos desires for youth to become well versed in community issues, pinpoint the problem and create a resolution. He understands they cannot do it all on their own; they need mentors, role models and a support system. Currently
working on a doctorate in education leadership, Ramos acknowledges he is “by far the exception to the rule” and has been very fortunate in that aspect. He credits his success to a supportive spouse, parents who gave him everything they had financially and spiritually and a community who filled in the gaps, including his church, the ministry and mentors at work.
In fact, running for a FWISD board seat was never part of his goals. His aspiration was to become director of his department at the detention center, until David Carrizales, a trusted advisor and “man of faith,” convinced him God had bigger plans for him. Ramos waited until the last day to file to run for office and ended up with 85 percent of the vote.
“God has placed them in my life, they were sent to me,” Ramos said of his support group. “I’m humbled by it, and that’s why I can’t stand on the sidelines. It fuels my action mode to bring it back to my community and articulate to young people that they need to be active in the community. They’re leaders now, not in 10 years.”
To help provide role models, he and others recently helped pass a resolution to make the last Monday in March an annual holiday for Fort Worth schools: Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta Day. “Brown children don’t have a lot of positive images of themselves,” Ramos said. “Having a holiday sends a positive message to the city, the state, the district: We know who we are and whose we are.”
Last year, the board also passed a racial and ethnic equity policy. “We called out systemic racism as an institution and it now governs the entire school district. I want all parts of the system to be adjusted and recalibrated before my time here is up,” he added.
Ramos is focused on mastering being a trustee and making the most of his term’s remaining three years. He’d like to help create a district so sustainable that he wouldn’t feel the need to be there next term; a district with “a whole new culture of confidence, effectiveness, compassion and capacity.” Achieving this will allow more time with his wife, Anita, and their three children, Juan Marcos, Antonio Daniel and Andres Samuel, Ramos said.
For the future generation, Ramos has these words of wisdom: “Get rooted, know who you are, your history. Once a young person knows where they come from, they become more dangerous –dangerous enough to love, to call out systems, to stand their ground. Be uncomfortable to be driven enough to do something that’s bigger than yourself. Being rooted and challenging the status quo, like March for Our Lives and young people speaking their truth. Don’t get lost in the cause, know why you serve and who.”