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Planting Seeds of Hope

Planting Seeds of Hope

Felipe Lopez Sustaita is a higher education advocate, community leader, and former migrant farm worker. His passion for higher education is fueled by his dedication to lifting communities out of poverty. Felipe works to advance educational, professional, and entrepreneurial opportunities for underrepresented communities. He also regularly returns to work in the agricultural fields of Michigan with his four sons to show them the value of hard work and to keep himself grounded. He is a graduate of Michigan State University and Ferris State University.

The Interview

Nick: What do you do? Is that your mission?

Felipe: That’s a good question, whenever someone asks me that, I sometimes say I’m a farmer, and that’s true, I grew up on the land working the fields. But today when I say I’m a farmer, I really mean that I sow seeds of hope. And that is really my mission. Just inspiring people by doing the right thing. I always go back to the roots…not “My title is this”, but really being a farmer at heart and sowing seeds of hope. That’s my why. Who I am is bigger than my title.

Nick: Okay, planting seeds of hope, can you elaborate on that? I have some of my own thoughts, just on a personal level based on how you have affected my life in a positive way, but where does that come from?

Felipe: I guess it’s because I’m benefiting from somebody else. I’ve had so many people help me and believe in me, from all walks of life, and I believe that God put those people in my life. I live to do that for other people. I know I can’t change the world all by myself, but if I can plant seeds of hope in small ways, I know it can add up to something big.

Nick: You weren’t born rich or from a powerful family, you come from humble beginnings as a migrant farm worker. I don’t mean humble in a negative way …

Felipe: No, in fact it’s a positive. I have more than a lot of people. Even people who were born wealthy, they don’t have what I have. People would love to have my family and my family dynamic. I know so many kids who are so wealthy, but they’re lacking that love from family. It’s a matter of perspective.

Nick: And Hope…just to share something personal, your story and your speaking have really helped me to hope and be positive. You’ve taught me to see hardship as something not to be avoided, but as a positive. That God is working to shake me out of my comfort zone and show me another way of being. You and your story have given me so much hope in times of trial and helped me to see that there is a purpose in struggle … that there is a bigger story that I am a part of that I don’t fully understand. Having come from a farm worker background did you see a lot of hopelessness and if so, did that impact this drive to make a difference in people’s lives?

Felipe: I go back to the fields and I see joy. People are happy and I wrestle with this idea of telling people that what farm workers are living is not good. There are so many positives to the way I grew up and the material struggles that we had. But I do come with this idea that you could make a change and that could afford you a better life. I mean…if I was still in Mexico, I don’t know what I would be doing. This country has given me so much. I know I wouldn’t be where I’m at if I was still in Mexico. I guess I engage with people and see what is good for them instead of imposing my viewpoint or solution on them. That’s why I connected with you on business ownership. Give farmworkers an opportunity to own the business. I think back on all of the work my family and I put into building farm businesses. Yet we didn’t get to share in the wealth. All we got was poor health, lack of economic opportunity, and lack of educational opportunity. Even the simple things as having a nice home where we could have something that was ours were not provided after all the backbreaking work. It’s a hard question because we tend to think that education, money, power will make you happy, but if your soul is not full it won’t really help, but some basic things like a safe work environment, wealth building, and access to education do help improve life.

"People would love to have my family and family dynamic."

Nick: That’s interesting, I recently read a book called “Social Imaginaries” by a philosopher named Charles Taylor. He talks about a key assumption in modern society that we are “autonomous individuals that interact with each other in something called “the economy”. It’s not true, but we imagine ourselves that way and in many cases our goal is to become “independent and autonomous” through generating more wealth. The truth is, we are highly interdependent. A prime example is farm workers. I just ate a salad and that would not have been possible without farmworkers to pick, pack, and deliver that lettuce. It’s such a key assumption, yet it is profoundly untrue. In fact, I’ve noticed that wealth can help you to “buy” independence, but it comes at a cost.

Felipe: Speaking of planting seeds and interdependence. I got a chance to see a local retired pastor last week and I told him about a letter he wrote roughly 10 years ago to our local community college challenging the institution to do better in serving the immigrant and Latino community. That letter was given to me on my first day of work and I accepted the challenge and within a few years our school won multiple awards for serving the immigrant community in our area. This pastor did not know this letter had done so much to improve the college’s response to the local immigrant community. Sometimes you never find out how the seed you planted affected someone else or a community, but these small things can lead to big changes.

Nick: Looking back at your career, do you have regrets or things you wish you had done better?

Felipe: I don’t have any regrets. Part of that is because I have failed so much and fallen face first. I’ve been passed over so many times. I think that’s where the hope comes from. I’ve been passed over so many times, I’ve lost so many times…I started in the negative. I’m just like wow, look where I am. How can I not have faith after losing so many times. All of sudden, God elevates me from where I am to another place. The other thing is that my dreams are so big I can’t even tell people or they’ll laugh. I don’t know if I’ll get there, but I put it at the feet of God …

Nick: You’ll blow people’s minds.

Felipe: Yes. But I put it at the feet of God and just say, put me where you want me.

Nick: That’s something I’ve learned from you. Our former pastor really taught me this too. Things are so hard when we’re working to better our community and there is so much failure. It’s hard to stay hopeful. I read somewhere that the root of all sin is the failure to trust in God’s goodness and the grasp at control. I find that to be profoundly true. So many times when we face obstacles or hardship we don’t trust God and we try to jump in and fix it. But honestly, the hard stuff God has to do. Sure, we need to cooperate and keep working to better our community, but God is in control and we have to lay these struggles at God’s feet.

Nick: For a reader, do you have any advice or tips that have helped you be more successful?

Felipe: Just show up. Whether you win or you lose, just show up everyday. The people who are successful, who make it and who do things are successful because they don’t quit. We all have those days where we want to quit. Do I really want to be here? Do I really want to keep trying? I think a big secret to my success is I just show up. I try.

Nick: Yeah, right on. That’s why I love baseball. It’s a game of failure and the secret to success is that you just show up. I think it’s a microcosm of life. Success is always behind difficult times.

Nick: Thank you Thank you Thank you! I really appreciate you doing this interview.



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