When Juan Salgado was a high school student, he planned to use money he saved working at a grocery store warehouse for a car instead of his college education.
His older sister thwarted his plan, and she gave him a piece of her mind.
“I wanted a car to go places, and my sister told me the only way I was going to go places is if I invested in myself and that meant my education,” said Salgado.
Fast forward from that moment in the late 1980s to today, and not only did Salgado invest in himself, but today he invests in the lives of others.
Recognized as an influential voice at the local and national levels for his work on the educational, political, and economic advancement of the Latino community, Salgado is the president of Instituto del Progresso Latino, an organization that significantly impacts the lives of Latino families seeking self-sufficiency in Chicago.
“Going to Moraine Valley out of high school was the right option for me,” said Salgado. “When I started college, I wasn’t sure where my journey would lead me. It’s not like I thought ‘I want to be a doctor or I want to be a lawyer.’ I had an interest in local economies so I just followed that path.”
Salgado’s journey lead him to earn an associate in science degree from Moraine Valley followed by a bachelor’s degree in economics from Illinois Wesleyan University, and a master’s degree in urban planning from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
“I cared about community development, specifically economic opportunity for people in lower-income communities,” said Salgado. “While I was working on my master’s degree, I had a chance to work with some churches in East St. Louis on an action plan to turn the community around. I felt inspired.”
That inspiration carried him back to Chicago working for the Resurrection Project, a faith-based organization in Pilsen. Some of the stories he heard from the people he helped weren’t so inspiring, rather they were of hardship and tragedy. He knew he had to press forward to create the change he knew he could make.
While he impacted the lives of the people of Pilsen, five years later he accepted a position as executive director for the Instituto before ultimately becoming its president and CEO.
Under his leadership, the Instituto has become a flourishing education center providing high-quality programs in workforce development, adult education, English and Spanish literacy, youth after-school and college-preparation programs, and citizenship to nearly 10,000 Chicagoans annually.
“We are influencing the influencers who are putting forward new legislation and new rules for the betterment of society,” said Salgado.
Salgado’s guidance contributed to the Instituto being cited as the National Council of La Raza Affiliate of the Year in 2009 and as a White House Champion of Change for Social Innovation in 2011. In 2013, Salgado won the Distinguished Alumnus Award from Moraine Valley and the Illinois Community College Trustees Association.
With all the accolades Salgado received, in 2015 Salgado was named as a MacArthur Fellow—a prestigious designation that came with no-strings attached five-year financial investment, totaling more than a half-million dollars.
“Winning this award is certainly a validation of our work and our impact,” said Salgado. “It speaks to not just the service we provide but the change we’ve been creating.”
While Salgado is certainly changing his community as well as bringing about national and global change, one thing keeps him grounded—he doesn’t forget where he came from.
“It all began at Moraine Valley,” said Salgado. “Education is power, and I will continue to be its biggest supporter.”