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Hispanic Heritage Month: Leader of Latino organization uses life experience to help others

From the streets of Chicago to Puerto Rico, a school dropout to a college graduate, the president and CEO of the Latino Community Development Agency in Oklahoma is using his life experience to help thousands of Latinos.

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From the streets of Chicago to Puerto Rico, a school dropout to a college graduate, the president and CEO of the Latino Community Development Agency in Oklahoma is using his life experience to help thousands of Latinos.

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"Well, I was a Puerto Rican kid born and raised in Chicago – southside Chicago, where all the mess is still going on today. A mom that didn't know how to raise a kid, so I was raised by the streets," said Raul Font, president of the Latino Community Development Agency. "At some point in time, my mom, Puerto Rican, decided, 'I need some help. I need to be raising these kids in Puerto Rico.' So, We go to Puerto Rico, and I quit school. I quit school at 11 years old. I decided that school was not for me, and I was mad at the whole world because everyone had parents, nice houses and stuff, and I didn't."

"You said you were raised by the streets at the age of 11, moved to Puerto Rico. It's a culture shock, culture change. What was that like for you?" sister station KOCO 5 asked.

"We had a problem of fitting in. We didn't know where to fit in, and I personally not having a home and not having a country, it was pretty hard," Font said. "We got in a lot of trouble, but we were really not into gangs."

What kind of trouble did Font get into as a child?

"I could still open your home in about 18 seconds, most likely," Font said. "I knew how to push the envelope. But then, at that age, that preteen age where you really get in trouble, here comes the basketball. This guy comes up and says, 'Just bounce the ball every time you ...' I started going to the basketball court, and I started seeing them play, and I started kind of imitating them. And then I realized that maybe there is something else that I can do."

Font said basketball gave him the structure he needed to get to where he is today.

"The structure and the support, because behind every basketball team there is someone there that is always watching you and making sure that you are at practice and that you're doing the right thing," Font said. "Nobody around in our neighborhood went to college. So, everybody kept on saying, 'You can take this to college.' I don't know what that was, but if they were going to pay me to go to college, why not? Why not try it?"

Font also explained how he got involved in the Latino Community Development Agency.

"In the early 80s, I worked for the State Department of Education. Then, I was maybe the highest-ranked Latino in any state or federal program around, which is sad," he said. "But I thought that sitting at the table was important. Finally, we got the attention of several leaders in the community that said, 'Hey, there's not an agency that serves Latinos. How about if we start petitioning the United Way for some funding and start one?' A group of three of us, plus me, we decided to go to the United Way. And the United Way, in their wisdom, decided to give us $42,000. And that's how we got started.

People who do this kind of work don't do it for recognition. Font was recently named one of the 100 most powerful people in Oklahoma.

"If it's a personal recognition and it doesn't yield anything for the community, then it's, what am I going to do – take a plaque and put it in my office or go away two years from now and it doesn't do anything? It has to produce something for the community," Font said. "What happens at LCDA is not because of me. It's because of the people that we hire and their passion."

Watch the video above for the full story.