Jesús Gerena is CEO of UpTogether (previously Family Independence Initiative), a national organization with a bold mission of changing policies, systems, and underlying beliefs so that all people in the United States are seen and invested in for their strengths and are able to build power, reinforce their autonomy, and drive their own economic and social mobility.
Under Jesús’ leadership, UpTogether has developed a model for systemic change through philanthropic and government partnerships to support the broad adoption of UpTogether’s strength based approach of centering community, cash and choice. Over the past three years, UpTogether has grown its work and organizational capacity to expand its reach to all 50 states and Puerto Rico, distributing $190 million dollars in support of its mission.
A native of Puerto Rico, Jesús moved with his mother and siblings to Amherst, Massachusetts at just nine years old. This community was full of resources that were able to lift up opportunities for his family to achieve their goals. Despite struggling in deep poverty, Jesús learned firsthand at a young age the benefits of a support network and community. This life experience has shaped Jesús, fueling his desire to eliminate place, race, or economic position as the marker for individual and collective success through UpTogether.
We do not need to help people more; we need to hinder them less. Poverty is not caused by personal failures. It’s rooted in system choices, nurtured by institutional racism, that disinvest and fragment communities. Our people and communities are the solution, let’s invest in them.