Brian De La Cruz, CRSM Class of 2017, and a first-gen college graduate, lives by the words of Principal Dr. Michael Odiotti in his steadfast commitment to building a career in public service and equitable healthcare: “The gritty person has the ability to never give up.”
The past year was one that has brought numerous unforeseen challenges — the 22-year-old was called home to Waukegan to care for his mother, father and older brother who all were hit with serious cases of COVID-19 at the beginning of the pandemic. But, Brian, 22, graduated with a Business and Economics degree from Wheaton College and landed the position of Business Operations Coordinator for the American Medical Association (AMA’s) Education Center. It’s a position he strived hard for during his internship last year for the premier national medical association. The organization supports physicians, residents and medical students at every step of their education and careers.
In his role at the AMA, Brian works on the AMA Ed HubTM to provide high-quality education for physicians and other medical professionals so they can stay current and continuously improve the care they provide.
Brian is passionate about working to advance health equity and end healthcare injustices, to disrupt and dismantle the systems that aren’t working and reimagine and rebuild these systems to ensure justice. He’s already envisioning a 10-year career plan, a plan inspired by growing up in Waukegan.
“I want to elevate the needs of my community and center them in the discussion to improve their health outcomes”says Brian.
He knows firsthand about some of the challenges facing people living in Waukegan and towns where their zip codes thrust them into the crucible of racism and low socioeconomic status and produce harm and inequalities in education and deep-seated barriers to medical care.
This fact hit like a bolt of lightning during the last year when the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic revealed deep-seated inequities in healthcare for the community living in the 60085 zip code and amplified the social and economic factors that contribute to poor health outcomes. It was brutal watching his parents and brother battle the virus and struggle for access to treatment. Waukegan as the sixth hardest hit town in the state for COVID-19 cases.
“I saw firsthand what happens to people with chronic disease and the brokenness of the healthcare system,” he says. “I feel the need to champion the stories behind this unfairness and continue to shine the light on them.” Thankfully, all of his family members have recovered from COVID-19.
Grabbing on to the grit bandwagon
It hasn’t been an easy road for Brian, who is the first member of his family to graduate high school and go to college. He was a “C” student in middle school. That changed when he entered high school and was embraced by a supportive community of caring educators at CRSM who pushed Brian to reach his full potential, he says.
There’s no question, he says, that his perseverance and dedication to long-term goals took root at CRSM where he maintained a 4.0 GPA all four years, was the senior class president, a National Honor Society student and president of the Student Ambassadors. Through the Corporate Work Study department, he worked in the multi-cultural marketing department at Walgreens’ corporate headquarters throughout high school. During the summer before college, he worked as a full-time intern on the development team at College Bound Opportunities, where he was also a scholar his junior and senior year.
Brian feels called to give back and to serve others through ministry and volunteerism. He’s been a youth coordinator at Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe Parish and helped create the youth group at Kingdom Voice Ministry, when the church was just starting in Waukegan.
“Cristo Rey created a path for me to follow and now I want to do that for other young people,” says Brian, who serves on the board of directors for the Wheaton College Alumni Association. “I look back and think about walking into Cristo Rey and how I learned as a freshman in high school to carry on conversations with adults at work. I can’t imagine many freshmen are able to do that. And Dr. O. really inspired me that no matter how difficult things are, to never give up. As a first-generation student, the barriers to overcome were many, but with the support from CRSM and CBO, I knew I could dream big.”
Advice for CRSM students: “Dare to break the systems and barriers that get in the way of your personal journey.”