Edelmira Segovia's impact reaches wide
Born in Peru but a resident of Wilmington since her early teens, EDELMIRA SEGOVIA uses her knowledge of both the Latino and the Anglo communities to advocate for equity and inclusion in two important arenas.
At the University of North Carolina Wilmington, she directs Centro Hispano, a student organization whose goal is to support the growing number of Hispanic students who apply to, attend, and complete degrees at the university. She also serves as vice chairwoman of the New Hanover Community Endowment, seeing her role as “adviser, encourager, and community advocate” as the fledgling fund explores its mission of making the county a place where all its residents can prosper.
“The roles I’ve held professionally and as a community member are largely influenced by my experience as an immigrant fleeing the country that I love but one that could no longer hold a safe place for our family,” Segovia says. “My parents fled Peru with three children in tow during the wave of terrorism in 1989. I was thirteen at the time, my sister was eleven, and my brother was seven.”
A family connection in town proved to be a lifeline.
“We came to Wilmington where we had longtime friends as a result of a student exchange program in the late ’60s, when my aunt came to New Hanover High School,” Segovia explains. “The same family that hosted my aunt in the ’60s hosted my family as new arrivals for a few weeks while we got back on our feet.”
Adjusting to a new country and new culture showed the young refugee that it’s possible to sink roots in different soil.
“The experience of leaving behind everything familiar – people, places, and material things – and looking forward to a second chance at life is a refreshingly terrifying perspective,” Segovia says. “We started a new life completely uprooted, with no attachments pulling us down, and with everything we needed for success: each other, all five of us, alive and safe.”
The Segovia family worked hard and thrived. Her parents became public school educators and had a fourth child, Bruno, in 1993. He’s a third-year student at the UNC School of Dentistry. Edelmira’s sister, Perla, just completed her MFA, and her brother Augusto graduated from Cape Fear Community College and is a local artist. Segovia and her husband have two daughters, both students at North Carolina State University.
Her family has been fortunate in their success, but Segovia says her story – their story – is the story of the Latino community in North Carolina.
“We’re here because of a life-altering condition that forced us to seek shelter, safety, and a second chance at life,” she says. “Those of us fortunate enough to have survived the trek are fueled with an energy that moves us forward through the toughest of challenges, and for many, through some of the direst situations.
“This energy is evident in the Latino work ethic, the indispensability of our roles in all aspects of the U.S. economy and labor force, and in the projections for growth in population, academic attainment, purchasing power, and expansion of leadership roles.”
UNCW’s Centro Hispano aims to support that energy and to prepare Hispanic students to seize leadership opportunities. Segovia says she’s focused on expanding the impact of the center and increasing its support network.
“It’s imperative that our local Latino leaders also grow in numbers and in representation at decision-making tables across fields of expertise,” she says. “The need for Latino voices and input is fast increasing. However, it cannot be sustainably fulfilled by the few of us answering the call for Latino representation.”
When Segovia talks about boosting the center’s support network, she’s thinking partly about money.
“My current focus is building capacity in the financial assistance available to UNCW students, in particular for students who have faced hardships as a result of the immigrant experience,” she says. “This academic year at Centro Hispano, we established our first two endowed scholarships and two annual scholarships. All four scholarships were founded by Latino families and/or Latino-owned businesses.”
Latinos in the Cape Fear area face a number of challenges that their counterparts in other parts of the state or the country may not encounter, Segovia says. She lists three that are especially important.
One is limited access to language equity – it is often difficult to find Spanish-speaking people in the business community or social service sector.
“Spanish continues to be the dominant language of most working-age Latinos,” Segovia says. “When lack of language support exists, domino consequences can yield to children serving as language brokers for the adults in their lives, which can lead to loss of innocence in children covering adult content. There are liabilities at all levels including medical, legal, and safety, as well as role reversal in the parent role being assumed by the child and the parent, therefore, losing authority in the family.”
Another challenge can be access to good-quality services, particularly in health care and education, Segovia says.
“Health insurance is often cost prohibitive. Lack of Latino representation and/or language access in health care often leads to less-than-adequate care,” she says, adding that language barriers between provider and patient exacerbate the situation. This extends to educational institutions as well.
“Educational institutions rarely have adequate bilingual, culturally competent, or culturally humble staff to provide services to a growing Latino community,” Segovia says. “Limited education in the parent population leads to students navigating the road to high school completion and hopefully the road to college by themselves unless supported by a mentoring group or a teacher or counselor who may have a special interest in supporting or advocating for the population.”
And then there can be a lack of trust among Latinos in the public safety sector.
“Families with mixed statuses – some members of the same family may be U.S. citizens, permanent residents, or have some other type of registered status, while others may not have any status at all – are especially vulnerable to crimes,” Segovia says. “Our collective community is taking steps to build trust through the FaithAction ID initiative (providing verifiable identification cards) launched in January.”
How has Segovia’s own background and her knowledge of the area’s Latino community influenced her work with the endowment, funded by the $1.25 billion resulting from the sale of New Hanover Regional Medical Center to Novant Health in February 2021?
“My hope is that my background, knowledge, and representation of the Latino community here in New Hanover County can serve as a vehicle to educate and inform the endowment on issues and challenges specific to this community’s experience – and ultimately produce strategic solutions in line with our four areas of focus,” she says.
Those four areas are education, health and social equity, public safety, and community development when it comes to deciding how to disperse money from the fund.
“I have great respect and admiration for BILL CAMERON, our board chair, and I look forward to continuing to together casting vision and leadership for our board as we enter another year of grantmaking and partnering with local nonprofits. The endowment’s vision is to see this community thrive,” Segovia says. “This is our community, and we understand it – our board, staff, and CAC (Community Advisory Council) members are deeply committed to our community – and because of that, it is our hope and our intention that the endowment will grow alongside it. We want to seize the endowment’s potential and … create an ecosystem where each member can prosper.”
Each year, the board can access up to 4% of the fund’s total market value to distribute through grants in New Hanover County (because the hospital was previously owned by the county) that advance these areas. In December, the endowment made its first round of grants, awarding $9 million to 110 applicants.
Looking ahead to how it approaches future grants, the board has completed a strategic plan for the next three years. It will soon be available to the public on the organization’s website (nhcendowment.org).
“This strategic plan will improve our grant-making process this year,” Segovia says. “It provides a clear roadmap for our organization against which we will make decisions.”
Segovia joined the thirteen-member endowment board soon after it was formed in 2021. This year, she takes on the role of vice chair for the endowment board, which governs one of the largest endowments in the state.
“(New Hanover County) gave me a second chance at life. It is an honor to serve on the board of the New Hanover Community Endowment, especially in these inaugural years,” Segovia says. “Our goal is to support WILLIAM BUSTER, our CEO, and his team as best we can, position the endowment as a catalyst of change in New Hanover County, and represent the many voices and communities here.”
To view more of photographer Madeline Gray’s work, go to madelinegrayphoto.com.
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