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Social Justice Advocate to Visit Campus as Part of University’s Longest-Running Guest Speaker Series
Kica Matos, a devoted advocate for social justice, is passionate about safeguarding democracy, protecting immigrant rights, and inspiring young people to be engaged. She will deliver a campus-wide lecture on November 6 as part of the Bartels Lecture Series.
October 25, 2019
By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications
For nearly 20 years, Kica Matos, director of the Center for Immigration and Justice at the Vera Institute of Justice, has lived in a neighborhood in New Haven that is largely made up of immigrants. Witnessing the challenges they face each day – especially those who are undocumented – motivated her to join the fight for immigrant rights.
"There were no systems in place to protect immigrants," said Matos, who, from 2001 to 2006, was the first woman to serve as executive director for JUNTA for Progressive Action, New Haven's oldest Latino community-based organization. "I came to discover that our immigration system is broken. Immigrants are now more vulnerable than ever."
Matos is passionate about social justice, and she has made advocating for justice and democracy her life’s work. A leader in the effort to create the nation’s first identification card for all New Haven city residents, regardless of their immigration status, her devotion to fighting systems of injustice has made an impact in Connecticut – and beyond.
Before joining the Vera Institute of Justice earlier this year, Matos served as the director of immigration rights and racial justice at the Center for Community Change in Washington, D.C., where she saw people make the trip to the nation’s capital to meet with their legislators, participate in rallies, and make sure their voices were heard.
Encouraged by witnessing what she calls "participatory democracy in action," she saw the impact that active citizens – and movements – have had in the fight for social justice.
"The convergence of citizen engagement and legislators championing causes and leading to good outcomes was inspirational," Matos said. "What was most discouraging, however, was seeing the bitter partisanship in Washington, but people have changed the face of history and will no doubt continue to do so."
"It is up to all of us to shape the kind of society and nation we want to live in."Kica Matos
Matos’s devotion to social justice includes criminal justice issues. Her work as a federal defender for death-sentenced inmates, and with the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Educational Fund and with Amnesty International on death penalty and criminal justice issues, also helped her realize that she wanted to dedicate her life to fighting for justice. An advocate for the abolition of the death penalty, Matos was part of the effort to end the "stop and frisk" policy in New York.
Active in the work of the Fair Immigration Reform Movement, the nation’s largest network of immigrant rights organizations, Matos has extensive experience as an advocate, community organizer, and lawyer. Earlier in her career, after her work with JUNTA for Progressive Action, she served as deputy mayor and administrator of community services for the city of New Haven.
Matos is now looking ahead to ensure that tomorrow’s leaders continue to advocate for social justice. She is the proud parent of a 14-year-old son, who, she says, is "woke, empathetic, and engaged in issues he cares about, including protecting the environment."
Matos believes learning about issues that impact the community and society as a whole to be an important part of students’ college education. She is looking forward to encouraging University of New Haven students to discover who they are and what they are willing to fight for.
"I hope they walk away with an understanding of why it is of the utmost importance to be engaged and active in our precious democracy," she said. "Whether at the local, national, or international level, it is up to all of us to shape the kind of society and nation we want to live in."
Kica Matos will visit campus on Wednesday, Nov. 6, as part of the Bartels Lecture Series. She will deliver a campus-wide lecture that will begin at 11 a.m. in Bucknall Theater in Dodds Hall. The Bartels Lecture Series, the University’s longest-running guest speaker series, was established in 1989 through the support of devoted University benefactors Henry E. "Hank" Bartels ’91 Hon. and Nancy Bartels ’11 Hon. to bring national and international leaders in business and public service to the University to interact with students.