Simon Lopez winds down after a long day of discussions with business leaders, community advocates, and elected officials by practicing some boxing moves, winding up a few jab-jab-cross combos. The Latino economic mobility advocate began his boxing practice only last year and was instantly addicted. As a former runner and track coach at the University of New Mexico, there was something about the strenuous workout and camaraderie with other fighters that hooked Lopez. “I tend to be pretty competitive when it comes to sports, so it was only a matter of time before I moved from the group training and into the ring,” he says.
Today, boxing and a love of all sports is an experience he and his seven-year-old son share. Lopez says his work-life balance comes easy for him because his career is based on his own personal experiences, values, and interests. “Everything that I am and that I do has been shaped by my experience growing up in the South Valley of Albuquerque,” he says. “As a proud New Mexican, family, faith, and culture are always at the center of my life. I am fortunate to have a career that reflects those values.”
As much as he appreciates the beauty of his native community nestled in the Sandia mountain range, it was the challenges of growing up in a poor, rural area that initially drew him to his profession. Lopez got into his line of work after losing too many close friends and family members to drug use and violence. He was determined to be a driver of change for his community and communities like his across the nation.
“I grew up in a neighborhood that has been around for hundreds of years, and everyone is related. Look down the street and you will see 30 houses in a row of aunts, uncles, cousins, parents, and grandparents—not to mention my seven brothers and sisters that live around the corner,” Lopez says. “When someone overdoses or gets shot in your area, it’s not just something you read on the news. When someone loses a job or gets kicked out of their home, it affects you personally. You know that person, have likely been in their home and shared a meal with them.
“I made a commitment to help make things better for my community, my family,” Lopez continues. “I’d like to think that I have followed through on that commitment to some extent, but I’m not done yet. There’s more work to be done.”
Lopez makes a difference in and out of the office by being a role model and father to his son, Maximiliano. The two spend as much time together as possible, from hitting the boxing gym to watching copious amounts of the Disney Channel.
“My son is always at the center of my life,” Lopez says. “He motivates me to always be the best person that I can be, and he keeps me young at heart. It’s amazing to view the world through the eyes of a seven-year-old—so positive, simple, and full of wonder. It’s contagious and a welcome reminder to me that the world is wide open to do amazing things.”
As a single dad, Lopez has high hopes for his son. He wants Max, like those for whom he advocates, to feel like he has no limitations. Lopez often brings Max with him to important meetings and conferences. The seven-year-old has been to the White House, met several governors and a handful of corporate CEOs, and received a wave from President Obama at a DC function. “I just want my son to understand from an early age that we all have a place at the leadership table, that we all have something to contribute and can get involved.”
When Lopez isn’t shuffling his son off to soccer practice or watching him play the ukulele, he spends his working hours creating positive change for the Latino community. He’s been a tireless advocate for equal opportunities for Latinos for more than 20 years, working with and leading national Latino advocacy and diversity organizations like the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) and the Hispanic Alliance for Career Enhancement (HACE). Today, Lopez provides consultant services to corporations, city and state agencies, and community-based organizations that are navigating the rapidly changing demographics of the workforce.
“When it comes to creating economic opportunities and establishing fair and equitable systems, we can’t push an agenda that only benefits Latinos,” Lopez says. “In order to create meaningful and sustainable opportunities, we have to be able to demonstrate the shared value for all stakeholders.”
According to Lopez, Latinos will be asked to play an expanded role over the next few decades. “Latinos will make up an increasingly large segment of the workforce over the next 20 to 30 years,” he says. “The country will rely on the education and skills of our community more than ever to sustain a dynamic and thriving economy. It’s an opportunity and a challenge. Can we step up to strengthen the economy and help create opportunities for everyone? Of course, I’m convinced we can and will—but we can’t do it alone. We have to engage other communities and stakeholders and create shared value. That’s how we all win.”
It isn’t an easy job; Lopez points to hyper-partisanship and a distrusting environment as major obstacles, but he insists there has been progress. “We have seen some significant wins in terms of education and job-training programs, as well as promising improvement in the public job-training system and corporate diversity initiatives. Businesses are recognizing the vital role that Latinos will play in the workforce, and diverse communities have rallied to support one another,” he says.
The 41-year-old continues to provide leadership nationally on economic mobility issues in the Latino community and engage networks of other stakeholders and leaders so that his son—and countless others—will see limitless opportunities.