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North Carolina Hispanic Group Works on Achievement Issues

The North Carolina Society of Hispanic Professionals has kicked off a fundraising campaign to hire staff to raise the group’s profile and bolster its political influence.

More than 200 people gathered recently for a gala sponsored by the society formed five years ago by six Triangle residents of Hispanic descent who worried about lagging student achievement. It is holding its first fundraising campaign, hoping to raise $200,000 to allow it to hire staff and heighten its profile, The News & Observer of Raleigh reported.

Marco Zrate, who helped found the Society of Hispanic Professionals in 1999, said he has been pushing people for years to help fight steep dropout rates among Hispanic teens. At 9 percent for the 2005-2006 school year, the Hispanic dropout rate is the highest in the state and is double that of whites. But with only one paid employee and limited donors, he said, the group can run only a few programs such as tutoring, inspirational speakers and a yearly summit for Hispanic students.

Zrate, a Raleigh engineer, said a more serious effort is needed. He said Hispanics must counter the voices of those who say illegal immigrants should be denied access to higher education. He described the gala as the first step.

“I think of it as our hidden message to the mainstream public that there are educated people, there are professional people, that there are people who are concerned for the education of our people,” Zrate said.

Some of the society’s members are also leading a voter registration push and talking about forming a political action committee.

Betsy Clark of Willow Spring, who emigrated from Colombia more than 20 years ago and now runs a construction company, said political activism is foreign to many immigrants. She said that after struggling to learn English and assimilate, most do not want to draw attention to themselves as political rabble-rousers. But now, with anti-immigrant sentiment rising, she said, many are realizing that they need to start advocating for Hispanics as a group, rather than focusing on their personal success.

“We need to be more informed, more involved, more a part,” Clark said. “We need to say, ‘Look at us. We have voting power, too.’”

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