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Commentary: Christian leader Jesse Miranda helped establish programs at Vanguard and beyond

jesse miranda
Jesse Miranda, center, with Dr. Itzel Calleja-Macias, left, assistant professor of biology and director of the Jesse Miranda Center for Hispanic Leadership, along with Vanguard students who receive educational support through the Center.
(Courtesy of Vanguard University)

Sometimes a movement starts with just one person with one idea at one humble starting point.

For thousands of young people in Orange County’s Latino communities, that one person is Jesse Miranda, who recently passed but whose legacy and vision of educational equality and economic empowerment for this vibrant and growing population will continue for decades to come.

Miranda was referred to by some as the “godfather of the Hispanic/Latino Evangelical movement,” and the “granddaddy of U.S Latino Protestantism.

The son of working-class parents with modest formal education, he offered a unique vantage point into the characteristics, values, and qualities needed to succeed in the U.S. marketplace and navigate the broader social and political spheres.


He was a leader who never polarized, but instead built bridges among ethnic, generational, religious and political entities. He began preaching at the age of 19 and went on to receive a bachelor’s degree from Vanguard University, a master’s degree from Biola University and another master’s degree and doctorate from Fuller Theological Seminary.

During his 82-year lifetime, he advised U.S. presidents, served at the Latin American Bible Institute, oversaw 400 Latino churches and became chair emeritus of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.

But beyond Miranda’s long list of notable accomplishments, he set a pivotal vision for higher education in Orange County: educate the whole student.

Miranda believed in developing well-rounded Latino students who were educated broadly, community-engaged, informed as citizens and empowered as leaders. He wanted students to excel academically, spiritually, economically and in civic life. This vision has now become a common methodology among many universities who are intentional about cultivating seeds of greatness in generations of students.


Miranda’s vision, values and perspective were married with Vanguard’s institution-wide commitment to success for all students when he founded the University’s Jesse Miranda Center for Hispanic Leadership with the help of prominent local business leaders who believed in the same vision.

That community leadership, combined with Vanguard’s ongoing commitment to expanding opportunities for Latino students, helped make the center a reality. Today, as Vanguard prepares to celebrate its 100th anniversary, it continues to build capacity for Latino leadership that is transforming the Orange County community in the business, civic, church and educational sectors.

Vanguard is on a mission educating and successfully graduating Latino students, a prolific population in Southern California that makes up 41% of the Costa Mesa college’s current full-time student population.

In this season of change, diversity and of a vision realized, higher education is calling on the public to know, appreciate and utilize Miranda’s legacy and meet the challenges of our first-generation college students to support them as they become well-equipped, career-focused, community-minded individuals.

We need more institutions, businesses and private sector organizations to commit to creating opportunities for these students and to produce individuals who are not only educated, but who will make our communities better, just as Miranda modeled.

Michael J. Beals is president of Vanguard University in Costa Mesa.

Maria Elena Avila owns Avila’s El Ranchito and is a founding member of the Orange County Hispanic Education Endowment Fund.

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