Imagine growing up in a community that expects you to fail.
For Norma Rojas-Mora that was a reality.
“I had never been outside of Bakersfield on a college campus. I remember my English teacher talking to the student next to me saying, so what schools are you applying to? The student mentioned UCLA. I kind of looked over and said I want to apply there. The teacher looked at me and said, oh don’t think that’s a good idea,” said Norma Rojas-Mora, a local philanthropist.
The daughter of farm workers, she was the first in her family to apply for college.
“I do remember being in high school and not knowing what the college application process was,” Rojas-Mora said.
Her parents were always supportive, but they were unsure about higher education.
“My parents really didn’t understand. They didn’t want me to leave home to go to school. I remember telling my dad he was actually signing a permission slip when he signed my college application,” Rojas-Mora said.
She was accepted to UCLA and the minute she stepped on campus she knew what she wanted to do.
“I wanted to come back here because, I think for me, I noticed some disparities. As much as I tried to work hard and do certain things, there were always some disparities so I wanted to come back here and work in an environment where I could impact and help my community,” Rojas-Mora said.
She graduated and did just that.
Rojas-Mora worked 20 years with the Kern County Housing Authority, assisting families with affordable housing and supportive services.
She became the President of Latina Leaders of Kern County and serves on a number of non-profit boards.
“I think it’s really important for people to get involved. Your voice has value and if no one is hearing that voice, then the changes aren’t happening,” Rojas-Mora said.
Rojas-Mora is now the Director of Communications and Community Relations for Bakersfield College where she is dedicated to helping young people succeed.
Her career, defined by a heart-felt investment in her hometown.
“People have dreams. They have ambitions. Often times they don’t achieve them. Not because they don’t want to or their lazy or because of all these things that people sometimes think. The reality is that sometimes that happens because they just don’t know how to get there,” Rojas-Mora said.
Rojas-Mora said her father is 83 and retired last year after spending more than 50 years as a farm worker.
She admires and respects the hard work and dedication her parents instilled in her, which no doubt helped her become who she is today.