Walter Deleon made the following remarks to the Teach for America 25th Anniversary Summit. He talked briefly about the value of public service, the capacity of everyone to foster change in their communities, and the issues he tackles everyday as Commissioner.
Good afternoon everyone,
Thank you so much to Teach for America for hosting us, all of you for being here, and my fellow speakers as well. I’m Walter Deleon, a Commissioner here in the District of Columbia and the youngest elected official in DC history.
I’m the son of two immigrants from Guatemala. My mom forwent an opportunity to attend one of the finest universities in Latin America for a once-in-a-lifetime chance to come to the United States where she learned English and worked as an Au-Pair. My father didn’t come to the US on his own volition. They met in the early 90’s, worked hard, entered the middle class, and over the years forged their own slice of the American Dream.
Their hard work in improving my neighborhood, commitment to driving me across the city so that I wouldn’t have to attend our poorly performing neighborhood elementary school, and sheer love for my and my siblings are the reason I truly believe that anyone and everyone can be a catalyst for change.
Over the years I’ve met many people who have reaffirmed that belief to me through their words or actions. One of them was my 6th grade science teacher, Vanessa Ford, who happens to be a TFA alumna from the 2002 corps and is here somewhere.
Our families stayed close over the years. As my Junior year in high school came to a close she connected me with the office of Tommy Wells, a now-former member of the DC Council. I was able to snag an internship with his office for the summer thanks to her and as my Senior year in high school started I worked with his campaign for Mayor. Those internships are the reason I decided to stay in DC for university and run for office in 2014.
In short, Vanessa kickstarted my political career and made me realize that even the smallest of actions can change a person’s life for the better, and that we all should aspire to gave others a place to stand, so that they may move the earth.
And with her help and 92% of the vote that I won, I’ve been fortunate enough to move the earth and make bold changes in my community. Since being elected I’ve tackled issues of public safety, environmental justice, and have pushed for broad changes in expanding voting rights in municipal elections to 16 year olds and all resident legal immigrants. I’ve pushed for more comprehensive mass transit options for my community, for more responsible development, and for policies that reflect a truth — that black lives matter.
Yet the issues I have chosen to seek solutions to and the issues that perhaps you or your communities face or will face cannot be solved by any singular person alone. It takes people who are bold enough to become the catalysts for positive change in their communities. Whether that’s done through inspiring others to take action, or by becoming the change they seek, there’s no greater acknowledgement of Cicero’s words, that “we are not born for ourselves alone.”
Thank you very much!