Karla Garcia: A lesson in people power
On April 9th, 2006, an estimated half-million people marched through Downtown Dallas to protest a House Resolution that would have imposed harsher penalties for undocumented immigration. The protesters were young and old, clothed in white as a symbol of peace, and carried countless American flags. Karla Garcia was one of those people who marched. Karla Garcia now serves as the youngest and first-ever Latina to serve on the Dallas ISD Board of Trustees 13 years later.
A young girl at the time, she still remembers the mega march vividly. “It wasn’t just the people that I thought would be there; it wasn’t just the Latino community. It was all kinds of immigrant communities from across Dallas, from across North Texas,” Garcia said. She described what she saw as ‘people power’ - those from different backgrounds uniting behind a single cause. Garcia went further to explain the impact of her first political experience: “to see myself as one of them, to see myself as one of the people who are here, and one of the voices that is standing with immigrants.”
Born in Dallas and raised in the Pleasant Grove neighborhood in Southeast Dallas, Karla Garcia didn’t grow up in a political environment. “It wasn’t something that my family and I actively talked about at the table or really became involved with,” she explained. A few years after the 2006 immigration march, Garcia started high school at the first public all-girls magnet school in Texas, Irma Lerma Rangel Young Women's Leadership School. There she participated in IGNITE, a program that builds civic and political leadership skills. Garcia used this training to piece together the things she heard on TV and in her community and understand how various issues affected her family, her state, and her country.
After graduating from Irma Rangel, Garcia enrolled at the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill as a business major. A public policy class caused Garcia to reflect on her purpose in higher education. She wanted to dedicate herself to “changing systems that affect the daily lives of citizens, of people.” Majoring in public policy would allow her to take this dedication further than a business or workplace.
Garcia secured a position as a College Access and Success Associate with Dallas County Promise, a coalition of school districts, colleges, universities, and employers that help ensure all high-school graduates are ready for college or careers. Garcia remarked, “this initiative is on par with everything that I want to see happen for students in our local community,”
How can we prepare young adults to be ready and able to participate in every aspect of Dallas’ growth? Garcia believes the answer lies in the public education system. “There is so much work to do in DISD to really make sure that every single student is ready and enabled to be successful for life after high school,” said Garcia. “If I want to serve my immediate community and students like me in District 4 and across DISD, it was time to step up to be a trustee. If I want to see the change, I need to be the change.”
District 4 in Dallas ISD represents Southeast Dallas, including Pleasant Grove, Balch Springs, and Seagoville. The future and growth of Garcia’s community relies on investing in its youth. Public education is the driving force behind Garcia’s vision: “to make Southeast Dallas a place where we can guarantee and ensure that students and families will be taken care of, will have a living wage, will have a safe and sound environment, where people will be civically engaged.”
Her core values provide the framework for strengthening the student experience in Dallas ISD: a strong start for all students, options for recent graduates that will provide stability for themselves and their families, and making investments so that Southeast Dallas natives can dedicate their talent to the growth and development of their community.
Karla Garcia champions her Dallas ISD Trustee campaign as her greatest accomplishment so far. Dallas ISD educates over 155,000 students with District 4 representing over 18,000 of them. Garcia proudly took on this responsibility on at the age of 22, a recent college graduate. “The support of people around me has been the most exciting,” she said, “and activating my community is the thing that I’m most proud of.”
When asked what advice she would give to women interested in pursuing a career in politics, the resounding theme of Garcia’s answers was intimately understanding the community someone serves. “Truly, truly, as much as you can, understand your local community,” she stressed. “You know your community better than anyone else and it’s your responsibility to get to know it better.”
Another piece of advice was to build a strong team that supports you. “There is a very interconnected support that women have for each other as elected officials and outside of political office, so find other women to support and uplift and empower you because this cannot be done alone. Then, be that support for someone else,” Garcia said.
After winning her runoff election, Garcia became the youngest, and first-ever Latina, member of the Dallas ISD School Board of Trustees. Her background is expected to bring an exciting energy to the community of Southeast Dallas. She feels her campaign’s success is a direct result of the support of young people. “They’re the ‘why’ behind this and the energy behind this,” she said, “and, when we win, young people would’ve won in Southeast Dallas.”