Yulkendy Valdez, Forbes 30 Under 30, social entrepreneur, storyteller, and TEDx speaker. As the Co-Founder and CEO of Forefront, she helps employers, schools, and nonprofits create low-barrier, culturally relevant virtual experiences for youth (ages 16-24) to facilitate their transition from education to career.
She brings a diverse set of corporate and nonprofit experience to the table. She’s worked with various organizations such as Bank of America, EY, Puma, and Innosight Consulting. She received numerous fellowships such as, including the Resolution Project, Opportunity Nation Leaders Program, Future Founders Fellowship, Net Impact Racial Equity Fellowship, and Harvard Kennedy School Public Policy Leadership Conference.
Early Life Experiences That Guided Her Passions
Yulkendy grew up in a small town in the Dominican Republic. Like many children of immigrants, she was left in the care of her grandparents while her mother pursued a better life and opportunity in the United States. Yulkendy went on to graduate from Babson College, the number 1 school for entrepreneurship.
Idolizing her mother, a teenage mother that faced incredible adversity at a young age. Her mother worked in public schools, not only making sure that classrooms and facilities are clean, but working as an unpaid translator to Latinx families. Whenever Yulkendy wants to give up, she remembers her mother saying, "if you can't handle this, you won't handle what's coming". Constantly reminding her of the strength that gives her the agency to keep going no matter what.
At the age of 11, I reunited with my mother in St. Louis and joined my new family to pursue the infamous ‘American Dream’. Quickly, I was faced with the harsh reality of xenophobia, racism, and sexism at an early age.
This experience shaped her commitment to create a world where every young person feels seen, heard, and valued. Upon graduating from college as a first-generation low-income student, she faced a decision to take a consulting job with a salary that would allow her to single-handedly create generational wealth for her family, or to pursue her passion for social justice.
On July 5, 2016, the decision was made for me when the police killed Alton Sterling. I was taken back to when Michael Brown was murdered near my home and the same thought shook and mobilized me that could have been my brother. I rejected the offer in Corporate America and set out to increase the representation of leaders of color across the private and public sectors.
The Power of Latinx
Identifying as Afro-Latina, Black, Caribbean and Dominican, she can not talk about her Latinidad without talking about her Blackness.
I do believe in the power of the word "Latinx" because it challenges our broader community to adopt an inclusive lens. The culture that stems from Latin America is beautiful, but to understand the beauty of it, we also need to acknowledge some ugly truths. Ugly truths such as sexism, racism, colorism, and classism that are deeply ingrained in our cultures.
Currently, less than 50 Latinas have received $1M in funding for their companies and there are only 10 Latino CEO’s in the Fortune 500. The playing field for Latinx people to be fully represented as founders is nearly invisible.
As a Black Latina, it also feels like I am the last one in line to get on one of the rollercoasters at Disney, and there is no way I can get access to the fast lane.”
In 2020, we also launched a tech product called Carmen AI that provides 24/7 automated career support to Black and Latinx students from resume reviews to interview preparation. Carmen goes as far as matching you to potential mentors and referrals in your respective industry - all via text-messaging and chat. Carmen is just like any other contact in your phone, and she is bilingual (Spanish / English).
If you have a business idea, go for it! You are going to make mistakes, and you are going to fail a lot, but you are also going to succeed a ton, and you are also going to have a lot of fun while you are it. I don't regret at all rejecting my corporate offer - four years ago - because saying "no" can lead you to the best moments of your life and your career.
Find out more on at Yulkendy Valdez on her Website: yulkendyvaldez.com