Dr. Gerardo Mancilla never got a chance to meet Roberto G. Sánchez personally, but has always looked up to him and says that he is honored to be receiving an award named after him. “It has been very powerful to see his whole vision come to life – not only working with the high school students, but what that has meant for Madison College and what it has meant for UW-Madison and for us to see his legacy and his impact. It wasn’t just one cohort of students who benefitted, it was multiple populations of students who benefitted from his work and his legacy.”

Professor Sánchez, who passed away on Aug. 15 in Santa Barbara, Calif., at the age of 93, had a passion for education and helping others that is very well-known in Madison. Ever year, Centro Hispano’s Roberto G. Sánchez Award honors an individual, group or organization that has demonstrated leadership in advancing educational and career opportunities for Latinos. This year, that recognition belongs to Mancilla, who will be honored at the 27th annual Centro Hispano Banquet on Saturday at the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center.

“I feel like it’s a great honor to have my name forever associated with Roberto Sánchez’s name. I feel like the mission he set forward is one that I’m constantly trying to achieve, as well,” Mancilla tells Madison365. “His big thing was about access to higher education and promoting the pathway and guiding students through. I feel like a lot of the work I try to do is similar to that and it’s an honor to receive an award named after him. It’s amazing. I am humbled.”

Roberto G. Sánchez
Roberto G. Sánchez

Roberto Sánchez passed away earlier this year but his legacy lives on through the impact he has made in the community and through the Sánchez Scholars that will be honored at the Centro banquet. Like Sánchez, Mancilla, who has recently joined the faculty as the new director of education administration for Edgewood College’s School of Education, went into teaching to support youth in being successful by preparing them academically, socially, and emotionally.

“It takes a village to raise a child, as they say. I know that because I, personally, had many people supporting me on my own trajectory,” Mancilla says. “So, I’ve known what the sense of community is that needs to be developed to support students coming through the pipeline.”

Does Mancilla have a big speech ready already for his big night at the Centro banquet? “No, not yet! That’s on my to-do list,” Mancilla laughs. “That is going to be the most challenging part. Even just thinking about Roberto Sanchez right now, I’m getting emotional. It’s going to be really hard to talk in front of everything about what this award means to me.”

Prior to coming to Edgewood College, Mancilla was a dual-language immersion teacher at Cherokee Middle School, a job he took after he had completed a counseling internship at West High School and several years of practicum and student teaching semesters within MMSD.

“Coming to my new job, I left the classroom that I adored and I really loved working with children and being able to help them not only educationally, but culturally and socially, as well,” Mancilla says. “I was always trying to open up the perception and the possibilities of going to college at a younger age.”

Now at Edgewood, he’s working with future principals and future administrators who will be working with students. “So, I’m going from working with the students to working with the leaders who will ultimately be working with our kids,” he says. “Ultimately, my goal is to influence how our leaders are thinking about critical issues that are affecting our communities to have them then be able to understand what does it mean for all of these racial disparities that are happening both with the Latinx and African American communities, as well? What does that mean as the population continues to grow? And how can they become better leaders both culturally and linguistically to be able to address the needs of our students?

Mancilla emigrated from Mexico at a young age and he remembers that life was a struggle. “My mom was a single mother and there were three of us and she wanted a better life for us,” he remembers. “We were looking for that opportunity.”

Dr. Gerardo Mancilla
Dr. Gerardo Mancilla

He spent his childhood, from 3rd grade to 12th grade, growing up on the south side of Chicago before coming to Madison as part of the first cohort of the UW-Madison POSSE program, which identifies public high school students with extraordinary academic and leadership potential who may be overlooked by traditional college selection processes. POSSE extends to these students the opportunity to pursue personal and academic excellence by placing them in supportive, multicultural teams — Posses — of 10 students.

“If I was to reflect on my success, I’d have to give a lot of credit to people like Walter Lane, who was the director of the POSSE program,” Mancilla says. “There were so many people who built my success through their work with me individually, personally, and professionally and they have been able to guide me. It’s been a community that has supported me continuously.”

Mancilla would go on to earn a master’s degree in multicultural education from UW-Madison and his Ph.D. from UW-Madison’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction in 2015. His dissertation focused on Latin@ youth counter-stories in a court diversion program using Critical Race Theory and Latino Critical Theory.

Ever since he first stepped foot in Madison in 2002, Mancilla wanted to reach out to the community. And that all started at Centro Hispano.

“The community is something that is important to me because I consider myself part of the community,” he says. “I feel like that is where a lot of impact can happen. I became involved in Centro Hispano youth programming back in 2002-2003 and from there I began to expand my horizons.

“When I first got to Madison, I was trying to figure out where to go and the first person I ran into was like, ‘You need to go to Centro Hispano because they are the ones who are involved in the community.’ This was back in 2003,” he adds. “I feel like Centro has always been that place for me to figure out how else I can be involved.”

Mancilla worked with Centro’s youth programs and later became involved in their Aspira and Juventud programs. “From there, I went from being involved in the community with Centro to being involved in the sch iunools with Centro,” he says. “I went on to teaching. But I feel like I’ve been in and out of Centro constantly since I got here.”

Mancilla is well-known as “Lalo” in the local Latino community. “Normally in my culture, if your name is Eduardo, the cultural nickname is ‘Lalo.’ But my family was different and even though my name was Gerardo, they all started calling me ‘Lalo’ from the beginning,” he remembers. “It’s been interesting how it plays out in Madison because anybody who knows me in the community knows me as ‘Lalo.’ But professionally I use my official name which is ‘Gerardo.’”

Sanchez Scholarship winners are honored at a previous Centro Hispano Annual Banquet.
Sanchez Scholarship winners are honored at a previous Centro Hispano Annual Banquet.

Mancilla has been involved in a host of community agencies and non-profits outside of his work including Big Brothers Big Sisters, Nuestro Mundo and the Vera Court Neighborhood Center. He’s currently the post-secondary chair for the Latino Education Council and is part of the selection committee for the Sanchez Scholars high school program.

“I feel like being involved in so many things in the community is what keeps me grounded,” Mancilla says. “I’m able to do my community service and give back to the community and to motivate others. I feel like me being involved in different issues that I’m able to address larger issues with different moving parts. I feel like community involvement keeps me grounded and up to date with what I need to be working on, too.

“Part of my own development as a leader and as a student is about giving back as well,” he adds. “It’s through those interactions that I have been able to continue to contribute to the community and to be able to be a resource for the community to move forward together.”

Mancilla adds that it is very much like that great Cesar Chavez quote: “We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community… Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.”

“For me, it’s all about how do we reach out back to the community to have everybody moving forward together,” he says.

With that in mind, Mancilla recently joined the Latino Equity Collaborative, members of the university community and the greater Madison community to benefit Latinos — particularly youth — with education, mental health, human services and community outreach.

“The Latino Equity Collaborative is a new program that Leslie Orrantia and Dr. Carmen Valdez are co-facilitating and it’s trying to figure out what are the needs of the Latinx community in Madison,” Mancilla says, adding that they currently have about 20 people in the group. “They are trying to put together many different people to come to the table to understand the complexity of the issues facing Latinos and what we can do to address disparities.

“We are addressing both short-term and long-term goals,” he adds. “How do we make sure that we are continually in a reflective process to really understand, as our community continues to change, how we address the needs as we move forward?”

Mancilla is interested in interrupting the school-to-prison pipeline and addressing the “leaky education pipeline” for Latino students. To get an award from Centro for what he has been doing, he says, is amazing. “I would like to thank the nominators, too. I have a hunch who they were,” he smiles. “It’s great to be recognized … but it’s also important to acknowledge the many people who got me here.

The staff at Centro Hispano
The staff at Centro Hispano

“I love Centro for their great youth programs, their energy, their commitment … those are all things that keep me coming back,” he adds. “I feel like it’s a powerful place. I love to be able to see the next generation of Latino students who are coming through the pipeline that are being active about their own development and outspoken about their own concerns and needs.”

Mancilla says that he hopes that he would be making Roberto G. Sánchez proud.

“It’s sincerely such an amazing feeling to be honored with such a prestigious award,” Mancilla says. “I have been working with Sanchez Scholars for several years now so I know very closely about the work he has done and the impact that Roberto Sanchez has had on students. It has been tremendous.

“I think that ultimately he completed his vision of what he wanted – Latino students being able to be promoted and he also instilled a sense of pride within the Latino culture for them to be bilingual, bicultural and understand what that means and for them to have that access to higher education,” he adds.