The Rev. Jack Podsiadlo, of Richmond’s Sacred Heart Center, drove from Richmond to Albemarle County every Monday evening to teach the Latino Leadership Institute course at the Church of the Incarnation. In times of inclement weather, sometimes he would get back to Richmond around 11 p.m. That didn’t bother Podsiadlo because his students were responding well to the class, he said.

“The community was asking for it,” he said.

Podsiadlo added that he taught the students skills to become leaders in their community. And, on Tuesday, the institute graduated its first 15 Charlottesville-area students. Charlottesville Mayor Nikuyah Walker, recently appointed City Manager Tarron Richardson and Police Chief RaShall Brackney were among public officials who attended the ceremony.

“In this country, you have to speak up in order to be heard,” Podsiadlo said in an interview. “…. There’s no voice for the Latino community in the state of Virginia. They’re not in positions where they can express the voice of their community. That’s what we’re preparing them for.”

Nine years ago, Sacred Heart Center wanted to create a program to train Latino communities to take on leadership roles. Offered through the University of Richmond School of Professional and Continuing Studies, the three-credit course was launched in January 2014. The Charlottesville course began in September and focused on four domains.

“The first one is to teach people to really see what’s going on in their community. The first thing is to see and then judge and then act,” Podsiadlo said. “And then how are going to address it because if you just stay at the first two — just seeing and judging — then you’re just a person who sits back and complains.”

The second domain focused on the 500 years of Latino presence and leadership in the U.S. The third lesson taught students how to listen to the communities they serve — all based on principles by author Juana Bordas.

“It focused on the leaders as the servant of the community, not a leader who’s telling people what to do. … It’s kind of a leadership that you don’t take credit for yourself. It’s the success of the community,” Podsiadlo said.

Edgar Lara, community engagement director of Sin Barreras, is among the graduating students.

“There’s a large Latinx community in the U.S, so large [but] its history [gets] omitted,” he said. “… It’s like you’re devalued, and to learn about the history and talk about it some more and reflect on it gives you a little more of a sense of pride and belonging.”

In addition to teaching history, students also had the chance to have a conversation with local law enforcement and learn about ways to live a healthy lifestyle.

“We brought in law enforcement from the city and the county,” Podsiadlo said. “It does two things: it breaks down this fear that ‘Hey. They’re the police, and I should stay out of their way.’”

Brackney said in an interview that her office has partnered with Sin Barreras, the organization that sponsored the Charlottesville course.

“They’ve been teaching Spanish to our officers every other week. … As many times as they offer, we should take the invitations because it is developing leaders at every level,” she said. “That’s what you need – local leaders as well as those who move up nationally.”

She said there’s a shortage of diversity throughout the entire cultural communities when it comes to law enforcement.

Those who migrate to the field tend to be white males, she said.

“I think we do tend to lack of representation overall — those who have different perspective or background,” she said. “They will be very welcome on the Charlottesville Police Department.”


Billy Jean Louis joined Charlottesville Tomorrow as its education reporter in April 2019 and is a graduate of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. Born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Jean Louis speaks English, Haitian Creole and French.