Jesús Gerena is CEO of Family Independence Initiative (FII), an antiracist change organization that trusts and invests in low-income families, allowing them to move themselves out of poverty. Under Jesús’ leadership, FII has quadrupled its revenue, doubled in staff, and expanded its work to all 50 states through the adoption of its strength-based approach (SBA) and technology platform, UpTogether.
Prior to joining FII in 2010, Jesús worked for the Hyde Square Task Force (HSTF), where he served as Deputy Director and worked on the Youth First project that helped lay the groundwork for a proposed $250 million urban development project. In 2008, the HSTF team organized and designed a youth-led comprehensive Civics curriculum in Boston Public Schools.
Jesús has held numerous Board leadership positions across New England and is also a co-founder of the Community Fellows Program at the Institute for Nonprofit Practice. He currently serves on advisory groups for The Aspen Institute and the Kresge Foundation. Jesús is an established speaker and has presented at myriad conferences and gatherings across the United States, most notably as a featured speaker at the 2011 TEDx Cambridge conference. In 2015, the Boston-based Barr Foundation awarded Jesús a Barr Fellowship for his contributions to the city and his potential to drive positive change. Recently, the Schwab Foundation named Jesús as a 2020 Social Innovator of the Year for leading FII’s work supporting tens of thousands of families across the U.S. during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A native of Puerto Rico, Jesús is the youngest of three children born to parents who were just nineteen years old when they married. Although his family struggled to make ends meet, they benefited from a support network of extended families and friends. It was not until his parents’ divorce that this support network fractured, causing him, his mother and siblings to struggle in deep poverty. At the age of nine, Jesús moved with his mother and siblings to Amherst, Massachusetts. This community was full of resources, lifting up opportunities for Jesús’ family to achieve their goals. This life experience has shaped Jesús, fueling his desire to eliminate place, race, or economic position as the marker for individual and collective success.