State Representative Elect, 7th Essex (Salem)
Vice Chair, Salem School Committee
Advocacy Director, Latinos for Education
Heritage: Dominican & Puerto Rican
By: Frank Morris Lopez
Awards & Recognitions
Northeastern University’s Huntington 100, 2016
Salem State University, Executive Officer of the Year, 2011
LaCla Scholar, Northeastern University, 2013-2016
Judge Reginald Linsdey Fellowship, 2015
First Afro-Latino elected to Salem’s School Committee, 2017
Raised by a single immigrant mother who didn’t know the school system and didn’t get the support she needed in raising three boys on her own, Manny Cruz faced challenges at school and “was being tracked for the school-to-prison pipeline,” he said.
But instead of meeting that fate, he’s about to become the first Afro Latino to ever serve as state representative from Salem.
“It’s the first time in Salem’s 300-year history that we will have a Latino, a person of color, representing one of the most historic areas in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,” he said.
Cruz sailed to victory in September when he bested his opponents in the Democratic primary. With no Republican challenger in the general election in November, Cruz is the de facto 7th Essex State Representative-elect.
He campaigned on issues such as education, climate justice and reproductive rights. Education is a topic that is near and dear to his heart. “I have my own personal mission,” he said. “I believe that all children, regardless of their own socio-economic standing, should have mobility in systems that are inherently racist.”
Cruz is the advocacy director of Latinos for Education, a national Latino-led nonprofit dedicated to creating pathways for Latinos in education. He’s also the vice chair of the Salem School Committee, to which he was elected in 2017 in another historic first.
“Prior to my victory, there was a tremendous amount of doubt that, as a young Latino male, that I could win an at-large election in a predominantly white community with only a small population of eligible Latino voters,” he said. “I now have the privilege of being the first Afro Latino of Dominican descent to serve on the Salem School Committee because I built an inclusive coalition.”
In his role at Latinos for Education, Cruz said he’s been able to build coalitions, leveraging the organization’s resources to help close the digital divide in students’ access to broadband internet through a $50 million investment in the American Rescue Plan Act. He’s also worked to move forward the Massachusetts Educator Diversity Act, and secured $25 million in new investment for educator diversity.
Cruz says “the urgency is real” when it comes to developing, recruiting and retaining more Latino educators in the nation’s schools. “Only three out of my 53 teachers across were Latino,” he said. In Massachusetts, just 5% of teachers are Latino, compared to 23% of students.
“Just having one same-race teacher closes achievement gaps for that student of color. Test scores go up, graduation rates go up, there’s a stronger sense of belonging,” he said.
Since his years as a youth being tracked for that “school-to-prison pipeline” he spoke of, “I am incredibly proud of the progress we’ve made as a Latino community,” Cruz said. And as state rep, “I look forward to building relationships so we can do the good work on behalf of our community.”