For decades, José A. Rico has worked in schools, with community based organizations and in government to ensure human needs of the most vulnerable are met and their human dignity defended. Born in the small mountain town of Jeruco, México, José and his brother, Carlos, immigrated to the United States as children, where his father was a railroad worker and his mother was a homemaker. His sister, Florentina, was born here, where they made Chicago home. He is blessed with three children Tizoc, Amaya and Diego Amaru.
Rico attended Chicago Public Schools and graduated from Whitney M. Young Magnet High School, where he earned a full academic scholarship to study mechanical engineering at the University of Illinois–Urbana. Rico followed his heart away from engineering and took a job as a science teacher at Chicago’s Latino Youth Alternative High School.
In 1997, he went to work for the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant Rights, organizing its “Removing Barriers” campaign, working with parents in the suburb to ensure that families were not targeted by INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service).
In 2001, while completing a master’s degree in education, mothers in Little Village started an education campaign for their children, resulting in a 19-day hunger strike. They won the campaign and created the most innovative high school in Chicago.
Rico then became a principal at Little Village/Lawndale High School. The Multicultural Arts High School educates Latino & African American students on Chicago’s westside with a focus on social justice and arts integration.
In 2009, Rico was appointed by President Obama to serve in the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics. As Executive Director, he represented the White House and implemented policies, strategic initiatives and outreach to advance the Administration’s education agenda in the Latino community nationwide. Term highlights include reduced high school dropout rates and increased Latino college graduation rates through implementation of new initiatives, policies, and national public awareness campaigns.
Rico served as the inaugural executive director for Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation (TRHT) Greater Chicago from 2019 to 2024. The TRHT is a comprehensive, national and community-based process to “unearth” and jettison the deeply held, and often unconscious, beliefs created by racism”. The mission of TRHT Greater Chicago is to proliferate healing and equity within individuals, neighborhoods, and communities to change the race narrative to fuel transformation, erase the belief in racial hierarchy, and drive towards racial equity.
Rico’s accomplishments include creating transformational change in four areas: truth and narrative; healing; law and policy; and youth. During the last 5 years, he has worked with over 100 organizations, trained over 400 racial healing practitioners, gathered over 15,000 people and mobilized over $5M to start multiple initiatives that collectively work towards an equitable region that holds promise for all; a region whose residents have embraced racial healing and equity and rejected the false construct of racial hierarchy – believing and knowing that all people have equal value and worth; and a region where equitable policies are in place.