Great leadership has no specific shape, form, or face. It doesn’t find, or avoid, a home in the heart of a particular person necessarily because of any specific religion, race, ethnicity, nationality, education level, differing ability levels, socio-economic status, or other defining distinctions.
In fact, greatness – in leadership and in other areas – can be inside of any one of us.
But how would we know if there’s greatness in a person if we’re prejudging that person based of any of those defining distinctions – and the stereotypes and general misconceptions often associated with some differences among us humans?
Maybe a prejudgment stems from the lack of knowledge about, experience with, or fear of, someone who’s different than us.
In the American Legion Auxiliary – the world’s largest women’s patriotic service organization, we know that prejudgments, and discrimination, are simply wrong. ALA wholeheartedly welcomes diversity among its membership and leadership and requires only that potential members are women who meet the pre-established eligibility requirements.
If we were narrowminded and closed off to women from various backgrounds who qualify for membership, it would be our loss. We would probably miss out on having terrific members and leaders such as Marion Rocha-Carlos, president of ALA Unit 211 in Lompoc, Calif. Marion is also a past Department of California District 16 president (2012-2013) and has served on the department’s Ways and Means Committee since 2013.
Marion, a 40-year-old lifelong ALA member, is known for selflessly giving her all to every ALA mission-based action she takes. Signed up for the ALA by her grandfather, U.S. Army Air Corps World War II veteran Joseph Rocha when she was a baby, Marion virtually grew up within the ALA.
Her fellow unit members and others encouraged her to pursue leadership roles in our organization. It didn’t matter that Marion has cerebral palsy with dystonia, or that the dystonia affects her muscles and bones – making them rigid when they should be more flexible. And it didn’t matter that Marion has a speech impediment which can sometimes make it difficult to understand her.
It didn’t matter then … or now, and here’s why: Marion and her fellow unit members share many of the things that unite them as ALA members – including a strong calling to honor and help veterans, servicemembers, and their families; honor the sacrifices of those who served; mentor our youth; and promote patriotism and good citizenship.
Imagine if Unit 211 had predetermined that Marion had no worth to ALA or to those we serve because she has cerebral palsy with dystonia or because of her speech impediment.
Thankfully, that didn’t happen. When ALA members look at Marion, they see the person she is and her capabilities. We know Marion is so much more than the physical challenges she faces … and we’re proud to have her as a member and leader!
In a recent question-and-answer session, Marion shared some insights from her experience as an American Legion Auxiliary member:
Q: Do you ever feel like people don’t know what to say around you?
A: My fellow Auxiliary members see me as a person first. They do see the disability. It’s a part of me, but they know it’s not the only part of me. Sometimes, if it’s a new member, then yes – they aren’t sure what to say to me or around me, how to treat me, how to react to me. In those cases, I think it’s their nervousness or maybe apprehension, or their first impression of me is that they’re not sure of what I can do. Then, they meet me and talk with me. Then they discover what I can do. Then, all of those other concerns melt away. Because of my speech impediment, I tell people ‘If you don’t understand me, ask me to repeat myself.’ I’m okay with that.
Q: Do you think ALA, as a whole, is a diverse organization? How can diversity be beneficial within the Auxiliary?
A: As we grow, and as we reach out to attract new members from all sorts of backgrounds, we become an even more diverse organization. I appreciate when other diverse units come in and show their openness and different views because I found out that I can learn from them and they can open up my eyes to new things – like a new way to do an ALA activity. We can all learn from each other.
Q: Do you ever let cerebral palsy with dystonia get in your way? Why or why not?
A: I do have my down days. But I don’t let those feelings hold me back; that’s not my personality. I do know that I need my rest. So, I would take time for that. But I also know that I always need things to do or I’ll get bored.
Q: What keeps you motivated and keeps you doing what you do as an ALA member?
More about Marion: Marion Rocha-Carlos, a Paid Up For Life (PUFL) American Legion Auxiliary member, is eligible for ALA membership through her grandfather, U.S. Army Air Corps World War II veteran Joseph Rocha. Marion also is eligible through the service of her father, Ronald Rocha, who served in the U.S. Army at the end of the Cold War. Marion earned two associate’s degrees in liberal arts, and a bachelor’s degree in social science. She is a volunteer teacher’s aide for a first-grade class at a local elementary school. Marion is married to Art Carlos, a detachment officer with the Sons of the American Legion.