The LIBRE Institute is a 501c3 nonprofit nonpartisan organization that operates to both engage and inform America’s Hispanic community on the many benefits of a free and open society.
This episode shares the story of Lee Dury, who has been an integral part of the LIBRE Institute. Lee involved himself with LIBRE as a way to help the Hispanic community, paying homage to his own family’s immigration history, eventually rallying behind big causes like the impact a zip code does have on a child’s education.
Discover and support the LIBRE Institute at thelibreinstitute.orgTRANSCRIPT OF EPISODE
Lee Dury 0:00
Really each one that learns new information and knows that the choices that are there and then makes a choice. I always count as a huge success you know, and that I guess that’s the teacher in me right one more person feeling that they’ve learned something and can make a better choice to improve their lives the lives of their children and family is an impact. It is a drop in the bucket.
Kevin Oates 0:26
From Dirigo Collective, this is Renegades & Mavericks, sharing the stories of people interrupting the status quo and breaking new ground in their field.
Lee Dury’s story begins in a small suburb of Philadelphia called Valley Forge, earning both his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees before moving down to Florida to become a teacher. Soon after moving down to Florida, he discovered LIBRE Institute, and he wanted to make a bigger impact through that. The LIBRE Institute is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit nonpartisan organization that operates to both engage and inform America’s Hispanic community on the many benefits of a free and open society. Lee involved himself with LIBRE as a way to help the Hispanic community, paying homage to his own family immigration history eventually rallied behind the causes like the impact a zip code does not have on a child’s education. I sat down with Lee to learn about his work and get his take on the major issues facing Hispanic communities. This is Lee Dury, and he is a maverick.
So Lee, I would love for you to share your story and your educational experience.
Lee Dury 1:42
I taught middle school special education for a number of years in what’s called a self-contained class. So these were students who were not part of the mainstream curriculum, the curriculum was modified with accommodations and very much individualizing education. After four or five years doing that I became an education consultant and was really honored to be able to travel around to about 20 states and work with students and teachers and school board members and community members to improve education in various places. And what’s really great, and living in Florida as part of that education journey is we decided to homeschool our children and also participate in Florida’s dual enrollment options. And there’s just so many things about that education journey that I get excited to discuss and to share with other people, not just in Florida, but across the country.
Kevin Oates 2:38
So I taught public school K-12 orchestra for eight years. And it’s one thing to work for educational organizations, but to be an educator first knowing what it’s actually like to be their classroom teacher. And then putting into practice is so crucial.
Lee Dury 2:54
And thank you so much for being an orchestra teacher. Part of my education experience was a member of the elementary school orchestra, playing the snare drum and the cymbal. I did not keep up with it. I wanted to sit behind a drum kit and play loud banging rock music, not stand up on the snare drum and play Tchaikovsky, but I probably should have stuck with it a little bit longer.
Kevin Oates 3:17
It’s never too late. You can always go back. You can always go back. That’s my that’s my motto. Can you give us some of the background of the why of the LIBRE Institute and what void it was filling in serving the Hispanic community.
Lee Dury 3:33
So the LIBRE Institute is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit nonpartisan organization. And just to give the full picture, it is the sister organization of the LIBRE Initiative, which is a (c)(4) entity that engages a little bit more on legislation and policy efforts. So the LIBRE Institute and the LIBRE Initiative, were founded to work with Hispanic individuals, businesses and communities across the country, to help them learn and thrive and be more prosperous and less dependent on government. So the void that was filled really was to be the voice the trusted partner and preferred partner in the Hispanic community to help empower individuals on a principles of a free society and an open society rather than a government control top down society.
Kevin Oates 4:29
How did you get to it? How did you connect?
Lee Dury 4:32
There are two folks in my role deputy directors who oversee the Americans for Prosperity, branded folks. One deputy oversees our brand known as Concerned Veterans for America that does outreach specifically to veterans and active duty military dealing with foreign affairs, VA issues, things like that veterans mental health issues. And then I’m overseeing the library team and what’s been really interesting Just in terms of personal growth and professional growth to connect with it is over the last 12 to 14 months, it has reconnected me in a much deeper way with my own family’s immigration history. And we deal with immigration issues, obviously, as part of stand together as part as the LIBRE Initiative and LIBRE Institute. But the process of learning how America works, is a very complicated process and telling that story of immigration. And, you know, coming here is only the first part of the journey, actually figuring out how things work, whether it’s in this case, for the majority of our conversation, the education system, and the schooling options. I’m a third generation American, my great, great grandfather came here from Poland and Russia, during, you know, that wave of immigration, and working with the library team in Florida and across the country has really opened my eyes up, as well as my mind and my heart to the issues and barriers that people face.
Kevin Oates 6:05
What I’d love to hear, though, is like from your, your experience, how you personally seen the organization’s impact in action, you know, especially in the realm of education, maybe that’s in Florida, or maybe that’s on a national scale, like what have you seen as far as the impact from the institute.
Lee Dury 6:24
I think within my first two weeks working with the organization two years ago, they were holding a citizenship celebration night. So I was able to drive down to Miami to our local office that we have down there. And several folks who had recently completed a citizenship class that our team was offering sat for the citizenship exam and past, so we were having a celebration to welcome them as newly naturalized American citizens. And that is just a real, clear, specific example of the impact that we see. And those citizenship classes and civics classes happen across the country in about a dozen states where LIBRE is active. And in some states where there are Hispanic communities, but no formal LIBRE presence, we still offer, of course, in the last 12 months, online classes, but the LIBRE Institute also offers the English language learning classes. So people who struggle with English, whether they’re recent immigrants, or if they’ve been here for a while, but you still struggle with English, we offer free classes to help overcome that barrier. civics classes, citizenship classes, financial literacy classes, entrepreneurship classes, which are super exciting, because we have examples of people who complete a financial literacy or an entrepreneurship class. And then they actually go start a business. And actually tying those things together with the citizenship class. We had one gentleman in Miami, who had done a citizenship class, become a citizen, take the entrepreneurship class started a catering business. And eventually he was able to go full time as an independent caterer.
Kevin Oates 8:10
You mentioned though, you know, the last 12 months, you offer these online classes and ELL classes, and especially now that you can get a digital reach at a time that you were only present in 12 states. Now reaching the other 38 states. Did you notice a growth in engagement and enrollment during that time?
Lee Dury 8:28
So it was a little bit of a two steps forward, one step back kind of experiment, like a lot of businesses and community organizations. You know, last March, April, May, we had to dig in and examine and explore the model we were using, in the last, I’d say, four to five months of 2020. And then the first quarter of 2021. It was much different. People were attending Zoom classes, we were actually able to get over the idea of geography, so that if we were having a class in Orlando, and a trainer was coming in, obviously the trainer could just zoom in from wherever he or she was, but also the attendees were limited now to a comfortable driving time, which in Orlando, Florida, it could take you 35 or 40 minutes to drive 15 miles depending on traffic that night. But we’ve been able to have people join from Virginia where we also have a state chapter and collaborate with each other, or people join from Michigan or people join from Texas and do interviews and collaborate. We obviously were not able to do that when we were thinking strictly in person, local offices and classes, especially now that in Florida, we’re reopening and going back to using classes and having in person meetings. We’re including Zoom links still as hybrid options so that people can still join from where wherever they are, or watch the recording later on and still interact with us.
Kevin Oates 10:05
How large are these communities you’re going to when you’re doing this, and like how many people are showing up for these classes?
Lee Dury 10:15
we can generally host somewhere 2030 people comfortably at a time. There are some places where we don’t have offices. So in working through next steps, we’re going to be looking at partnering with organizations such as a local YMCA, or library, or other place where people are gathering where again, if we can do it in terms of 20, or 30, at a time, each family probably has one or more children in school. But we continue doing the hybrid and putting things on Facebook or onto our websites. Really, each one that learns new information, and knows that the choices that are there, and then makes a choice, I always count as a huge success, you know, and that I guess that’s the teacher in me right? One more person feeling that they’ve learned something and can make a better choice to improve their lives and the lives of their children and family is an impact it is a drop in the bucket. But if you multiply that to, let’s say, we do that 10 times over the summer, in 10 different municipalities or cities, and our colleagues in other state chapters are doing similar things or other things to get the message out about education, freedom and choice in their states. that eventually has a huge impact. And moving forward, that impact gets seen. And I guess, I’d like to throw out numbers. So for instance, in Florida, there’s 210,000, approximately students who do that open enrollment I talked about, there are 110,000, students who are officially homeschooling. Those are huge numbers. There’s hundreds of 1000s of students in magnet schools and in charter schools, and then in dual enrollment, and then doing virtual students using scholarships. So any additional family who learns about these choices, the ripple effect of that benefit, is huge. And that’s what we work for every day.
Kevin Oates 12:32
Yeah, and on top of that, you don’t just especially for families that are not English, or fluent in English, once they attend that in person and learn about it, they can now go and tell those other families, and have it be a bit of a trickle effect, then just spread the message easier, and to not have that barrier. That seems almost impossible if it was just online or through websites. But it’s amazing to see the impact in person. And breaking that barrier is really a critical part for LIBRE.
Lee Dury 13:04
And there really isn’t a substitute for meeting in person. One of our classes actually is the case for education freedom. So we can also talk about that or we did myths and facts of charter schools. And, you know, quick asterisk caveat for all of the listeners who aren’t in Florida. Yes, the rules are different in different states. So myths and facts about Florida charter schools might be slightly different than myths and facts in Georgia or in New York, or open enrollment in New York is different than open enrollment in Florida. But we want to give people the tools to empower themselves, so they know where to look. And they know who to ask, and they know where to ask. And also, don’t stop asking until you get the information that will help you and your family and your children.
Kevin Oates 13:52
So on the website for the LIBRE Institute, under the education pillar, your organization discusses the zip code issue. And I just love to go in depth on this issue in order to just truly get a clear understanding. you’ve discussed this a little bit earlier on, but if you can go more in depth and so we can truly understand the impact a zip code does have on a child’s education.
Lee Dury 14:16
Absolutely. And I know it’s a catchphrase, but so everybody understands, essentially, in talking about the public school systems, specifically here. It’s all based on geography. Right? You know, here’s the neighborhood. In Florida districts are countywide districts generally up north, their town by town or townships or something. But you measure the population in a given zip code or given area and you say, this is where they’re gonna go to elementary school or middle school or high school. It affects everything. It affects the transportation, the schedules, all that and those are all threads to pull out in the public education system probably for a separate show. And so what open enrollment does is it counteracts the zip code, you can sign up for a school in the same school district and go someplace else. Again, this is a really important thing you can, but you have to be able to know that you have to know where the forms are, you need to know, does my district provide transportation for that one, and some districts do and some don’t. So even in outside Tampa Bay, there is a district that is, you know, citrus County, it’s a little bit smaller than a palm beach, or a Pinellas or an orange county. In talking with a school board member there, I know that they do work to provide transportation for students who are choosing whether to use open enrollment, or they’re going to a magnet school or a charter school. So what that does in effect is it opens up the opportunities, it breaks the barriers for the students, and the parents who feel like this is my school, right? I live on Jones Street. So I have to go to Jones elementary school, and I have no choice. But what I really want to do is go to Smith Elementary School, for whatever reason, if they have a language immersion program, or a really cool marine biology program, or it’s just on my mom and dad’s way to work, and it’s easier for them to drop me off there, whatever the reason is, with open enrollment, you can make that choice without open enrollment. You can’t. And so unless there’s equity of resources and equity of teachers and equity of programs and curriculum, then you have an inequitable school system. A lot of other things push against that. So part two of that answer is, that’s also why you have magnet schools and charter schools and home schools, and virtual schools and dual enrollment is because all of these options exist. And they all I think, when fully embraced, will truly transform and finally get us into Welcome to the 21st century learning.
Kevin Oates 17:09
Well, speaking of 21st century learning, you know, what are some of the most effective ways for us as a country, but really, on the individual level, to educate ourselves about what the LIBRE Institute is working to achieve? You know, whether it’s on the local level or the national level? What are some of those ways that we can really educate ourselves accurately?
Lee Dury 17:31
Well, I think in this day and age, you really start by going to the website and or the social media accounts. Right. So the LIBRE Institute’s website is thelibreinstitute.org. Good on us to keep it simple and direct. From there, obviously, there’s all the standards, you know, the About Us events, there’s an Events tab, which is really a great place, because then you can click on each individual state and drill down to not just what the LIBRE Institute nationally is doing. But what’s happening in Texas, the LIBRE Institute, has a Facebook page. And off of that Facebook page, the Florida team and the Colorado team of state groups. If you’re looking at the sister organization, the Libra initiative, can also check them out on Facebook, and even just maybe search for your state right. So search the LIBRE Initiative, Florida LIBRE Initiative, Texas, etc. and drop a comment to us, you know, follow the page and put it post a comment. And then if you see an event, and it’s online, join it. If you are in a community that has one, we’ve started doing classes live in many of our states, if you see that something is advertised, and you can get yourself or a friend to the Orlando office, for instance, or the North Atlanta Office in our for our Georgia team, go go to the event, see what it’s like, if you see us, you know, at a school doing a community fair stop by and say hi, we’re we’re very friendly people. So I think that’s the best way to get educated is just visit us on social media and then connect with us.
Kevin Oates 19:15
What is the head for the LIBRE Institute both for the education pillar, which is obviously something I’m passionate about, but also across all four pillars, the organization as well as the sister Initiative?
Lee Dury 19:29
So I’m going to give the simple answer. I just think more good things are ahead. So as states are opening up, and people are leaving sort of the isolated Zoom world, more of our offices, and communities across the country are having events, whether it’s our formal workshops, or partnering with other groups partnering with churches, partnering with community organizations to Out of those bears in those festivals, and being part of the community, again, you can usually spot us we’ve got a LIBRE Institute or LIBRE Initiative shirt on, or a banner with us. So we’re really easy to spot. But I think in terms of education, specifically, you know, we’re gonna keep working with the community members. In K-12, we’re gonna keep pushing the message of opportunities exist. And we want every student to have access to the learning environment that is best for him or her, everybody learns differently. For families, we are going to continue offering the ESL classes and civics classes and citizenship classes, financial literacy classes. And we’re also going to be getting creative. So one of my colleagues is trying to connect folks with healthcare, and healthcare innovation and things like that. And so, we are creatively launching a healthcare, fitness class as well as a health care and nutrition class, just to get people into the office or into the local YMCA and talk about taking care of yourself and talk about cooking. And then, you know, we’ll talk about, you know, where do these recipes come from, and eventually be able to connect that to healthcare and telehealth and other options, not just employer based health care, and things like that, but what other options exist to take care of yourself and your family? Obviously, a large part, you know, one of the large pillars is dealing with immigration. So the LIBRE Institute as well as the LIBRE Initiative, the sister organization, do a lot to talk about immigration issues, border security issues, these issues. And again, the best place for the starting point is, is the website, both for LIBRE Institute and LIBRE Initiative. You know, check out the news releases, the press releases, things like that. You should definitely actually go to social media accounts and find and follow Daniel Garza, who is the president of the LIBRE Initiative and liberate Institute. He does a lot of interviews really explains issues clearly. But we’re all on social media talking about these things.
Kevin Oates 22:26
So Lee, we asked all of our guests at the end of every episode, based on your experience, you know, both starting as a teacher, now working for this amazing nonprofit organization, what would you like to impart on the next generation of renegades and mavericks, specifically, those who really want to pursue social justice, immigration equality, nonprofit work, and really those who believe in equality of education, either at the K-12 level, or as adults as well?
Lee Dury 22:57
Well, I would say things like, first of all, believe in yourself, and believe in people. I know, a lot of times, problems seem quite complicated. But the solutions aren’t necessarily as complicated as they might appear to be. So believe in yourself. And if you feel like you’ve got a solution or something to share, to help yourself, succeed, and help other people succeed, take the risk, go for it. And try something. This is a country of opportunity. It’s a country of innovators, and entrepreneurs and people who take risks, and try something new to help them in their community. Again, you you’ll see these stories if you go to our social media and our websites, but I think that’s what I would try to impart to the next generation, whether it’s my own kids, or people I’m meeting is, there’s a lot of us who sit around thinking about stuff. And we think Wouldn’t it be great if well, you know what, it would be great, do, go ahead and do it. Give it a shot, become part of something, go to a class, learn a new skill, partner with somebody in your community. If you want to make a difference, go make a difference and help break those barriers and help other people succeed because that’s really what it’s all about with our organization to just believe in people. Help them break those barriers and succeed by helping others succeed.
Kevin Oates 24:27
To learn more about the important positive impact for the Hispanic community, visit thelibreinstitute.org. Also, please go ahead and check out the Facebook pages for the LIBRE Institute, as well as our Facebook groups Learn Everywhere, as well as Prende Donde Esta for the Hispanic community. Additionally, the LIBRE Institute and Americans for Prosperity Foundation are hosting an education freedom event on June 23, 2021 in Miami. Information for that event is in our show notes at renegadesandmavericks.com. Renegades & Mavericks is a production of Dirigo Collective. This episode is hosted and produced by Kevin Oates, copywriting by Jeremy Glass and project management from Claire Closson.