Eric Howard

Photo by Nance Musinguzi

My story is one of immigrant rights and the struggles that people of color face, informed by my experience growing up in Arizona as a Mexican American adoptee of Latin descent.

Before I moved to Minnesota, there was a public debate in Arizona about SB 1070, which basically legalized racial profiling. If you “looked suspicious”, a police officer could pull you over and ask you to prove your citizenship with no other basis for stopping you.

Once I was driving home from work and there was a police car along the way. I remember my heart starting to race. I was really concerned that he was going to pull me over thinking I was illegal. I thought, “How do I look? How am I dressed if he pulls me over? How can I come across more ‘American’?” All I could think of at that moment was fear.

My humanity was reduced to the fear I had for a police officer, all because of the public debate that was happening about immigrants and what it meant to be an immigrant in Arizona.

Growing up, my family and church were my strongest connections to what it means to be a donor.

I grew up in a Southern Baptist tradition, where it’s expected to tithe 10% of your income to the church. So there has always been a religious context to giving for me.

Beyond that, I grew up in a family of modest means. When I was a kid, after my mom would go to the grocery shopping, she’d stand outside with the long receipt, checking to make sure that they didn’t overcharge us for anything. She would say, “This was on sale, and they owe me $2.” She would go back into the store, flag down the cashier, show them the receipt, and get those $2 back.

My mom loved our family and wanted to provide for us and she showed that by trying to save money wherever she could. She was very frugal about spending money, making sure that we always had enough to buy school clothes and food.

So, I never thought about donating to nonprofit organizations outside of a church setting, because it felt extravagant based on my upbringing.

Headwaters showed me a different side of what generosity means and helped me redefine giving outside of a religious context.

Religion is about connecting faith values with religious action. I now think very similarly about donating elsewhere. When I donate, I'm connecting my values as a citizen called to action as part of a movement. Headwaters facilitates that action.

Having conversations with other Headwaters’ donors helped me clarify my own story and stake in movement work. Telling my story of growing up as a Mexican American man in Arizona helped me connect my history and my values with being a donor that can support a stronger democracy.

Now when I talk to people about donating to Headwaters, I talk about strengthening our democracy so that the public debate around immigrant rights, among other rights, is more inclusive.

Headwaters also helped me think differently about what it means to be a donor by introducing me to donor organizing.

As a volunteer donor organizer for Headwaters, I’m invited to build relationships with people in a different way: in a way that has been authentic, encouraging me to share out my own personal story to connect with a greater struggle and ask them to think about their own “story” and connection. When I talk with other donors, it’s not just a transaction ask. Donor organizing helps me think about the work of funding movements more collectively. We have a shared responsibility to gather resources and leverage them to benefit a larger community, now and in the future. Headwaters has given more depth to my thinking of what it means to be a donor.

Photo by Nance Musinguzi

Headwaters is a place that believes in people. They trust people. They trust peoples’ lived experience.

After many years serving as a volunteer with Headwaters, this year I was elected to the Board of Directors. I now see another dimension to Headwaters that I haven't experienced before-- a deep commitment to leadership development and a compassion for people.

I continue to be inspired by Headwaters’ belief in people and humanity. It's brought about growth in me, in how I view our community, and how I believe in people and believe in myself.


We extend our thanks and appreciation to Chris Olson, the Headwaters staff that conducted the initial interview.