The Catalyze podcast: SEVEN Talk, by Ricky Hurtado ’11: “Roses in the Concrete”

News & Spotlights | September 7, 2023
Ricky Hurtado ’11 delivering his SEVEN Talk at the 2022 Alumni Forum in Chapel Hill. (Photo by Leon Godwin)

Today’s episode is a recording of a SEVEN Talk from the 2022 Alumni Forum. This talk, given by Ricky Hurtado ’11, is entitled, “Roses in the Concrete.” Ricky is the state representative for the North Carolina House of Representatives. He is the first Latino Democrat to serve in the N.C. House.

You can watch all of the SEVEN Talks on our YouTube channel.

Listen to the episode.

More about Ricky

Ricky Hurtado ’11 is a member of the North Carolina House of Representatives, representing the state’s sixty-third district. As a first-generation college student, Ricky found his passion for public service while at Carolina, mentoring students who grew up in similar circumstances and were working hard to make their dreams come true. Ricky studied business administration at Carolina, later attending graduate school at Princeton University, where he focused on how to create effective public policy to fight poverty and inequality and build strong, vibrant communities.

How to listen

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Catalyze is hosted and produced by Sarah O’Carroll for the Morehead-Cain Foundation, home of the first merit scholarship program in the United States and located at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. You can let us know what you thought of the episode by finding us on Twitter or Instagram at @moreheadcain or you can email us at

Episode Transcription

Forty-two years ago, a young man and woman, twenty years old and deeply in love, had a challenging and life-changing decision to make. Do we stay or do we go? You see, they were facing what would end up being a thirteen-year civil war in Central America in their home country of El Salvador, a decision that over 500,000 people at the time had to make. Do we flee for our safety or do we stay? The next day, they bought a one-way ticket to Mexico, and from there looked for a way to get to the U.S. safely. And so this young man and this young woman find themselves in the trunk of a car with the explicit directions that if the trunk opens, you run. And sure enough, that’s what happened at the U.S.-Mexico border. The trunk opens and they run, spend a dark night running through the desert and hiding in the brush, fleeing for their safety. So with no English, no money, and no family, this is where their American story begins. And despite the odds, they go on to get married. They go on to raise a family and have a son that is a first-generation college student to go to UNC-Chapel Hill as a Morehead-Cain scholar, a Princeton graduate, and now serving as the first Latino legislator in the current makeup of the General Assembly.

So it sounds like you guessed it. Yes, that son is me. This story is perhaps why I am hardwired to always look for the roses in the concrete. When you think about what artist and poet, Tupac Shakur, referred to as “cracks in the concrete,” roses that, despite the desperation and hopelessness, can sometimes dare to survive and even flourish. It’s perhaps why I also gravitated to the field of education, where we have opportunities to expand opportunities so more students like me have the same shot in life to make sure that they’re building opportunities for them and their families. It’s where I’ve met students like Mitzi, where we’ve had to spend heartbreaking nights talking about why on her graduation night, despite her being the first in her family to potentially go to college and top ten graduate in her high school, cannot end up going to college because she cannot afford it. See, she’s undocumented, and she does not have access to the same types of resources here in North Carolina, despite having grown up here and despite having gone to our public schools here in North Carolina. But Mitzi looked for the roses in the concrete, and after these conversations, willed her way to get a full ride, willed her way into college, and now is getting a Ph.D. at Duke University. And I promise you, that is the only time that we’re going to clap for Duke University, okay?

So you all know that I’m a House representative here in North Carolina, and so we have to talk about politics. You can’t give a politician a microphone during election season and not talk about politics, right? Beyond my work in education now, I’m in the heavy work of civic engagement across our communities. And here, this area is not as ripe right in these times to find these pockets of hope in our communities. When you look at the political climate now, we’re facing global conflict in places like Ukraine. We’re facing the repercussions of a global pandemic that shook us all to our core, and we’re seeing the very foundations of some of our democratic institutions under attack. We’re seeing political polarization that has not been this divided in our recent political memory. But despite these challenges, I still choose to hold on to hope, because in my work now, I continue to see the roses in the concrete. I see it when I walk into a high school classroom or a college environment where students’ eyes light up, and they tell me, “I didn’t know that people like us could run for office.” I see it whenever they shoot me a copy of their documents in Google Drive, because I am too generous with my email, to let me know that they wrote about me in their college essay about what they want to do when they grow up. I see it when I’m door-knocking in communities to talk to constituents, and I come across a working-class family that opens their door, and to their surprise, there’s a young Latino representative in front of them asking them, “What’s going on in your community? What needs can we serve to make sure that we’re building a better life for you?” And they say, “Oh, our voices don’t matter. People like you don’t typically come to our communities to ask us what we need.” And I then go on to have a 15-minute conversation around how we can build a better community together, not just in Alamance County, but across North Carolina. I see these moments of hope when we are building diverse, multiracial coalitions across our community that is determined to address the inequities that we saw present throughout COVID-19 to think about how we build stronger, more resilient schools and communities.

These are the roses in the concrete that I choose to hold on to. And as we head into a critical midterm election, I actually believe that the work ahead of us is bigger than the electoral outcomes that we’ll see in a few weeks. We’ll have some of our favorite candidates win, and we’ll have some of our favorite candidates lose. But I will continue to make sure that we’re cultivating fertile ground for all of us in North Carolina. I’m going to continue to make sure that we’re opening these cracks in the concrete a little bit wider so we can make sure we have more stories like Mitzi. We have more folks coming to the table, and we can all have a voice where we can all thrive. I want to make sure that we continue spreading seeds of hope into these cracks of the concrete to make sure that we’re building that brighter future together. And so I’m determined to continue searching and cultivating these roses in the concrete, and I hope that you’ll join me.

Thank you.