A quiet student turned vocal advocate now leads an organization that stands against bias, bigotry and racism.
For 17-year-old Moises Echeverria, Camp Anytown was a transformative experience because it became his life. It began when his high school counselor invited the quiet student to attend the leadership and diversity program facilitated by the Oklahoma Center for Community and Justice (OCCJ).
This marked the start of Echeverria’s 15-year relationship with the organization. After Camp Anytown, he became highly involved with OCCJ and with school clubs. He was asked to be a student representative on the OCCJ board and became a six-year volunteer counselor for Anytown.
Following graduation from Oklahoma State University, he found himself requesting time off work to volunteer for OCCJ. He expressed his interest in working for the organization and was hired as a program coordinator. Now Echeverria serves as president and CEO, a role he assumed in November 2016.
Echeverria has never been a stranger to new challenges like this one. It is a pattern that began when his family immigrated to the Tulsa area from Monterrey, Mexico. He was a 13-year-old middle school student who could not speak English as he navigated a new culture.
Tell us about your experience moving to Oklahoma.
In 1998, my family immigrated to Bixby as my parents saw the conflict, corruption and economic concerns that continue to plague Mexico.
Following middle school, my family moved to east Tulsa, where I began high school at East Central. These years were important as I was not only continuing to learn English, but also adapting to a new culture and way of life. I have wonderful memories of the many kind, empathetic teachers and individuals who cared for me and saw me not as an immigrant child, but as someone with potential. I am forever indebted to them for the compassion they showed and for motivating me to do my best.
How did the compassion you were shown impact you to become the person you are today?
In a time where messages from peers, adults and some elected officials resonated with undertones of me not belonging, being an outsider and that the community would be better if I was not part of it, many individuals’ actions negated these messages. The compassion they showed me made me feel that I had worth. It really transformed my life. It made me realize the collective impact that small, simple acts of kindness can have on someone’s life.
What are your top priorities for OCCJ?
In a time of increased polarization, our top priority is to be clear advocates for compromise and collaboration. Our mission of respect and understanding for all people cannot be accomplished by shunning those with whom we disagree on one or multiple issues. We cannot let people on the extremes continue to divide us. Advocating for understanding the common ground we share might not be a popular stance, but it is needed now more than ever if we are to move our state forward and leave a positive legacy for generations to come. We are committed to building strong coalitions that understand the importance of building a culture where diverse voices feel welcomed and part of the community conversation.
How are you making these priorities happen?
Our programs are structured to allow meaningful personal relationships to develop. Numbers, research and data are critical, but even the most compelling data cannot change the mind and heart of someone who has already made up their mind about an issue. It’s our experience that only meaningful relationships that challenge our preconceived notions can. Our board of directors serves as the prime example of bringing diverse voices to the table for learning, understanding and community building. As we expand our school and community programs, we aim to challenge the biases and prejudices individuals hold. By doing so, we can open minds and hearts to appreciate the diversity of our state. When we actively work to ensure all Oklahomans have the resources they need to be successful, our state will thrive.
Where do you see OCCJ headed in the future?
We are working hard to become a statewide organization. Our expansion in the central region of the state continues as we build relationships with the community. We have a full-time regional coordinator based in downtown Oklahoma City and an active advisory committee comprised of business, education and community leaders in the area. Once our programs are established in the central region we plan to continue our expansion to the rest of the state, so our important mission of achieving respect and understanding for all people can reach all Oklahomans.
How are you involved in the community?
My spouse will be the first to attest to my passion for being involved and giving back to the community that has given so much to me. I love the poem “I Am Only One” by Edward
Everett Hale. It highlights the importance of our contributions to create collective change, even if we only play a small part in the process. I am passionate about education and serve on the community advisory committee for (TPS Superintendent) Deborah Gist, on the board of Tulsa Honor Academy, a college preparatory school in east Tulsa, and on the Commission for the Tulsa City-County Library. I am also on the board of Community Health Connection, an organization committed to providing quality health services to underserved communities. Additionally, I serve on the Oklahoma Advisory Committee of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. I am very excited to also serve as chair-elect for TYPros, one of the largest young professional organizations in the nation with the purpose of building the next generation of leaders, highlighting Tulsa’s sense of place, and attracting and retaining young talent to our region.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I don’t have much spare time now, but I like to run, cycle and swim as a way to stay active. I enjoy training for and competing in races, whether it’s the Tulsa Run or a local triathlon. I am the proud parent of a cat and two dogs, who love each other. As a way to stay grounded, I spend time with family and attend church.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
I love music. I used to play the piano and organ for church. I also love to sing. I sang with the Tulsa Oratorio Chorus one year and enjoyed every moment of it. Once my schedule frees up, I plan to start singing in a choir again. Music is a wonderful tool to bring people together.
59th Annual OCCJ Awards Dinner
6 p.m., reception; 7 p.m., dinner and program. University of Tulsa Reynolds Center, 3208 E. Eighth St. Honoring Judy Kishner and the Anne and Henry Zarrow Foundation. $300, tickets; $3,000-$25,000, sponsorships. Visit occjok.org.
10 things you can do to stand together, courtesy of OCCJ
1. Speak up and challenge bigotry whenever you see it.
2. Talk with your neighbor or someone in your neighborhood you don’t know about why diversity and inclusion is important to all of us.
3. Analyze the diversity within your neighborhood, workplace, local school or house of worship and initiate conversations about where and why there might be a lack of inclusion.
4. Read books that help you to learn about the experiences and perspectives of people from different backgrounds — especially those whose voices are often left out of community conversations.
5. Learn about our community’s complex history — including the difficult parts — and consider the residue of that history on the present day.
6. Write a letter to the editor expressing why you value diversity, equity and inclusion in your community.
7. Contact your elected officials to make sure they know your views, especially about policies that could disproportionately hurt members of marginalized groups.
8. Attend community events that expand your understanding and perspective.
9. Volunteer with organizations that focus on making our communities more equitable and inclusive.
10. Donate to organizations and causes that promote respect, understanding and justice.