Connecticut College Magazine · Winter 2013


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A champion for students at risk

A champion for students at risk
Carlos Garcia delivers a keynote address at the College's Latino Heritage Month convocation in September. Photo by Bob MacDonnell

Community leader Carlos Garcia '88 is working to bridge the opportunity gap for children in the nation's capital

By Amy Rogers Nazarov '90

Carlos Garcia '88 — government major, law school graduate — lives in Washington, D.C., but is neither a politician nor lawyer in a city rife with both.

A Washingtonian since 1994, Garcia is a Realtor and co-owner with four others of Eng Garcia Properties, LLC, a franchise of Keller Williams. He also is a passionate advocate for education reform. Those two callings might sound unrelated, but together they form the very foundation of Garcia's character and life's work.

As a student at Connecticut College, “I was not yet asking what was wrong with our education system,” Garcia says. His subsequent volunteer work with Higher Achievement — a D.C.-based academic intervention program for middle school students from underserved communities — opened his eyes. Over the years, he has tutored three young men, starting when each was in seventh grade.

“I was their literature mentor,” Garcia says. Together they read works such as “Bless Me, Ultima” and “Down These Mean Streets.” Chosen to ensure they held the boys' attention and addressed topics to which they could relate, the books led to discussions about the boys' own families, schools, dreams and disappointments. “I tried to be available to them, like a big brother or favorite uncle,” says Garcia, who is still in touch with all three many years later.

Today, Garcia provides pro bono legal services to Higher Achievement.

The connections Garcia has made through the organization have had a profound impact on how he believes he can “foster change and support others who fight every day to level the playing field.”

His own children — ages 10, 13 and 16 — are students in Washington's public school system, long notorious for its high dropout rates but making steady gains in recent years. Garcia has worked on committees tasked with improving the schools his children attend, but he is quick to add, “My kids are not in the demographic I am worried about.” Garcia met his wife Lucinda when both were freshmen at Connecticut College. Although she transferred to Pratt Institute, their paths crossed again through mutual friends after graduation.
As an active social entrepreneur and community leader, Garcia believes that an “opportunity gap” contributes to the better known “achievement gap” in the U.S. education system.

“So many kids simply do not see what is possible, are not introduced to real, life-changing opportunities or mentors,” he says. “I have seen the best and brightest kids in the roughest neighborhoods be systematically recruited by the most well-organized groups in their neighborhoods, such as successful drug distribution rings and gangs. Like other well-oiled organizational machines, those groups intentionally go after the best and brightest.”

How to combat that threat? “The key is to create oceans of opportunities, armies of mentors, campaigns to spread hope, and safe experiential and academic learning environments where kids can spend many, many hours of time on task, learn that it is cool to fight for good grades, and go out and do so with vigor,” he says.

After graduating from Connecticut College in 1988, Garcia earned a law degree from Boston College and practiced law in and around D.C. for 15 years, but he sometimes struggled to bring to his legal work the same level of passion he has for his volunteer work. A real estate investor since the early 1990s, in 2005 he moved over to real estate and all that goes with it — admiration for the built world and a keen interest in how design influences people and vice versa.

Garcia's own home is a 1925 French country manor-style house in Northwest D.C. with a stone façade and “an architectural sense of permanence.” The house is also something of a local landmark: It was owned in the 1970s by a popular hairdresser who installed a mosaic portrait of Marilyn Monroe in the swimming pool and hosted legendary parties. In the 1980s, Georgetown University bought the house as a residence for iconic basketball coach John Thompson.

Garcia enjoys the architecture and history of the house. “Sometimes I'm cursing it because it's complicated,” he says. “But then I think, this house is going to be here when no one remembers my name.”

In real estate as well as in education reform, Garcia calls upon skills he learned in a nonfiction writing class with Blanche Boyd, the College's Weller Professor of English. The course helped him “become a more purposeful communicator,” he says

Garcia's passionate voice resonates no matter how it's delivered: a speech at his alma mater, an email tapped out to a client on his omnipresent BlackBerry or a presentation to potential supporters of Washington's E.L. Haynes Public Charter School, on whose board Garcia serves. And when it comes to supporting a cause, he brings more than just his voice to the table.

“I try to give to the things I believe in to the point where I can't give anymore,” he says. “But I'll think to myself, if I can sell another house, maybe I can give some more after all.” ?

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