Notable Native Juan Salgado


Courtesy Juan salgado

Juan Salgado is the recipient of the MacArthur Genius Grant.


uan Salgado, 46, is the winner of a MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant and  is heavily involved in making a lasting impact in the Hispanic and African American communities. 

Salgado grew up in the south suburb of Calumet Park and spent five years organizing the Resurrection Project, which addresses crime in Pilsen. In 2001, Salgado joined Instituto del Progreso Latino—a nonprofit organization that offers workforce development, adult education and citizenship preparation to immigrants—where he now serves as president and CEO.

Salgado said he is passionate about helping others. Under his leadership, Instituto del Progreso Latino opened the Instituto Health Sciences Career Academy and Instituto Justice Leadership Academy high schools.

The schools aim to provide students with real-world experiences and job readiness training. In 2014, Saldago took a group of students to study medicine in Latin America—a tradition he hopes will continue. 

Saldago’s Genius Grant is a $625,000 stipend awarded to people who show “exceptional creativity in their work and a prospect for still more in the future,” according to the MacArthur Foundation’s website. The grant will be distributed over a five year period. The Chronicle spoke with Salgado about his passion for community development,  success and future goals.

THE CHRONICLE: How did you get involved in urban planning and community development?

JUAN SALGADO: I was interested in issues of race and economics as a college student. I majored in economics, but my interest was always in cities. I went to urban planning school. While I was in school, I volunteered in East St. Louis, Illinois, where I fell in love with community development and what it could do.

What are your passions ? 

I think the biggest thing for me is seeing somebody reach for what they want to do in life. To have somebody on the other end of it reaching with them is a beautiful thing. [I love] when someone comes in with an idea of what they want to do in their life and the impact they want to have.

What life experiences have inspired you?

There are so many that it’s hard to pinpoint just one. It builds upon itself. I spent a little time volunteering in East St.Louis, and it was wonderful. Despite the challenges, the leaders there were deeply committed to making those neighborhoods better. It wasn’t just one thing—but a series of things. [During] graduate school, studying urban planning and learning from the classroom [was inspirational]. It was about the treasure of learning and learning from people no matter what their title is.

What has been your greatest life accomplishment so far? 

For me it’s not what you do but how you do it. I think the major accomplishment is that after doing community development work for over 20 years, my relationships are really strong. I have a level of trust and respect from my colleagues and neighbors. That, to me, is the most important thing because that’s our currency—a currency for nonprofit companies is trust.

Have you ever failed to reach any of  your goals ?

I’ve got a lot of [failures], too. The biggest one is that I don’t think we think big enough anymore. If we keep going about the problems we have right now like we have been, we are just not going to [solve them]. Even though we have done a lot, we are still not acting bold enough. Maybe we just are not taking big enough risks. 

What are some of your current goals for the organization?

We [at Instituto del Progreso Latino] are a community laboratory for innovation for how the rest of the world can look at our communities [Little Village, Pilsen and the Southwest Side of Chicago] in different ways. I  hope  we take a big approach and not a small approach.

How did it  feel when you found out you won the Genius Grant?

I have sense of gratitude and responsibility. From this point forward, I feel like my life project is about working in communities and making them better, and this hit me at a time to basically say, “step it up.”