Editor’s Note: The Nonprofit Quarterly’s editor-in-chief, Cyndi Suarez, continues her podcast series featuring women of color in leadership. Through candid, in-depth interviews, listeners will come to understand how these women embarked on their paths to leadership, how their leadership styles have evolved over the years, how they envision their work now, and what they hope to see for their fellow women of color leaders.

Greisa Martínez Rosas introduces herself to Suarez as “undocumented, unafraid, queer, and unashamed.” Now executive director of United We Dream, the largest immigrant youth-led network in the country, Greisa says that meeting the organization’s founders in Washington, DC in 2010 was eye-opening.

“They created such a beautiful space where queer people were able to come out as queer,” she says. As the daughter of Southern Baptist preachers, it “was a total shift for me to see queerness be elevated and celebrated in this space.” She joined the staff in 2012. “I’ve grown up by United We Dream,” she says. “I have been transformed as much as this movement has transformed the lives of millions of people.”

In 2020, Greisa took over leadership of United We Dream from its founding executive director, Cristina Jiménez. She says her transition into leadership was organic. “As organizers, we are always ensuring that we’re organizing ourselves out of a job,” she explains. “We’re building others around us to ensure that the work continues because it’s broader than one person.” Greisa admits that there were “a lot of moments of uncertainty and of self-doubt” about taking over, but ultimately “it was my own understanding and love for myself that I said yes to this role.”

In Suarez’s latest podcast, Greisa shares how her personal experiences as the undocumented daughter of Mexican immigrants growing up in Dallas shaped her leadership style, explaining that United We Dream believes that “those that feel the pain and the struggle in their bones are also closest to the solutions, the innovations, and the breakthroughs.” Understanding what her parents had to sacrifice to establish a life in the US has also shaped and strengthened Greisa as a leader. “I have felt it in my bones how these systems work, and it ensures that I am also bringing emotional intelligence into sometimes strategic spaces that sometimes force us to just live in our minds.”

Greisa ends their candid conversation about leadership talking about what she sees as an essential part of United We Dream’s strategy. “Ensuring that our systems and our programs and our strategies create space for joy and mental health and wellness is going to be especially important in the coming years,” she says. “Taking time for taking a beat and a breath for joy…it’s part of the magic sauce at United We Dream.”


Credits: Photo provided by United We Dream. Theme music by Ikebe Shakedown under Creative Commons 4.0 license.