Meet 2021 American Express NGen Leadership Award Finalist – Richard Reyes

Richard Reyes is a social justice advocate who believes every story matters, and has shared his narrative of being the first in his family to earn a college degree with over 150,000 students across the country.

The Executive Director of PLUS ME Project provided insight into his organization’s focus on the personal narrative and the art of storytelling – particularly for middle and high school students from primarily underserved communities.

You’ll get to meet & hear Richard Reyes during his Upswell Summit Spotlight on Wednesday, October 20 at 12:45 – 1:00pm as part the Public Square networking session. Until then, you can learn a bit more about him below..

  • It’s been a particularly challenging couple of years, what has kept you grounded and whole in this time?
Richard Reyes

Community is very important to me. I strive to surround myself closely with individuals that share similar values and have strong passions in life. Their positivity, compassion, and drive help me move forward during challenging times. My family, friends, and team at PLUS ME have been integral in keeping me grounded and whole over the past few years.

  • Who or what has been the biggest inspiration to your growth as a leader?

In 2018, I started working with a leadership coach and over the past few years I have had the opportunity to work with a handful of inspiring coaches. These individuals have pushed my thinking and built up my confidence as a leader. I have seen the growth and changes that I have made personally and this inspires me to continue to dedicate time and effort into continuous growth.

  • What attracted you to become involved in your organization’s mission?

As the founder of PLUS ME Project, I noticed a gap in our sector and wanted to bring services to youth that did not exist when I was growing up. When I launched PLUS ME back in 2013, I did not think it would become a career path for me, but I am so glad that it did. This mission has challenged me, inspired me, and allowed me to see the lasting impact it can have on students and adults. I now love seeing how our mission attract others to want to get involved and expand our work.

  • Upswell, a meeting ground for Independent Sector’s changemaker community, is focused on creating a healthy and racially equitable nation. How does this vision tie into your organization’s work?

My work at PLUS ME Project is centered on personal storytelling. We believe everyone has a story that matters and our vision is for all communities to be filled with courageous voices whose stories are heard, valued, and celebrated. I firmly believe this ties in directly with Upswell’s vision of creating a healthy and racially equitable nation. When we have the tools and confidence to share our stories, we realize we are more similar than different. By creating spaces where we can authentically share our narratives with each other, it allows us to begin to heal mentally and emotionally while helping us to realize we are not alone. If we all showcased more vulnerability and empathy, more equity would be felt and created.

  • What attributes and perspectives do today’s emerging leaders bring to accelerating the sector’s work to address our nation’s challenges?

I believe today’s emerging leaders are bringing innovation and intentionality to our work more than ever before. We are creatively finding ways to solve problems and challenge how things have always been done historically. I believe more often than not, we are being more thoughtful about different perspectives and being mindful of how our work can positively impact society. I feel there is a stronger push toward people over profit and am seeing an increase in social enterprises that are forcing society to think differently.

  • How would you challenge all of today’s changemakers to become more involved in building a healthier and more racially just nation where all can thrive?

I would challenge everyone to pause and self-reflect on who they are and what their story is. We often move through our days and weeks without stopping to understand how events impact us. Finding the time to understand where you come from, who has impacted you, what obstacles you have overcome, and how you showcased resiliency in your life is important. Give yourself permission to find your story and then share it with others. Encourage them to do the same with you and others. I believe doing this will lead to a healthier and more racially just nation.

Want to learn about our other 2021 American Express NGen Award finalists?

Learn about Alejandro Gibes de Gac, Andrew Plumley, Nick Monzi, Meghan Shea, Kashif Shaikh, and Maria Yuan, the 2021 American Express Leadership Award recipient.

Types: Blog
Global Topics: Civil Society, Community, Education, Equity, Race, Equity, and Inclusion, Upswell
Focus Areas: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion