Iris Morales joined the Young Lords Organization in 1969. During the next five years, she rose through the ranks to become Deputy Minister of Education, co-founder of the Women’s Caucus and Women’s Union, and co-leader of the Young Lords’ chapter in Philadelphia. Her writings about this period have appeared in numerous publications, among them PALANTE (2011), The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature (2011), The Young Lords: A Reader (2010), and the Journal of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College (2009).
After resigning the Young Lords in 1975, Ms. Morales returned to the health field as an advocate, teacher, and counselor working with young people suffering with heroin and drug addiction. Subsequently, she entered New York University School of Law where she was a Root-Tilden Scholar, the first Puerto Rican to receive this prestigious award. Upon graduation, she specialized in labor and television law and volunteered with activists groups such as Latinos in Media and Black and Hispanic Images (BHI) to challenge negative and stereotypical film and television portrayals of Latino/Latinas and other people of color, and to protest racial discrimination and the lack of access to jobs in the field. She also served on the boards of Women Make Movies and the Association of Hispanic Arts and on panels at the National Endowment for the Arts, POV Television Series, Urbanworld Film Festival, Media that Matters Film Festival, NYC Department of Cultural Affairs and Independent Television Service (ITVS), among others.
Ms. Morales co-developed NEON, the New Educational Opportunities Network, in the early 1990s. For five years, NEON provided media literacy and video production training to hundreds of Latinx and African American youth from low-income communities. Later she served as the Education Director at the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund and then Director at the New York Networks for School Renewal. This close up view of the public education system coupled with her prior teaching experiences in street academies and high school classrooms led her to join other educators and parents to form CLAVE, the Coalition of Latino/as for the Advancement of Visionary Education to fight for education reform.
In the late 1990s, Ms. Morales joined the Union Square Awards as Executive Director to launch a new grant making initiative. During a twelve-year tenure, she created programs that provided technical support and awarded more than $16 million to 238 community arts and social justice grassroots groups across the five boroughs of New York City.
During this time, Ms. Morales earned an MFA in Integrated Media Arts from Hunter College. With her newly acquired skills, she produced short films and created US-PuertoRicans.org, one of the first multi-media, community-building websites dedicated to the Puerto Rican Diaspora. In 2012, she joined the Manhattan Neighborhood Network to startup a community media center in East Harlem, which she completed successfully in 2015.