José A. Rico is director for Solidarity Heals: Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation (TRHT) Greater Chicago, housed at The Chicago Community Trust. For the last three decades, Rico has worked in Chicago schools and community-based organizations, as well as on a national level leading development of educational policy in the White House under President Obama, and currently serves as the Chief Partnership Officer for United Way of Metro Chicago – all to make sure the basic needs of the most vulnerable are being met and to defend human dignity.
Born in the small mountain town of Jeruco, México, Rico immigrated to the United States as a child where he and his family made Chicago their home. While pursuing a degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Illinois–Urbana, and six months into an internship for Amoco, Rico had an awakening while walking home from the el one night. He realized what he really wanted to do was dedicate his life,
“…so that not just the people in my community, but people across the city, could live a life of dignity here.”
So he walked away from engineering and took a job as a science teacher at Chicago’s Latino Youth Alternative High School, where he taught for the next three years.
Rico continued his work in youth development and community service, serving as the program manager for Public Allies, a Chicago nonprofit, then went to work for the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, working with parents around the state to ensure that families were not targeted by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). Two years later, he was hired by the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) to develop small, innovative learning communities in public schools, while working as a school improvement coach and completing a master’s degree in curriculum instruction, and a second master’s, in Educational Leadership.
When the Multicultural Arts School opened its doors in 2005, a Chicago Public School serving the families in Little Village and North Lawndale with a focus on social justice and arts integration, Rico became the founding high school principal. Then, in 2009, Rico was appointed by President Obama to serve on the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics. During his tenure as Executive Director, he helped reduce high school dropout rates and increased Latino college graduation rates through implementation of new initiatives, policies, and national public awareness campaigns.
After returning to Chicago in 2014, Rico began working for United Way of Metro Chicago, where he has directed the investment of over $100M to provide human services and increase the leadership capacity of community based organizations – improving the lives of individuals and entire neighborhoods.
In his position as director of TRHT Greater Chicago, Rico will continue in his current role as Chief Partnership Officer with United Way of Metro Chicago. This unique partnership will allow him to do even more for this city he calls home – this place he’s committed his life to making more equitable and just for all.
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