Javier Acevedo did not have it easy growing up in between Milwaukee and Puerto Rico, but after some time back in his native territory, he knew that his life needed to change.
Acevedo is chief development officer for the Wisconsin Latino Chamber of Commerce. He is originally from Puerto Rico but bounced back and forth between there and Milwaukee, where his time was filled with trouble and led him to ultimately moving back to Puerto Rico at 16, where he had time to reevaluate his life and calling.
He did not waste that opportunity to self-reflect. Acevedo finished his education in Puerto Rico and came to the realization that he wanted to work in nonprofits.
“Puerto Rico for me was the starting point of what I wanted to do. Since I was a teenager something I always wanted for myself was to create a legacy for myself and my family,” Acevedo said. “To end that vicious and that generational curse of poverty that sticks with a lot of Latino families.”
Acevedo is the middle of 13 children. He knew he wanted more for not only himself, but his family and others like his. His work in Puerto Rico started in education and counseling in youth anti-violence and anti-drug programs, along with work to combat homelessness and addiction and promote public health.
His work in Puerto Rico lasted 10 years until he decided to visit family back in Wisconsin. On vacation, he was presented an opportunity to volunteer in youth programming at United Migrant Opportunity Services (UMOS) in Milwaukee.
“It went so great that a part of me wanted to stay and do more. My intention was to learn and take back to Puerto Rico,” Acevedo said. “Two, three days into my volunteer work I actually got presented (an opportunity) to work for the agency.”
The opportunity paid roughly double what he was making in Puerto Rico for drastically less work and more support. But mostly, it was an opportunity for Acevedo to stay in a place that he formerly knew as home and be present for his family.
Eventually Acevedo helped scale UMOS from a small building into a large organization and transitioned into an expert educator role in the organization. He started working around marriages and fathers coming back from prison to reintegrate them into their lives.
The opportunities continued to grow. He found himself as the lead coordinator for the Wisconsin Regional Anti-Human Trafficking Program with UMOS. The program was funded by the Department of Justice to support foreign born victims of human trafficking. He became one of the foremost trainers for local and state law enforcement to the FBI and Homeland Security for supporting victims of human trafficking.
“You name it, I done trained them all,” Acevedo said with a laugh. “It was beautiful work, very rewarding work to be in those spaces learning from each other. It was very beautiful work, but it was very emotional work.”
“A part of me always wanted change and a part of me always wanted growth. The opportunity to come to the chamber (was) an opportunity to start a new chapter in a new city,” Acevedo said.
While he is not new to Madison per se, his previous work in Milwaukee had him working in Madison a few times, his work with the city’s Latino community in this capacity is. No longer is his work centered on public health and human rights, it is now on supporting the Latino population to find careers and opportunities to thrive and make a legacy for themselves — much like he has wanted for himself.
Acevedo has now been with the Latino Chamber of Commerce for 10 months. He spearheaded the move to its new location in Fitchburg, 5262 Anton Way, and is looking to create more opportunities with its 15,000 square-foot facility. The facility is currently undergoing a remodel with plans on creating more space for educational opportunities, a commerce kitchen and a restaurant along with many other changes.
Acevedo is also an entrepreneur himself and sees the best way for Latino families in Wisconsin to thrive is to become one themselves. He currently runs an events company that does everything from catering to bartending to providing staff to make things run more smoothly.
He is also the youngest foster parent ever in the State of Wisconsin. His background being from in a large family and understanding the needs not being met growing up in rough conditions influenced him to help children in need.
“I come from a big family, so I know what it’s like to not have and be in a space of need,” Acevedo said. “Although I would love to see a little Javi with a ponytail running around destroying things, I don’t think that’s something I generally would like to see for myself. I really want to be in position to serve and help a child in need. My ultimate goal is to adopt.”
Acevedo is in the next big planning stages of his life right now. While Milwaukee is his home right now and will always have his heart, he is in the process of moving to Madison to be able to better serve the community he represents.