Carlos Lejnieks ’00: Leading with Love

Building relationships, elevating voices, and increasing representation. During his tenure as the first Latinx president of the Brown Alumni Association, Carlos Lejnieks applied the power of authentic partnership to make a difference for the alumni community.

Carlos Lejnieks has spent a lifetime shaping his style of leadership.  

His mother's strong work ethic as she struggled to put food on the table made a powerful first impression. Caring individuals who advised him to graduate from high school and pursue further education rather than an early entrepreneurial career instilled in him an appreciation for mentorship. A college letter of recommendation from a baseball legend and a handwritten note from a Brown admission officer showed him the value of lasting friendships and of the personal touch. And Brown’s pre-orientation Third World Transition Program—during which incoming students are invited to discuss social identities and consider their own histories—conveyed to him the power of community.

“Initially I wasn’t sure whether I was going to stay or transfer,” Lejnieks remembers. “When I made intentional connections and took advantage of the University’s advisory systems, the question was removed from my mind. I felt that my story could be part of Brown’s story. Everything suddenly became manageable.” 

Lejnieks barely had time to get his feet under him when the then-president of Brown’s Undergraduate Council of Students sought him out and encouraged him to run for a position on the council. Victorious, Lejnieks—a self-avowed “observer of leadership”—put into practice some of what he had learned about the value of hard work, mentorship, personal connections, and community. “When something feels inclusive when receiving it,” he says, “why not also give it?” 

And he has.

“I still felt uncertain about some aspects of the world when I graduated,” says Lejnieks. But volunteerism was never questioned. “It is cemented in the Brown ethos that everyone does their part.”

His volunteerism eventually led him to become chair of the Brown Alumni Association (BAA)’s Multicultural Alumni Committee in 2019 and the first Latinx president of the BAA in 2021. There, his style of leadership served him well, and he aimed it at ensuring that all members of the alumni community felt included, supported and connected by the programming created by the BAA and Alumni Relations. “To me, it seemed critically important that all voices were seen as part of the whole.” 

The timing was auspicious. The University-wide Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan—an ambitious plan seeking to achieve the highest level of academic excellence by building a fully diverse, inclusive, and equitable Brown—had been launched in 2016. As part of an honest self-assessment, the University had been engaged for three years in taking concrete steps to transform the policies, structures and practices that historically led to the exclusion of some members of the community.

Starting in 2019, Lejnieks and Mary Ward, senior director for alumni belonging in Alumni Relations, partnered in spearheading Brown’s first-ever Historically Underrepresented Groups Alumni Engagement survey geared toward issues impacting those alumni. Taking on this task “was her strength; her wheelhouse,” he asserts. 

Ward worked closely with Multicultural Alumni Committee members to ensure that the survey questions would not only touch on broad alumni engagement but also garner feedback on their experiences in terms of diversity, inclusion, and belonging at Brown. While she concentrated on designing and implementing the survey and long-term strategic roadmap, Lejnieks did what he does best: community- and relationship-building. He reached out to Eldridge Gilbert III ’05, then president-elect of the Inman Page Black Alumni Council (IPC), as well as to every other affinity group leader.

“The first time that Carlos reached out to me was when he wanted help in increasing the participation of Black alumni in the Brown Alumni Association survey,” says Gilbert. “His recognition that some alumni might respond differently to requests for participation from their affinity groups versus a general BAA communication was deeply appreciated. It demonstrated Carlos’s awareness of the variety of experiences and relationships that alumni have to the University and a desire to shift that.” 

The result? Ward shares that “the responses that the questions generated gave us a deep understanding of the experiences, needs, and interests of our diverse and historically underrepresented communities." 

And “we heard that Brown wasn’t perfect,” says Lejnieks. “But even some alumni who had bad experiences wanted to connect, to be part of the whole. They still were committed to being a part of the journey.”

Engaging in an ongoing dialogue with members of Brown’s various affinity groups is increasing their support of and involvement in the University’s overall goals and efforts. It is also vital to Brown, and has been built into the goals of the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) Plan in Alumni Programming. These goals guide the BAA Board of Governors and the Office of Alumni Relations in supporting the University’s diverse communities.  

“Our work in the Office of Alumni Relations is anchored in a desire to help every member of our Brown alumni community know and feel that they belong,” says Zack Langway ’09, vice president for alumni relations. “We know that representation of a wide spectrum of experiences and perspectives is important to fostering a vibrant community, but that feeling seen, respected, and loved is what helps people feel a sense of belonging. In Carlos, we’ve been fortunate to have an incredible alumni champion and partner, and I am thankful to him and the many alumni and staff whose work in this area reflects deeply held Brown values.”

These values were apparent in the first steps Lejnieks took when he became president of the BAA. Although the BAA Board of Governors had alumni affiliated with affinity group communities on the board, Lejnieks recognized the need to ensure that board membership included a current leader from each affinity group community. Lejnieks championed the board's move to revise the BAA's bylaws to establish a full board seat for each of the BAA-supported affinity groups.

“ As an affinity group leader, I now feel more connected to the people, resources, and conversations that can help me provide services to the Latinx community. I also feel more empowered and better positioned to serve. ”

Araceli Hintermeister ’12 Former president of the Brown University Latino Alumni Council

Araceli Hintermeister ’12, then president of the Brown University Latino Alumni Council, feels it improved her ability to function better in her role. “Elevating the voices of our alumni of color has always been a priority for our alumni volunteers,” she says. “However, we were often working in silos without appropriate input and collaboration from the groups that directly serve affinity communities. That often resulted in initiatives with limited impact and relationships that were lost whenever alumni leader roles changed.” 

In their conversations about this issue, “Carlos truly listened, acknowledged the potential for growth, and helped to create change. He supported our transition as we navigated these new roles. As an affinity group leader, I now feel more connected to the people, resources, and conversations that can help me provide services to the Latinx community. I also feel more empowered and better positioned to serve.” 

Acknowledging. Listening. These became hallmarks of Lejnieks’s term in office. At a University-wide forum, he spoke about the woman who had swiped his meal card at the Ratty. “She cared like a mother cared,” he explained. “She made Brown so wonderful.” When he gave the Baccalaureate address to the Class of 2023, he reminded the students that while they were celebrating in a beautiful space, others were cleaning rooms, washing dishes, or setting up for the next event. “So many people make Brown what it is. We need to keep our eyes open to the whole.” 

That “whole” included the city of Providence, where Brown is situated. Why not, he reasoned, “be more intentional with the places we gathered and the dollars we spent?” As president, Lejnieks encouraged the BAA Board and the University to support Providence-based small and minority-owned businesses for catering and receptions during board functions and other such events.

Following in the footsteps of the BAA presidents before him, Lejnieks says he wanted to continue the commitment to representing the nearly 120,000 alumni around the world. Many believe he succeeded.

My alumni journey has become an abundant well dug deep by the service of so many. That abundance has blossomed countless opportunities and what I’ve come to call ‘my beloved Brown family.’ When I face that truth, who am I not to commit to the same?

Carlos Lejnieks ’00 Former president, Brown Alumni Association
Carlos Lejnieks posting outside of the Maddock Alumi Center at Brown.

“Carlos is a caring, collaborative, and thoughtful leader,” says Gilbert. “He leads with his love of Brown and that invites others to be more passionate as well. Because he comes from such a genuine and authentic place, it is easy to trust him and work in partnership with him. His leadership increased my commitment to Brown and grew my desire to collaborate with the BAA.” 

And Amra Sabic-El-Rayess ’00, current president of the BAA who is continuing to develop programming and opportunities that reflect, embrace, and honor the identities and experiences of the entire alumni community, knows that Lejnieks’s work will make a difference for future Brunonians as well. “I am honored to witness the impact of exceptional leaders like Carlos,” she says. “His dedication to advocating for the Latinx community, Brown's affinity groups, and all alumni is unparalleled and his contributions to Brown will leave a lasting and historic impact.”

“I am nothing but a product of what people have poured into me when I wasn’t ready to pour into myself,” says Lejnieks. “I came into Brown so awkwardly. But when I started to change my mindset, everything started to click. My alumni journey has become an abundant well dug deep by the service of so many. That abundance has blossomed countless opportunities and what I’ve come to call ‘my beloved Brown family.’ When I face that truth, who am I not to commit to the same? 

“My role as president of the alumni association will end up being one of the highest honors of my life. Brown titles and positions will change. My love for Brown will never change.”

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