Chavez Day Heroes 2015: Meet 55 Community Stars

Cesar Chavez day edition 2015 Essay: How the Chavez legacy still inspires

Gerrie Naughton – A Sister Who Put Pharr Residents First

Hero’s name: To Honor the Memory of Sister Gerrie Naughton

Home region: McAllen area, Texas

Organization affiliation: ARISE Support Center

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“She is the founder of our community center, which is located in Pharr, Texas. She was a wonderful person, who I wished I could of met. But when I started going to ARISE, she had passed away. She was a great leader, who helped our community in the best she could. She put the community first.”

Honored by: Karla Judith

Kit Rafferty – A Housing Advocate With ‘Endless Energy’

Hero’s name: Kathleen “Kit” Rafferty

Home city: Miami

Organization affiliation: South Florida Voices for Working Families

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“Everyone who knows Kit asks the same thing: Where does she get her endless energy?

Kit and I have worked together for the last five years to preserve mobile home parks as a form of non-subsidized housing in Miami and to fight for mobile home owners’ rights.

With Kit’s help and the help of the organizers at South Florida Voices for Working Families, thousands of low-income families have gained access to free attorneys and the legal system.

Most importantly, Kit has played a vital part in making sure that these families have not ended up homeless.

She is an invaluable part of our community.”

Honored by: Evian White of Legal Services of Greater Miami, Inc.

Jorge Servin – A Dad Fights ‘Harshest’ Immigration Law

Hero’s name: Jorge Servin

Home city: Russellville, Alabama

Organization affiliation: Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“Just like millions of Mexicans living in poor conditions have done during the last decades, Jorge Servin left his hometown of Cuernavaca and immigrated to the United States in search of a better future 17 years ago.

He found a job in a manufacturing facility in Russellville, Alabama, where he established himself, got married and started building his family. Everything seemed to be working fine for Jorge, but in 2011 when the Alabama Legislature passed the harshest anti-immigration law in he United states, things changed.

Fear seized the immigrant communities all over the state. Thousands left Alabama after the passage of HB 56, but instead of escaping like many others did, Jorge decided to organize and fight back

Together with his wife Evelyn Servin, Jorge started mobilizing his friends and family to start the North Alabama Hispanic Coalition for Equal Rights (NAHCER).

Soon, Jorge and his group started collecting signatures against the law and organizing town hall meetings with local legislators to overturn their positions regarding the law.

When other immigrant organizations started popping up around the state, they soon united to conform the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice, the first statewide grassroots organization fighting to repeal the anti-immigrant law, HB 56, and defend immigrants rights.

After hard work and many lawsuits against HB 56, immigrants like Jorge and other organizations were finally able to strike down the most aggressive parts of the law, making it possible for thousands of hard working immigrants to return to Alabama.

But Jorge’s hard work did not stop there. During the last few years, he has been very active as a community leader, organizing immigrant communities and playing fundamental roles in important events such as ‘Alabama Vota,’ the first Latino voter engagement campaign in Alabama.

He created the main slogan ‘Tu voto define nuestrofuturo,’ (‘Your vote defines our future’).

He was also one of the main organizers of ACIJ during the 50th anniversary of the Selma-to-Montgomery march, where he coordinated the organization to mobilize hundreds of immigrants who joined the massive celebration to honor the African American leaders who fought against the racist laws that excluded them from the right to vote.

A busy, working father of two young children, Jorge puts a lot of time and effort in his work for ACIJ, even though he does not receive a paycheck. ‘I like to do my best at work because that’s the image that I portray to my community and my family, which is my biggest inspiration,’ he says.

While his wife and two children are American citizens, Jorge is still unable to fix his immigration status because he was detained at the border years ago while trying to return to Alabama after having to go to Mexico to support his dying father.

He was separated from his family for two years. The U.S. consulate in Ciudad Juarez denied his pardon.

An avid soccer fan and passionate fighter for immigrant rights, Jorge has passed his devotion to his kids. His 12-year-old son, Yahir, was arrested in Washington, D.C. during a protest to support immigration reform.

‘That was even more inspiring to me. We are going to keep fighting for immigration reform,’ he says.”

Honored by: Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice

Sophia Glover – A Grandma and ‘Powerhouse’ in Florida

Hero’s name: Sophia Glover

Home city: Orlando

Organization affiliation: Organize Now

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“Sophia Glover is a long-time activist, volunteer, canvasser, mother, grandmother and Organize Now community organizer. She also has been fighting for the rights of low-income families in Central Florida since 2006.

Sophia Glover was born in Louisiana and moved to Central Florida 40 years ago. She worked on numerous grassroots campaigns throughout her life. She was an integral part of the fight for earned sick time in Orange County. These days, Sophia has become an organizing powerhouse.

Sophia recently became a full-time community organizer at Organize Now. The results have been phenomenal. Whether she is making phone calls, knocking on doors in the community, speaking at County Commission meetings or working with our members to become leaders of the community, Sophia has shown strength, determination and passion.

Her mind is geared toward bringing about social and economic change in our global community.

Sophia has always demonstrated her ability to empower people to fight for justice. It is truly an honor to be able to work side by side with her in the movement. Her work helping to develop both the Pine Hills Organizing Committee and the Organize Now Racial Justice Committee has been an inspiration.

Sometimes a little inspiration is all it takes to plant the seeds of real change.”

Honored by: Timothy Murray of Organize Now

Phanat Xanamane – Art and Building Dignity in New Iberia

Hero’s name: Phanat Xanamane

Home city: New Iberia, Louisiana

Organization affiliation: Envision da Berry

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“Phanat Xanamane is many things: an artist, a dancer, an architect, an actor, an urban planner, a visionary. He is a ‘doer’ – someone who has an idea, tosses it out to friends and neighbors for feedback, then is off to turn that idea into reality.

Phanat, who emigrated from Laos with his family when he was very young, was raised in the predominantly African-American ‘West End’ of New Iberia. His intellect and talent took him far from Louisiana.

After undergraduate studies at a nearby public university, he went on to pursue graduate studies at New York’s Columbia University and traveled the world – including living in Thailand – to continue learning and growing.

While he was away, the community where he grew up continued to fall further into economic decline. ‘Hopkins,’ the name of the main corridor through the West End and the name by which the community is often referred, became synonymous to some with vacant and blighted buildings and a reputation for high crime.

In 2008, Southern Mutual Help Association, Inc. (SMHA) partnered with a wealthy donor, the city of New Iberia, a noted land planner and architect and community residents to create the Master Plan envisioned by the community.

Soon, tangible improvements to the built environment began attracting positive attention and generating energy in the community.

Xanamane returned ‘home.’ He saw this new stirring of activity, convinced that his talents, skills, and – most importantly – his commitment could make a difference in the community he loves.

His not-for-profit, Envision da Berry, uses art and information to create connections and build community; da Berry’s very first project in the West End was transforming elements of the Master Plan – community garden, civic center, transit hub – into a multi-location, public art installation.

He is helping his neighbors ‘see’ the difference they can make in the community.

In 2013, the first mural was painted on the side of well-known West End ‘watering hole,’ House of Rudolph. The mural, painted by local artist Jimmy Rink with some assistance from community volunteers, is a vibrant, joyous celebration of music, dancing and life.

This year, another incredible mural was unveiled and serves as a symbol for the Bunk Plaza renovation project in process. Famed jazz musician Bunk Johnson is a native of New Iberia.

Today, the park named in his honor is a neglected patch of green space on Hopkins Street, notorious for drug deals and clandestine sexual activity. Envision da Berry and the Coalition for Bunk Plaza are determined to turn Bunk Plaza into a safe place for community events – a more fitting tribute to the great musician himself.

Community hero Phanat Xanamane is successfully tapping into a community’s – and a people’s – pride in its history and culture, using art to celebrate this history and help this historically-significant area of the city recapture its dignity and sense of importance.”

Honored by: Denise Galatas

Fawn Pochel – A Woman Always Working for Justice

Hero’s name: Fawn Pochel

Home city: Chicago

Organization affiliation: Chi-Nations Youth Council

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“My hero is Fawn Pochel, a young American Indian woman of Lakota and Cree/First Nations descent.  Fawn is my hero for mentoring at-risk Native American youth in Chicago, being a tireless activist and working to become a teacher and role model for low-income minority students. She also gives strength to her extended family.

Fawn serves as a volunteer youth advocate for Chi-Nations Youth Council. Its mission is to create a supportive, open environment for Native youth, raise awareness of American Indian cultural identity and promote healthy lifestyles through arts, activism and education.

This strengthens a marginalized community by fighting for social justice, safeguarding the environment, celebrating culture and perpetuating traditional Indian values.

Since American Indians consider the natural world to be our relatives, the environment is an important component of social justice. Fawn has participated in ‘Idle No More,’ a peaceful revolution to support Indigenous people in their quest to protect the environment. She also protested at a Chicago rally against Monsanto’s genetically-modified foods. Last fall, Chi-Nations partnered with the Sierra Club to march in a huge New York City rally to raise awareness of climate change.

With Fawn’s leadership, Chi-Nations youth researched the environmental dangers of fracking and pipeline projects. This motivated the youth to protect natural sources of clean water for the next seven generations. With support from Chicago’s American Indian Center and Wisconsin’s Earth Partnership, Chi-Nations participated in a water steward institute.

Afterwards, youth created and presented a documentary about an iron ore mine’s devastating effects on water. Chi-Nations’ environmental advocacy was recognized by Chicago Public Schools’ Title VII program with an award for community commitment.

Last December, Fawn raised funds and chaperoned Chi-Nations Youth Council to the ‘Change the Name’ rally at FedEx Stadium in Washington, D.C. to protest the name of the football team that degrades Native people. Sadly they had to withstand racist remarks and other verbal abuse from football fans.

Fawn is a full-time college student through ONE Northside’s ‘Grow Your Own’ Teachers program that helps low-income people of color earn a bachelor’s degree in education. She plans to teach at a high-poverty public school in Chicago to serve as a role model to underprivileged youth. In her classroom, Fawn will introduce character-building Indigenous values such as respect, integrity and generosity.

I have the utmost respect for Fawn because she and her sister, Janie, committed to raise their teen-aged nephews rather than letting them enter the foster care system.  As single women in their 20s, they take their parenting responsibilities seriously. Fawn has high expectations for her nephews while setting boundaries and nurturing them with love and respect.

The fact that Fawn survived a challenging childhood makes it even more admirable that she is devoting herself to her nephews during their turbulent adolescence.

Fawn was recently nominated to serve on the American Indian Center’s board of directors.  Because of her work with at-risk youth, activism, desire to teach underprivileged youth and dedication to family, Fawn is a true hero.”

Honored by: Lynne Wendler

LEAN Team – Warriors Fighting for Environmental Justice

Name of heroes: The LEAN Team

Home state: Louisiana

Organization affiliation: Louisiana Environmental Action Network

Why these people are Community Heroes:

“You’ve just discovered that nearly 16 million pounds of chemical propellant and explosives are improperly stored, exposed to the hot and humid Louisiana elements, in your backyard.

What does this mean? What do you do? Whom do you call?

In Louisiana, you call the LEAN team.

My Community Hero is not one person but rather a team of environmental warriors that ‘make room at the table’ so affected families and communities can be heard and heeded.

Driven by Executive Director Marylee Orr and Technical Director Wilma Subra, the Louisiana Environmental Action Network, or LEAN, gives environmental justice communities – nearly always low-wealth or communities of color – the hands-on guidance and technical tools and training they need to tilt the scales of power away from ‘big business’ and take charge of changing their communities for the better.

Too often, the communities chosen to serve as industrial ‘dumping grounds’ are those in which residents are already struggling with widespread poverty and the effects of inequitable policies that, for generations, have accorded greater weight to keeping corporations happy than to the health and dignity of individual Louisianans.

Many times, people don’t understand why their children stay sick and their water tastes bad. When they do learn the ‘why,’ they often don’t know what to do or how to take action. But they do know whom to call.

When a community calls, LEAN responds — from highly-visible battles, like those waged in the wake of natural disasters and industrial accidents, to the countless challenges faced by Louisiana residents every day, such as bad air and unsafe water.

One of LEAN’s most recent pieces of work has been of the highly-visible variety, ensuring the interests of residents remain at the forefront of discussions around the disposal of 16 million pounds of 25-year-old (and likely unstable) chemicals and explosives at Camp Minden in Webster Parish, Louisiana.

Other work has been much quieter, with LEAN receiving little or no publicity (nor credit) for its work behind the scenes. A community calls, and LEAN begins monitoring and documenting, arming residents with information they need to make change.

One community that called was a low-income, primarily African-American community that for 16 years struggled with the impacts of the North Baton Rouge Wastewater Treatment Plan in its midst. There was abysmal odor in the air to the declining health of children and seniors.

Another was the – again, low-income and primarily African-American – community adjacent to the Exxon facility. There were very serious concerns about hazardous release, subjecting the community to potentially harmful pollutants over and over again.

In both instances, LEAN monitored and documented, researched and compiled data and worked side by side with resident leaders to fight their way to ‘a seat at the table,’ tell their story and demand change.

LEAN uses technical expertise and strong science to give environmental justice communities knowledge and power while training resident leaders to take center stage.

The LEAN Team are true community heroes. They are building the next generation of community heroes in Louisiana.”

Honored by: Denise Galatas

Maria Cordero – She Shows ‘How Democracy Works’

Hero’s name: Maria Cordero

Home city: Brownsville, Texas

Organization affiliation: ACLU of Texas

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“Maria Cordero is a community organizer for the ACLU of Texas in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. As an organizer, she educates our community about their Constitutional rights, as well as advocates for changes that will have a positive impact in our border communities.

Maria’s been working with different colonias [which in Texas are unregulated developments in rural communities] in Cameron County but particularly with Bent Tree of San Benito, Texas. She’s been educating residents on what their rights are and also empowering them to advocate directly.

She created a network of “KYR promotoras” [who are lay health workers who serve in farming communities] and volunteers by giving “train the trainer” workshops. These groups of women now give KYR presentations themselves, both in Bent Tree and other colonias in Cameron County.

When Maria first started working with Bent Tree she realized that residents lacked some of the most basic necessities like streetlights. She organized them and taught the residents of Bent Tree how to obtain streetlights through their advocating.

After collecting 252 signatures and meeting with county commissioners, Bent Tree residents obtained streetlights that have benefited more than 350 families. Now, Bent Tree residents have taken the initiative to advocate for free trash pick-up services and green spaces for their community.

The work Maria continues to do to empower the community has certainly left a mark. What started as a basic necessities project made the community realize that change is in their hands.

Now, they’ve not only advocated for their colonia but engage regularly on issues like immigration, health, education and civic issues. They now participate in different community meetings and events and are comfortable talking to their local and state representatives.

Maria showed them how democracy works.”

Honored by: Michael Seifert. He contributes opinion essays to Equal Voice News.

Goldie Wells – A Strong Voice for Food Security in N.C.

Hero’s name: Goldie Wells

Home city: Greensboro, North Carolina

Organization affiliation: Concerned Citizens of Northeast Greensboro

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“In 1998, the Winn Dixie grocery located in northeast Greensboro closed due to corporate repositioning across the southeastern United States, despite that it was making a profit. This left the section of the city, which is predominantly people of color and has a high concentration of low-income families with no easy access to fresh produce. In other words, the area had a ‘food desert.’

Goldie Wells decided that she could not stand by and watch her community and its children and families left without access to nutritional food and goods. She started Concerned Citizens of Northeast Greensboro.

At the request of community residents, the city of Greensboro sought to attract other grocery stores to this area to meet the nutritional needs of its citizens. No grocery store came.

Goldie continued to lead her community in declaring that the shopping center where Winn Dixie was, which subsequently saw all other stores in it leave when the grocery store did, would be revived.

She declared that ‘there will be a renaissance for our community!’

Her faith has always told her that God calls us to make this world a better place for all of creation and therefore enables our hands and minds to come up with creative solutions for community problems and to act on them.

Her Christian faith, as a member of the Church of God in Christ denomination, is one that is active and empowers communities, which are often discounted, underserved and disenfranchised, to rise up and speak for themselves and act in their own best interests.

Her leadership has led to what we now know of as the Renaissance Coop Movement in Greensboro. It involves the community owning grocery stores. She served as its first leader in 1998, when the area suffered such economic divestment.

She later ran for Greensboro City Council in 2005 to be a voice for northeast Greensboro and served until 2009. Upon ending her term voluntarily as City Council member, she also led the fight for this same community in opposing the re-opening of a landfill.

She is now back continuing the work she started by helping to be an ambassador for the Renaissance Coop, as they seek a city grant to provide some of the start-up costs to open in late 2015 or early 2016.

For Greensboro, a city that ranks second in the nation for food insecurity and in the top ten for poverty, the innovative community-centered solution that addresses hunger and economic development remains one of the most creative for the city and also for the nation.

We hope that this innovative community solution will be an approach taken by other communities across our nation that face the same issues of food insecurity and economic development.  Thank you for your leadership, Goldie.”

Honored by: The Ecumenical Poverty Initiative

Robert Williams – An Attorney Whose Work Has Meaning

Hero’s name: Robert A. Williams

Home city: Tallahassee, Florida

Organization affiliation: Florida Legal Services

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“Robert A. Williams is the director of the Migrant Farmworker Justice Project of Florida Legal Services. Since his graduation from Harvard Law School in 1975, Rob has devoted his entire legal career to representation of farmworkers in Florida.

For almost 20 years, he worked for Florida Rural Legal Services in Immokalee, one of the state’s largest concentration of farmworkers. In recent years, he has been based in Tallahassee, where much of his time has been devoted to policy analysis and legislative advocacy on behalf of farmworkers.

During his time in Immokalee, Rob represented farmworkers in a number of cases that established important legal precedents for farmworkers. In the early 1980s, he prepared the master asylum case on behalf of Guatemalan refugees who had fled to Florida. Rob built an encyclopedic case chronicling the persecution of indigenous Guatemalans by the military regime then in power in that nation.

Rob’s efforts were a crucial element in thousands of indigenous Guatemalans winning the right to remain in the United States rather than face political persecution from Guatemala

In the mid-1980s, Congress passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, which promised legalization to millions of migrant farmworkers. However, through an overly strict view of the qualifications for legalization, the then-Immigration and Naturalization Service denied the applications of tens of thousands of farmworkers across the country.

Rob co-counseled the legal efforts challenging the INS position. The case made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which by a 6-3 margin held that the INS procedures were unconstitutional, a ruling that led to hundreds of thousands of farmworker applicants receiving legal status.

Since the mid-1990s, Rob has handled a number of legal matters for the United Farm Workers union (UFW). In 1998 and 1999, Rob successfully represented striking workers employed at Quincy Farms, a mushroom farm located just west of Tallahassee.

Rob persuaded an appellate court to overturn a restrictive ban on farmworker picketing of the farm and won unemployment compensation benefits for many of the strikers after the Florida Department of Labor initially denied these benefits.

The farm ultimately agreed to negotiate a contract with the United Farm Workers. The Quincy Farms workers are currently the only farmworkers in Florida employed under a union contract.

For his efforts, Rob was recognized by The Florida Bar with the first Steven M. Goldstein Award for legal excellence on behalf of the poor.

Since 2001, Rob has represented the UFW in its negotiations for immigration reform in the agricultural sector. Three years of negotiations with representatives of the agricultural industry led to the Agricultural Jobs, Opportunities, Benefits and Security Act (”AgJOBS”), a comprehensive reform of American agriculture that was co-sponsored by 63 members of the U.S. Senate in the 108th Congress.

Under AgJOBS, many of the undocumented farmworkers in the United States would be able to legalize their immigration status. AgJOBS would also change the current temporary agricultural worker program (the ‘H-2A program’), adding new protections for guestworkers employed in this country.

Rob is one of the principal authors of AgJOBS and has worked with the leadership of the UFW to incorporate its central principles into subsequent comprehensive immigration reform legislation, including the legislation that passed the U.S. Senate in 2012.

In 2012, Rob was recognized by the White House as a Champion for Change in recognition of his lifelong efforts on behalf of farmworkers.”

Honored by: Greg Schell of Florida Legal Services

WECNA Team – Keeps ‘Fires of Community Spirit Burning’

Name of heroes: The WECNA Leadership Team

Home city: New Iberia, Louisiana

Organization affiliation: West End Council of Neighborhood Associations

Why these people are Community Heroes:

“A small spark can start a fire, but it takes dedication, energy and hard work to keep that fire burning strong. A team of dedicated community residents in the West End of New Iberia is keeping the fires of community spirit burning in this area that comprises nearly one-third of this city of just over 30,000.

Southern Mutual Help Association, Inc.’s (SMHA) early work in the community included improvement to the built environment. Construction projects create visible, tangible results that generate excitement and momentum.

The West End leaders took full advantage of this swell of community attention. The team attracted 80 volunteers and material donations for a ‘Spring Sprucing’ project through which 20 homes for elderly and disabled West End residents received ‘face-lifts.’

The team then raised $10,000 (including from SMHA) to renovate the home in which (then) 81-year-old Leola Lewis was raised and where, in turn, she raised her 10 children. She provided a safe haven after school for other children in the neighborhood.

Another successful and highly visible project led by the team is repairing homes in partnership with New Iberia-based Community First Bank through the Federal Home Loan Bank’s SNAP program.

As one team member said, ‘Revitalization isn’t just painting houses or picking up trash. It’s starting from the bottom, building a stronger foundation so that the community can begin to sustain itself.’

It is in ‘building the stronger foundation’ of community engagement that SMHA believes this team’s efforts really shine.

This group of leaders has refused to recognize ‘no’ when it comes to what’s best for the West End community. For example, in 2014 significant budget cuts forced the city of New Iberia to discontinue many programs, including one that provided summer activities for youth.

Rather than simply bemoan the negative impacts of the budget cuts, the team used the ‘no’ as an opportunity to create something even bigger and better. ‘Back to the Game Room’ was a highly successful summer program that attracted the partnership of community residents and local organizations and served 150 children. I heard someone say that while the ‘Game Room’ was operating, there was zero youth crime in the city.

This team is keeping the ‘fire’ burning that has led to residents believing good things are happening in their community. This improves community members’ perception of their quality of life in the West End.

The strong progress and positive media coverage sends an important message to the larger New Iberia community that the West End is not ‘full of falling down homes,’ or ‘filled with people who don’t care.’ It is also not a ‘hotbed of illegal activity.’

Transforming the West End’s image in the eyes of others, especially decision-makers who hold the power, the money, or both, is key to reversing the decades of disinvestment that left the West End in need of revitalization.

The team’s success is forging new attitudes about the West End, both within the West End and within the other-two-thirds of New Iberia.”

Honored by: Denise Galatas

America Terrazas – Her ‘Word Is as Solid as Oak’

Hero’s name: America Terrazas

Home city: Vado, New Mexico

Organization affiliation: Del Cerro Nuevos Horizontes/Ocotillo Institute for Social Justice

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“America Terrazas is an exemplary community leader who has transformed her community through decades of commitment and perseverance.

She works closely with the Ocotillo Institute as a member of the Empowerment Congress, which works in southern New Mexico to provide systemic change around social justice.

Mrs. Terrazas lives in a rural colonia in southern New Mexico. Colonias are a special designation by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to recognize the mainly rural U.S.-Mexico border region with marginal conditions related to housing and infrastructure.

America has fought tirelessly to end disparities in her community through a long history of activism with several groups that address issues of food access, water and environmental issues, senior and youth programs and activities and poverty.

America’s first leadership role grew out of her desire for church in her community, one that local residents could easily attend Mass or to receive religious instruction. Ultimately, the efforts set forth by America and her group of community members resulted in a church being built in her community.

This success spurred her activism and she began working on other local issues to strengthen her community. The results included a new community center, a community garden and the founding of an organization, Del Cerro Nuevos Horizontes.

Ocotillo Institute for Social Justice began working with America in 2013 in collaboration with the organization Nuevos Horizontes to address the lack of transportation in Dona Ana County. America’s seasoned organizing and leadership skills aided in convincing the County Commission to send a referendum to the November 2014 ballot for a tax to increase transportation in the area.

As a Transportation Steering Committee member, Mrs. Terrazas led the initiative within the Empowerment Congress, organizing phone banks, canvassing, petitioning and writing letters to the editor. Although the referendum was not passed by the voters, this has not deterred America. She continues to lead the Empowerment Congress Transportation Committee in the goal of reliable transportation in Dona Ana County.

In addition to working on the issue with Ocotillo Institute, she is part of a regional health impact assessment team examining transportation in the region. She works on health issues both as a member of the Communities for Health Committee with the Empowerment Congress and Place Matters Dona Ana County, an initiative that focuses on the social determinants of health. America is also a board member for Groundwork Dona Ana County and serves on many advisory teams in the area.

America encompasses the spirit of Cesar Chavez, a quiet, steadfast, effective leader. She leads by example. America’s has an endless amount of energy. She is routinely called upon to convene community members from across the county.

Her word is as solid as oak. It is because of the trust she has built in this community that groups are able to make inroads to address the many social justice issues the colonias along the U.S.-Mexico border face.”

Honored by: Cindy Corona of the Community Foundation of Southern New Mexico

Mohamed Shukri-Hassan – Works to ‘Empower’ Somalis

Hero’s name: Mohamed Shukri-Hassan

Home city: Nashville (originally from Somalia)

Organization affiliation: Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC)

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“Mohamed is an incredible organizer and leader for the Somali community in Tennessee. He came to the U.S. as a refugee when he was a teenager.

I first met Mohamed seven years ago, when I was an intern at TIRRC. He was the night security guard for our office complex.

We got to be friends. Mohamed would stop by on his evening rounds to attend our community meetings or volunteer to help us with voter registration. Over the past seven years, Mohamed graduated from college and is now almost done with his master’s degree, focusing his thesis on immigrant entrepreneurship.

He has his own business, where he works as a political consultant to connect candidates and elected officials with the refugee community. He devotes all of his free time to the civic engagement and well being of his community. He works every day to empower and inform the Somali community and make sure they are connected with the larger community.

He sits on the mayor’s New Americans Advisory Council and represented his community at President Barack Obama’s town hall presentation in December.

We are all inspired by Mohamed and honored that he is part of the TIRRC family.”

Honored by: Lindsey Harris of TIRRC

Danny Murillo – He Started College in Solitary Confinement

Hero’s name: Danny Murillo

Home city: Berkeley

Organization affiliation: Ella Baker Center for Human Rights

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“Danny is a formerly incarcerated student, who now attends U.C. Berkeley. I first met Danny when I was working on a campaign to end solitary confinement in California. I was looking for a formerly-incarcerated student to help co-facilitate a workshop at a conference for college students.

Danny was highly recommended by one of the administrators at U.C. Berkeley. I soon came to see why. Danny is determined, inquisitive and sincere. His leadership style is thoughtful and well-balanced.

Over the years, I watched him take greater leadership roles in the coalition against solitary confinement in California and at U.C. Berkeley.

Danny’s journey to Berkeley was not an easy one. His life as a college student began in a solitary confinement cell at California’s Pelican Bay State Prison, where he enrolled in correspondence courses at a community college.

Insecure about his academic abilities, he found support, encouragement and mentorship from the other men who were isolated in his unit. Upon his release from Pelican Bay, he continued to attend community college despite facing obstacles, including barriers to finding housing and employment.

When I met Danny, he was finding his place at Berkeley and just beginning to speak about his experiences in prison. During that time, we were at the height of our struggle to end solitary confinement in California.

His courage and willingness to speak publicly about his experiences in isolation was instrumental in raising the national profile of the tortuous practice of solitary confinement, especially with the mainstream media.

While at U.C. Berkeley, Danny co-founded the Underground Scholars Initiative and a center for formerly-incarcerated students. The Underground Scholars Initiative, which started as a loosely-formed student group, is a reflection of his commitment to help those who have similar experiences and support them through their academic endeavors.

But Danny knew that providing support directly to formerly-incarcerated students wasn’t enough. In order for formerly-incarcerated students to feel welcome and thrive at the school, the school would have to show its commitment to supporting them.

So the students worked with faculty, administration and the student government to get the support they needed to start Underground Scholars as a center at U.C. Berkeley. As the center develops its programming and work, Danny continues to serve as an advisor to ensure that it serves the needs of formerly-incarcerated students.

Danny is a McNair Scholar and has been awarded a Peter E. Haas Public Service Fellowship to support his internship at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. He was recently selected to receive a John Gardner Post-Graduate Fellowship which he will complete with Amnesty International before returning to school to earn a graduate degree.”

Honored by: Azadeh Zohrabi of Ella Baker Center for Human Rights

Leticia Sanchez – A Determined Activist in a Texas Colonia

Hero’s name: Leticia Sanchez

Home city: San Juan, Texas

Organization affiliation: La Union del Pueblo Entero

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“Her wiliness to help others makes Leticia Sanchez a true community advocate. Her immigration status has shaped her way of life, but it has not defined her character.

Having lost her mother at the Rio Grande, Leticia Sanchez has advocated for immigration reform and a dignified way of life for immigrants, who, like herself, came to the United States to work to be able to provide for their families.

As a low-income colonia resident, Sanchez is a fighter who will not take ‘no’ for an answer [in Texas, a colonia is an unregulated development in a rural area]. Her humble servitude exemplifies Cesar Chavez’s leadership style. When she finds lost undocumented immigrants, she feeds them, she clothes them, she gives them tips about the rights that they have and does her best to protect and help them.

At every opportunity, she is willing to share her undocumented story to promote policy changes and social justice for the immigrant community. But Leticia’s eagerness to advocate for social justice is not a personal matter, it is a family affair.

We know that we can count on the Sanchez family for any volunteer opportunities. They have become part of the larger narrative of the immigrant movement in South Texas. As an immigrant mother, Leticia raised three children, who qualified for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. They are now in their 20s.

Her children are hardworking individuals who have attended college and are on their way to becoming professionals. Leticia is ‘luchona,’ or a fighter. I admire her strength and passion for helping others.

Leticia is a great asset to our community because she understands that you must continuously advocate for human rights despite your immigration status. Because of her immigration status, she is self employed.

She will continue to provide a better future for her college student children. At LUPE, we are grateful to have Leticia Sanchez because the legacy she leaves behind as a member of the organization will be empowering generations to come.”

Honored by: Tania Chavez of LUPE

Bui Cong Tuong – A Poet Fights for Environmental Justice

Hero’s name: Bui Cong Tuong

Home city: San Diego

Organization affiliation: Environmental Health Coalition

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“Bui Cong Tuong became one of Environmental Health Coalition’s newest members after graduating from SALTA, our community leadership program.

Upon graduation he made a promise to his community: ‘By all means necessary, I will organize and educate the Vietnamese community of San Diego. Every family will know how to fight for environmental justice in San Diego, our second home.’

Bui is also a poet under the pseudonym Song Cuu. We love this excerpt from one of his poems: ‘We love the blue sky like we love the freedom and peace in the United States. The Earth is our common home. Together lets protect our environment.'”

Honored by: Mia Bolton

Lydia Trejo – On Skid Row, a Defender of Human Rights

Hero’s name: Lydia Trejo

Home city: Los Angeles

Organization affiliation: Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN)

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“Lydia Trejo is a longtime resident of the Skid Row community and a member of the Los Angeles Community Action Network. After losing her husband about a decade ago, and almost losing her housing because of it, Lydia got involved in protecting housing rights in downtown L.A. and preventing mass displacement and gentrification.

Her work led to the strongest housing preservation ordinance in L.A.’s history. Though her housing was now safe, Lydia kept working to promote and defend the human right to housing in downtown and South L.A.

She is active in creating and maintaining community gardens throughout the Skid Row community and working to prevent police violence and other civil rights violations. Lydia is also active in recruiting new members to LA CAN and totally dedicated to creating a strong base of residents organizing for justice.

Her work promotes the human rights of thousands of low-income tenants and homeless residents throughout Los Angeles.

Among many results from community organizing: 18,000 extremely low-income homes have been preserved, a pop-up market was established in a food desert that provides more than 1 ton of organic produce to the community each month and numerous civil rights lawsuits against the Los Angeles Police Department were victorious.”

Honored by: Becky Dennison of LA CAN

David Tolen-Xolot – A ‘Voice for Social Justice’ in Chicago

Hero’s name: David Tolen-Xolot

Home city: Chicago

Organization affiliation: Erie Neighborhood House

Why this person is a Community Hero:

David Tolen-Xolet — whom we first encountered at Erie Neighborhood House as a program participant and who now serves as a member of our board of directors — embodies the same resilient, generous spirit as Cesar Chavez and is a worthy recipient of the Cesar Chavez Day community hero award.

David came to the United States from Mexico in 1998, possessing — like most immigrants — little more than a dream of achieving a better life for himself and members of his family still in Mexico. Upon arriving in Chicago, David began taking classes in the English as a Second Language program at Erie House.

Improving his language skills opened myriad opportunities for David. He credits the English classes he took at Erie House for new-found job mobility. He has ascended from assembler to group leader to production supervisor during his tenure with WaterSaver Faucet Co., as well as a means to integrating more fully into the social fabric of his new community.

But David found so much more than just improved English language skills at Erie House. He discovered an environment in which he could develop self-confidence and become a voice for social justice.

‘I learned to speak up for myself and for those who do not know how to defend themselves,’ he explains.

‘I learned the importance of being involved in community organizing and talking about things that matter: equal opportunities, the right to education, housing and health care, women’s and LGBTQ rights, immigrant rights — but foremost the right to live with dignity and without fear of being cast away from a society reluctant to accept those born on the wrong side of the fence.’

Erie House recognized David’s passion for social change and invited him to join the board of directors as a program representative. Erie House reserves a certain number of seats on our board for program participants to encourage leadership development and ensure the needs of our participants are faithfully addressed and advocated for in board activity.

Today, David is a full-fledged member of the board of directors and participates on several subcommittees aimed at supporting our mission. David is also active in various advocacy efforts addressing issues important to the Erie House community, including serving as a panelist for a community forum on immigration.

Additionally, he organized a language exchange group to help others improve their language skills and bridge the gap between different cultures.

David serves as an inspiration to immigrants in our community. We are grateful for the generosity he exemplifies in lending a hand to others and proud to nominate him for the Cesar Chavez Day community hero award.”

Honored by: Brian Paff of Erie Neighborhood House

Sheryl Threadgill-Matthews – Investing in Kids All the Time

Hero’s name: Sheryl Threadgill-Matthews

Home city: Camden, Alabama

Organization affiliation: BAMA Kids, Inc. (Better Activities Make All-Around Kids)

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“Sheryl Threadgill-Matthews is a native of Camden, Wilcox County, Alabama. It is a rural community, located in the Black belt region of Alabama. It is listed as one of the 15 poorest counties in the U.S., where over 52 percent of the children live in poverty.

It was in this community that Sheryl grew up with her three brothers, her mother, an educator and her father, a Presbyterian minister. Her parents were both deeply involved in the voter registration and desegregation movements.

In 1967, Sheryl was one of eight students who registered in the all-White school system in Wilcox County. From this perspective her passion for social justice and her deep commitment and love for children were formed.

In 1993, responding to the killing of a 19-year-old by a store owner, who alleged that the young man was stealing, the community through an organized effort, started BAMA Kids, Inc. (Better Activities Make All-Around Kids).

BAMA Kids is a community-based nonprofit youth development organization, providing an array of educational and recreational activities. Sheryl has been at the helm of BAMA Kids and has voluntarily served as its director, counselor, developer, van driver, chaperone and teacher for the past 22 years. Her energy knows no bounds.

Her efforts have made a significant impact on an area where there are little or no organized activities for youth. Her consistency and dedication to excellence have been a positive influence in the lives of innumerable young people.

One of those young people, Synauri Boykin, a former BAMA Kid who now teaches science in high school, says of Sheryl: ‘Mrs. Matthews was very influential in my life. She was so dedicated to me. She invested her time in motivating me by cultivating leadership skills, spiritual empowerment, cultural enrichment, political and social exposure, financial support, clothes and, most of all, love.’

Sheryl is a staunch advocate for all children. Her greatest desire is that every child have a quality education. You may find her advocating for music and art classes before the Board of Education, soliciting help for a family in need of assistance, using her personal funds to make sure a child has what he or she needs, teaching youth Sunday school classes, driving youth to a cultural activity in another town and many times in tears because of some hurt or injustice done to a child.

Sheryl is a community activist, working diligently during elections to get-out-the-vote. She serves on several boards promoting community development and improvement. She serves as the chair of the Alabama state Planning Committee of the Southern Rural Black Women’s Initiative (SRBWI) of which FOCAL (Federation of Child Care Centers of Alabama) is the lead organization for the state of Alabama.

She serves on the regional advisory board of SRBWI, as well. FOCAL partners with BAMA Kids in fostering its youth leadership programs. Each year several young women from BAMA Kids participate in the annual SRBWI Young Women’s Leadership Development Institute.”

Honored by: Sophia Bracy Harris of the Federation of Child Care Centers of Alabama.

Greg and Rob – Two Lawyers Defending Farmworkers

Names of heroes: Greg Schell and Rob Williams

Home cities: Lake Worth, Florida and Tallahassee

Organization affiliation: Florida Legal Services – Migrant Farmworker Justice Project

Why these people are Community Heroes:

“These two men – Rob Williams and Greg Schell – are equally amazing. We couldn’t choose one to nominate. So, we are nominating both. Both of these incredibly-talented, super-intelligent lawyers have committed more than three decades of their lives to defending the rights of farmworkers.

Both are the driving force behind Florida Legal Service’s Migrant Farmworker Justice Project, established in 1996. Rob, who was honored by the White House in 2012 as a Cesar Chavez Champion of Change, has focused his work primarily on state and national level policy work to improve living and working conditions for farmworkers.

Most recently, he has spent more than a decade crafting and advocating for legislation to provide fair and just immigration reform.

Greg’s work focuses more locally with farmworkers who’ve been exposed to pesticides, or who’ve been the victims of other workplace injustices, such as wage theft or sexual harassment.

Both Rob and Greg vigorously defend the rights of U.S. workers and guest workers under the H-2A program and have litigated dozens of cases in federal and state courts to enforce farmworkers’ rights to fair wages and working conditions.

We are proud to call them friends and allies in the struggle for farmworker justice. Si Se Puede!”

Honored by: Holly Baker of the Farmworker Association of Florida. In the photograph, the man on the left is Rob Williams. The man on the right is Greg Schell.

Lupita Sanchez – Both Sides of Border Are Deep in Her Soul

Hero’s name: Lupita Sanchez

Home city: Brownsville, Texas

Organization affiliation: Proyecto Juan Diego

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“Maria Guadalupe Sanchez Martinez’s life straddles both sides of the Mexico-Texas border. She was born in Brownsville, Texas and raised in Matamoros. She now resides and works in Brownsville. She has family on both sides of the border.

It is not that her heart is split into two — one Mexican, the other Texan. Rather, she has wed the experiences of working families from both sides of the border deep within her soul.

This knowledge has informed and inspired her work.

Lupita’s day job is as a community organizer and lay health promoter with Proyecto Juan Diego in Brownsville. In this role, she has mentored dozens of young people on the ways of working on behalf of justice while continuing to insist that the oldest members of the community remained engaged in that same struggle.

Like Cesar Chavez, she is not particularly impressed with big rallies and marches. She knows that the public has a short memory and can’t be counted upon, in the end, to do the right thing.

What she has discovered, and put into practice, is the art of getting out the vote.

Lupita lives in one of the poorest communities in the United States with neighbors who can see no immediate point to voting. But she values the face-to-face, conversation-by-conversation model of encouraging people to vote.

With six election cycles under her belt, she has turned her neighborhood into one of the highest voting precincts in the area.

She is not satisfied only with the vote. With patience and intelligence, she has worked with other community leaders to leverage those votes into clear gains for her community. For the past 10 years, she has been the community face of an effort to bring millions of dollars worth of infrastructure improvements to the area.

She might deflect that characterization. It is not praise that motivates her but change.

Asked about her most recent success, she said (and emphasizing the ‘we’): ‘We decided to push the vote on a series of amendments. No one votes on amendments – and we had the highest turnout. They know we are for real.’”

Honored by: Astrid Dominguez of ACLU of Texas

Maria Rodriguez – A ‘Compassionate Human Being’

Hero’s name: Maria Rodriguez

Home city: Miami

Organization affiliation: Florida Immigrant Coalition

Why this person is a Community Hero:

Note: Two people are honoring Maria Rodriguez. Here is the first one:

“There are few people in Florida who have done as much to improve the lives of immigrants as Maria Rodriguez.

She has created an organization, the Florida Immigration Coalition. She and supporters have helped thousands of the most vulnerable individuals in the state.

I am well aware of the struggle Cesar Chavez. Part of his legacy was to encourage others to take up the battle on behalf of those most vulnerable.

Maria has undertaken the battle and has created a movement in Florida.”

Honored by: John de Leon of Law Offices of Chavez & de Leon

Note: Two people are honoring Maria Rodriguez. Here is the second one:

“It is with immense enthusiasm and unwavering awe that I nominate Maria Rodriguez for the Cesar Chavez Community Hero Award. Over the past 25 years, Maria’s tireless work to lift up the voices of low-income people, people of color and immigrants truly embodies the spirit and legacy of Cesar Chavez.

Maria is the first executive director of the Florida Immigrant Coalition (FLIC). Under her leadership, they have done great things. With Maria at the helm, FLIC provided some of the first investment in immigrant youth organizing, including support for the ‘Trail of Dreams’ that helped launch the DREAMer movement in Florida and across the country.

This early support paid off this past year with passage of an in-state tuition legislative victory.

Lesser known, but with growing importance, are FLIC’s efforts to fight criminalization, including their work to curb the power of for-profit prisons and their successful thwarting of what was touted as a ‘done deal’ on the edge of the Everglades, the construction of one of the largest immigrant prisons in the country.

Maria represents FLIC at the FIRM (Fair Immigration Reform Movement) steering committee and has been part of its historic accomplishments through vigorous movement building efforts. FLIC is a proud co-founding partner of the Black Immigration Network and engages South Florida’s Afro-Caribbean community in growing its influence and power through naturalization and civic engagement.

FLIC is also in the leadership of NALACC (National Alliance of Latin American & Caribbean Communities) in pursuing transnational responses to the root causes of migration, also a growing area of work.

In the past decade, under Maria’s skilled management, the organization has grown. It addresses issues and constituencies from a broad transnational human rights perspective. Maria is a strategic thinker, excellent facilitator and compassionate human being.

Honored by: Deepak Bhargava of Center for Community Change

Janie Pochel – A ‘Tireless Activist’ for Urban Youth

Hero’s name: Janie Pochel

Home city: Chicago

Organization affiliation: Chi-Nations Youth Council

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“My hero is Janie Pochel, a young American Indian woman of Lakota and Cree/First Nations descent. Janie is my hero for mentoring at-risk Native American youth in Chicago, being a tireless activist for social and environmental justice, serving the American Indian community and strengthening her extended family.

Janie embodies leadership by living her Lakota cultural values of respect, perseverance, bravery, humility, sacrifice and generosity.

In 2012, she helped found Chi-Nations Youth Council, a group of inter-tribal Native American young people in Chicago. Their mission is to create a supportive, open environment for Native youth, raise awareness about American Indian cultural identity and promote healthy lifestyles through arts, activism and education.

This strengthens a marginalized community by fighting for social justice, safeguarding the environment, celebrating culture and perpetuating traditional Indian values.

Today, Janie is still a volunteer advisor for Chi-Nations Youth Council. In addition to mentoring urban Native American youth, Janie connects them to their cultural traditions by helping them design and construct regalia to wear at powwows.

Since American Indians consider the natural world to be our relatives, Janie organized Chicago Native Americans to participate in ‘Idle No More,’ a peaceful revolution to support Canada’s Indigenous people in their quest to protect the environment.

She also organized the community to rally in downtown Chicago against Monsanto’s genetically-modified foods, while people wore regalia and played hand drums. Last fall, Chi-Nations partnered with the Sierra Club to participate in a huge New York City rally to raise awareness of climate change.

Through her leadership in 2014, Chi-Nations learned about the environmental dangers of the fracking and pipeline projects. The group decided to advocate for protecting natural sources of clean water for the next seven generations.

With support from Chicago’s American Indian Center and Wisconsin’s Earth Partnership, Chi-Nations members participated in a water steward institute which culminated in a documentary they created about an iron ore mine’s devastating effects on the water. Chicago Public Schools’ Title VII program recognized their accomplishment with an award for community commitment.

Last December, Janie raised funds and chaperoned Chi-Nations Youth Council to the ‘Change the Name’ rally at FedEx Stadium in Washington, D.C. to protest the offensive name of the football team. Chi-Nations feel their cultural identities are degraded by mascots, names and logos that dehumanize and reinforce negative stereotypes of Native people. To raise awareness, she videotaped the rally and posted it on social media.

Janie is also my hero because she and her younger sister, Fawn, are raising their two teen-aged nephews. They are single women in their 20s. This is an incredible responsibility. The fact that Janie and Fawn survived difficult childhoods makes it even more admirable that they have devoted themselves to their nephews who are in the throes of adolescence.

Last month, Janie was nominated to serve on the American Indian Center’s board of directors. Because of her work with at-risk youth, activism and commitment to family and community, Janie is a true hero.”

Honored by: Lynne Wendler

Pablo Morataya – He Launched a Sanctuary for Immigrants

Hero’s name: Pastor Pablo Morataya

Home city: Oakland

Organization affiliation: Primera Iglesia Presbiteriana Hispana

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“There are risks, but for us it is a calling of our faith.”

– Pastor Pablo Morataya, in response to a question about creating a sanctuary for immigrants who have orders for deportation and whose lives are at risk if returned to their home countries.

“Pastor Pablo Morataya is a hard-working, tireless and honest worker in his East Oakland community where he leads Primera Iglesia Presbiteriana Hispana’s congregation of 500 predominantly low-income, immigrant and Latino families.

Recently, Pastor Pablo has become well known for opening a sanctuary for children and families threatened with deportation to countries where they would most certainly be harmed or even killed.

His work gives voice to and fosters the strength of children and families in his community. They all come together to address injustices here and in their home countries. He has become an expert, out of necessity, in raising the awareness of the public, media, elected officials and the larger faith community to address racial and economic injustice.

Pastor Pablo is a member of Faith Alliance for A Moral Economy (FAME), working to de-criminalize the workplace and secure immigrant and other vulnerable communities’ rights to good jobs and safety in the places where they go to school and live.

With FAME, Pastor Pablo helped to raise the voices of low-income workers through the group’s Labor in the Pulpit programs, which educate congregants and voters about the need to support the right to good jobs with dignified working conditions.

He is also a participant in FAME’s Lenten Season of community building between Latino and African American faith leaders to jointly address mass incarceration of Black and Brown men and boys and criminalization of immigration.

We are the East Bay Alliance for Sustainable Economy (EBASE) and FAME. We hold up his work for this recognition because of his selflessness in service. He takes great risks and works in the community so that we can all hear the voices and needs of Black and Brown children and families fighting for dignity, safety and economic equity.”

Honored by: Andrea Cousins of EBASE

Aristides Ortiz Jr. – His Goal is to Teach in a Rural School

Hero’s name: Aristides Ortiz Jr.

Home city: Ola, Arkansas

Organization affiliation: Rural Community Alliance

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“Aristides (Aris) Ortiz, Jr., 20, became interested in the Rural Community Alliance (RCA) after attending the annual member conference with a friend. He later became a board member.

Aris, who grew up in Ola, Arkansas, is a student at Harding University in Searcy, where he is majoring in math education.

The son of a minister and a public school teacher, Aris is interested in helping people. His goal is to teach in a high-poverty rural school.

What drew him to RCA, he says, is the organization’s goal of helping rural schools. He sees himself as able to make future connections to help spread RCA’s message, even to surrounding states.

Aris spends parts of his summers helping at Bible schools and youth camps.

He supports his community by getting involved in local volunteer groups, as well as helping in other small towns. He works toward justice by constantly upholding integrity, as well as encouraging honesty in others.

One of his main goals is for RCA to help more communities in Arkansas and other states, as well. He knows it will take much work, but he is committed to making it happen.

We see Aristides Ortiz Jr. as our hero.”

Honored by: Candace Williams of RCA

Abigail Medina – A Parent Organizer and Leader in Schools

Hero’s name: Abigail Medina

Home city: San Bernardino, California

Organization affiliation: San Bernardino City Unified School District School Board Trustee

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“Abigail Medina is a volunteer in the San Bernardino City Schools and an advocate for all students. She was recently elected to serve on the board of trustees for the San Bernardino City Unified School District.

She previously worked for Congregations Organized for Prophetic Engagement (COPE) as the senior parent organizer. She founded a not-for-profit organization, Talented and Gifted in the Inland Empire (TaGIE), in 2011.

She is a parent representative to the California Association for the Gifted. She has served as the vice president of the District English Learners’ Advisory Council, parliamentarian of the District African American Advisory Council and on various other local committees.

Abigail was born in Torrance, California, the oldest daughter of working-class parents from Mexico. Like so many families in similar situations, Abigail grew up quickly amid hardship, becoming the second mother to her younger two siblings, only two to three years apart.

Her parents worked hard and moved the family frequently around Southern California in search of better opportunities. She attended 13 different schools in Los Angeles and Orange Counties before graduating from El Camino Real High School in Placentia.

Abigail is married to Jesus Medina, who works for Housing Authority of the County of San Bernardino. They have lived in San Bernardino since 1998, with their five children.”

Honored by: Rev. Samuel J. Casey of COPE

Cesar Mata – A Man ‘Who Pushes Past His Own Fears’

Hero’s name: Cesar Mata

Home state: Alabama

Organization affiliation: Immigrant Alabama Movement

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“Cesar Mata, affectionately known as ‘Oso,’ is a grassroots community activist and leader in central Alabama. Originally from Mexico, Cesar has lived in Alabama for many years.

Until 2011, Cesar was not very engaged politically, but when Alabama passed HB 56, the most draconian immigration law in the nation, Cesar saw no choice but to speak out and engage in efforts to repeal the law.

As a result, he and other community members founded the Immigrant Alabama Movement (IAM) in 2011. IAM is a member organization of the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice. Cesar serves on the steering committee.

In 2012, Cesar participated in the Alabama Organizing Project’s Grassroots Leadership Development Program, which gave him skills about how to facilitate a community meeting, write letters to the editor, meet with elected officials and more.

He and fellow activists also organized a blood drive in early 2012, which received attention on Jan. 7, 2012 in the Birmingham News.

‘I wanted to show that immigrants are here and that we want to contribute to the state,’ he told the newspaper. ‘I wanted to show that we’re not just asking for things, we want to give, too.’

Most recently, Cesar organized a town hall meeting in Pelham, Alabama, with the mayor and City Council to discuss concerns of the community regarding the closing of a mobile home park where many Hispanics reside.

While Cesar’s efforts did not change the outcome of closing the mobile home park, they have resulted in the city of Pelham aggressively pursuing ways to be inclusive of all members of their community.

Cesar traveled with IAM and the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama (HICA) to Washington, D.C. to advocate for immigration reform in 2013, making visits to both of the state’s senators. He and members of IAM have been regular participants in the Selma-to-Montgomery march since 2012.

Cesar has been involved in successful efforts to halt deportations in Alabama, work that is very new to this community. He is also a member of the Alabama Workers Center, an effort supported by the National Day Laborer Organizing Network.

HICA is excited to have the opportunity to lift up Cesar for his incredible work in the community. He exemplifies the community member who pushes past his own fears to step into an unknown space to advocate for the human rights of his community.

His work in Alabama perfectly aligns with the foot soldiers of the civil rights movement who came before him.”

Honored by: Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama

Alicia Gazga – A Tampa Woman Unites in the Struggle

Hero’s name: Alicia Gazga

Home city: Tampa

Organization affiliation: Raices en Tampa (United in the Struggle)

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“Alicia Gazga is a native Honduran who came to the U.S. when she was 12 years old. Gazga grew up in the small and very conservative city of Naples, Florida. The law is used to discriminate against many immigrants and because of this Gazga has joined the [social justice] fight.

She moved to Tampa in 2012, when a group of friends decided to create Raices en Tampa. This organization has been able to halt deportations, change police policies against immigrants and is leading fight for driver’s licenses to be issued to the undocumented of Florida.

Gazga is a real hero to the entire community of Tampa.”

Karla de Anda – Respect Sits at the Core of Her Work

Hero’s name: Karla de Anda

Home city: Miami

Organization affiliation: United Families

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“Karla goes every Sunday to Broward Transitional Center to visit people who are there waiting for deportation.Those people do not have anybody who can visit them. She is a volunteer and friend from United Families.”

Honored by: Maria Bilbao

Sergio Arroyo – An Artist Shares and Inspires in Oakland

Hero’s name: Sergio Arroyo

Home city: Oakland

Organization affiliation: Eastside Arts Alliance

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“Sergio Arroyo, the youth arts director at Eastside Arts Alliance in Oakland, has played a key role as a teacher, artist and community organizer in developing young people into social justice leaders in the Bay Area community.

Sergio first became involved in community organizing in high school because of Proposition 187, a 1994 ballot initiative that proposed prohibiting undocumented immigrants from using health care, public education and other social services in California.

He and other students from cities across the Bay Area who felt impacted by the attack on immigrant communities came together and organized student-led walkouts. Their goal was to address the disparities in funding schools versus prisons.

The movement grew into the Xicano Moratorium Coalition, which works to educate and mobilize the Raza community on issues that impact them.

Living in Oakland, Sergio’s connection to artists and community organizers led him to the Eastside Arts Alliance. In his role, he works with youth on visual art, music and theater. He helps them use politics, culture and history as tools to fight systemic oppression.

Understanding the pivotal role that arts and culture played in the Black Power movement and the Xicano movement, Sergio believes art can inspire people to believe that there can be a different reality. He works to instill that belief in youth and hopes to give them a sense of ownership over their own cultures and stories. This helps them see how their stories fit into a broader narrative.

In his work at Eastside, one of his primary goals is to build the leadership of youth participating in the programs. For Sergio, it is most inspiring to watch the youth he has worked with go on to lead programs at Eastside and go into whatever field they are interested in pursuing, whether it’s the arts, education or the law.

In addition to his work with youth at Eastside, Sergio also teaches Raza Studies at many Oakland high schools. He was inspired to begin teaching Raza Studies because he didn’t see why students should wait until college to get access to that education. He also wanted to reach young people who may not go to college.

Sergio’s work isn’t limited to teenagers. About five years ago, he and his wife and several of their friends with young children launched Rice and Beans, a bilingual learning space rooted in social justice to teach their kids. The curriculum includes the history of important leaders in the movement for social justice, such as Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Cesar Chavez.

Their goal is to expose kids to social justice issues at a young age and involve them in community work.

Sergio’s work has helped create an environment where young folks can become leaders in the community in diverse ways that reflect their own interests. He has played a critical role in building a network of young people who will play significant roles in the fight for social justice.”

Honored by: Zaineb Mohammed of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights

Gloria Contreras – A ‘Tireless’ Grandma Promotes Health

Hero’s name: Gloria Morales Contreras

Home city: Owatonna, Minnesota

Organization affiliation: Centro Campesino

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“Gloria Contreras is an organizer and leader for health equity and racial justice with Centro Campesino, an organization in rural, southern Minnesota.

She is tireless in her work to engage and support migrant farmworkers and rural Latinos. She works on campaigns for health equity, immigration reform and worker justice.

She also builds leadership through the Promotores de Salud program that she helped create and has always been an advocate for fairness for women and men and for LGBT people.

She is a founder of these important community organizations, a health care professional, a former migrant agricultural worker, an incredible mother and grandmother — and my community hero.”

Honored by: Kathryn Gilje

Kenia Calderon – A DREAMer Stands for Education

Hero’s name: Kenia Calderon

Home city: Des Moines, Iowa

Organization affiliation: American Friends Service Committee

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“Kenia Calderon is a DREAMer who grew up in El Salvador and moved with her family to the U.S. at age 11. She’s a sophomore at Drake University in Des Moines, where she’s organizing and inspiring fellow DREAMers and other immigrants to push for their rights and educational opportunities.

She co-led a successful effort to have the Drake Student Senate pass a resolution in support of immigrant students. Kenia works part-time as an administrative assistant for the American Friends Service Committee’s immigration legal services program. Earlier this year, Kenia was named one of ’15 People to Watch in 2015′ by the Des Moines Register.”

Honored by: Joe Krieg

Ana Lamb – A Florida Woman Educates and Organizes

Hero’s name: Ana Lamb

Home city: Tampa

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“Ana is a U.S. citizen of Mexican origin. She has been actively involved in the communities she has lived in by contributing her time and talents to worthy causes.

Ana has been helping the community for over 15 years, doing successful grassroots outreach campaigns to educate and engage Florida’s Latino community. She has worked on get-out-the-vote efforts and civil rights trainings.

She served as director of civil rights for the United Mexican Federation of Utah and as executive director of Comunidad Hispana de Tooele. She also volunteered her time as a crisis victim advocate for the domestic violence and sexual assault prevention program for Tooele County in Utah.

In Florida, she has served as director of CAMELA (Casa Mexico Latinoamericana) and president for Florida’s LULAC Council 7112. She has collaborated on different campaigns with organizations, including SEIU, Mi Familia Vota and ACLU.

Ana mentors leaders in the community, teaching them how to organize and train other leaders.

She studied sociology at the University of Utah in addition to business at El Instituto Tecnologico de Monterrey. She is the wife of Robert and mother to Cory, Nathan, Enya and Allyson.”

Honored by: Jennie Figueroa of SEIU Florida

Juan Gomez – This Attorney Values ‘Every Human’

Hero’s name: Juan Gomez

Home city: Miami

Organization affiliation: Florida International University (FIU)

Why this person is a Community Hero:

Juan Carlos Gomez is an immigration attorney, professor and advocate from Miami. He is a Cuban American who has been working in Miami to make the lives of immigrants better and represent the people no one wants to represent.

From working on NACARA (Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act), to Haitian cases, to the cases of people with mental disabilities who are in detention centers, Juan Gomez sees the value of every human being.

In 2012, I had the pleasure of meeting Juan after having heard many people talk about him. Through the FIU immigration and human rights clinic, which he leads as director, a project was started to provide free legal services to help immigrant youth apply for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

Since then, I have gotten to know Juan and all the work he does every day to bring justice to the South and Florida community. Juan, along with the organization FL Dream, started a mini-grants program to help DREAMers, who are low income or have disabilities, pay the DACA fee.

Over 2,000 people have obtained their DACA status because of Juan. His work can be felt through Miami, ranging from students who he has taught to people he was able to get out of detention and back to their homes. Juan possesses the rare combination of brilliance and humbleness.

When college students have been denied access to a college education, Juan has been their advocate, finding ways to get the denial decision reversed. Juan is a hero not just to many youth in our community but the parents and everyone who have been able to witness him in action.

Our community is better because of Juan.”

Honored by: Gaby Pacheco of TheDream.US

Teodora Aparicio Gonzales – Due Process is Her Demand

Hero’s name: Teodora Aparicio Gonzales

Home city: Oakland

Organization affiliation: Causa Justa :: Just Cause

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“Teodora Aparicio joined Causa Justa two years ago, after a devastating interaction with the Hayward police that ended up with her being put in deportation proceedings.

On the night of Dec. 13, 2012, Teodora was counseling at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in Hayward where she volunteers. Officers from the Hayward police came inside the premises, interrupted the meeting and asked for a woman by name.

They mistook Teodora for this individual and arrested her even though she showed the officers photo identification that confirmed her identity. While Teodora was in custody, the officers took her fingerprints and shared them with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

This practice of the police sharing fingerprints of people they detain with ICE is part of an agreement that Alameda County had voluntarily entered with the Department of Homeland Security. It’s called ‘Secure Communities.’

As Teodora points out, ‘The name ‘Secure Communities’ is a lie because it allows the police to engage in racial profiling. Racism and does not protect our community.’

After Teodora’s fingerprints were shared by the Hayward police, there was an ‘ICE hold’ placed on her. This led to Teodora being picked up by ICE agents who transferred her to the Santa Rita detention center where she was held for 11 days.

Teodora is out on bail and reunited with her family, but she is forced to wear a tracking device on her ankle and has to check in every Thursday morning at the ICE building in San Francisco while her deportation case is pending.

The circumstances of Teodora’s arrest and detention are anything but transparent. She was arrested and detained as a result of mistaken identity. She was charged under three different names. All of this points to a highly questionable and fundamentally unjust process.

Since she was released, Teodora has been devoted to fighting ‘Secure Communities.’ Her leadership and sharing of her story was fundamental in passing legislation to fight for due process in Alameda County and San Francisco.

She met with the Alameda County sheriff as part of a delegation to call on him to stop this program. This ultimately led to the sheriff announcing that he would not hold people in jail and turn them over to ICE.

Teodora’s courageous heart and leadership are at the forefront of fighting racial profiling and restoring due process for immigrant families in Alameda County and the Bay Area.”

Honored by: Kitzia Esteva of Causa Justa :: Just Cause

Lis-Marie Alvarado – This Woman Puts Dignity First

Hero’s name: Lis-Marie Alvarado

Home city: Homestead, Florida

Organization affiliation: WeCount!

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“Lis-Marie is a first-generation immigrant from Nicaragua, who was raised in Miami. She is from a working-class family of mixed immigration status. She is a community organizer who has worked for over seven years in movements for the rights of immigrant low-wage agricultural workers, day laborers and youth in Miami Dade County and Florida at large.

She is committed to building the power of grassroots communities to fight for justice and dignity. She has experienced oppression firsthand and worked hard to fight back by supporting emerging community leaders, in particular women and youth, to develop their skills to demand justice, dignity and rights.

From 2007 to 2013, Lis-Marie worked at WeCount! in Homestead, Florida in a number of roles including youth organizer, education and literacy coordinator for workers, membership coordinator and community organizer.

At WeCount!, Lis-Marie created the COMADRES immigrant women’s group where she facilitated dynamic training programs that focused on women’s sense of worth and power, inside and outside the home, leadership skills and political analysis that helped them position themselves as crucial leaders within an organization.

In addition, Lis-Marie is a cultural organizer with the Madre Tierra Collective (co-founder), where they use culture, music and radio as strategic tools for social change. Her networks consist of organizations such as the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, Florida Immigrant Coalition, SOA Watch and Highlander Research and Education Center.

Lis-Marie was signed on for the Al Jazeera America “Borderland” immigration series after its producers contacted the Student/Farmworker Alliance, where she was a member of the steering committee and local organizer. The alliance recruits students and youth to support the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ efforts to demand better wages and conditions for farmworkers in the tomato fields of Florida. She was chosen for her work to represent the Latino community and advocate for legalization (and stop deportations) of migrants in the United States.

As the sole Latina and native Spanish speaker in the cast, Lis-Marie says she sometimes felt discrimination by members of the group. However, she did an amazing job standing up for immigrant rights and showing compassion, respect and love to the migrants she meet while crossing the U.S. border by foot and with ‘La Bestia.’

Currently, she was granted the opportunity to intern with a United Nations labor agency, thanks to her organizing background. She is supporting a program focusing on the rights of migrant domestic workers around the globe.

In our community, Lis-Marie is loved and respected very much for her humility and her authentic approach to relationship building and organizing. She is my hero.”

Honored by: Adam Barkan

Carlos Aceves – A Leader Shares Indigenous Teachings

Hero’s name: Carlos Aceves

Home city: El Paso

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“Carlos Aceves is an activist, educator and spiritual leader for the El Paso community and beyond. As a child, he encountered the harsh reality of racism in the educational system, recognizing it in both how authorities treated him and fellow Mexican-American children, as well as through the content taught in the classroom – heavily Eurocentric.

He challenged the education system by becoming a teacher. Since then, he has organized trainings, presented information and published knowledge that recognizes, incorporates and draws from Indigenous teachings. His revolutionary teaching style has uplifted one of the poorest ranking schools in Texas to the Top 10.

Through teaching pertinent subjects, such as math, science and language, Mr. Aceves incorporates Indigenous knowledge, such as the Aztec calendar. His dedication to the youth, the spirit and connecting his community to a more sustainable way of life is admirable, courageous and revolutionary.

Through classroom teaching, Carlos has been able to reach students, parents and teachers. He volunteers his time, efforts and teaching beyond what is required. He has given much heart in community building and advocacy, too.

Carlos’ legacy will outlive us all.”

Honored by: Cemelli de Aztlan

Veronica Carbajal – This Lawyer Helps Hundreds in Texas

Hero’s name: Veronica Carbajal

Home city: El Paso

Organization affiliation: Texas RioGrande Legal Aid

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“Veronica Carbajal is a U.S. citizen who was raised in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua by her mother and grandparents. Early on, she realized the privileges that accompanied her U.S. citizenship that allowed her to commute daily to El Paso, Texas for school.

She graduated with honors from Brown University in 1998 with degrees in environmental studies and ethnic studies. While at Brown, she was named an Andrew W. Mellon Minority Fellow. She received her law degree from The University of Texas School of Law in 2004 and soon after began working at Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, Inc. (TRLA).

In 2009, she became the team manager for the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-housing Project – El Paso. While at TRLA, she provided legal advice to hundreds of clients. She also provided litigation help to over 250 clients, in addition to her supervisory role in more than 350 cases. These cases include housing and real estate, public benefits, civil rights and environmental justice.

She has co-counseled a number of cases with the Paso del Norte Civil Rights Project and served on its local board since 2008. In 2010, Texas Super Lawyers magazine named Carbajal named a ‘Rising Star.’ She is passionate about social justice, the environment and animal rights.”

Honored by: Marco Martinez

Norman Kaeseberg – Has a ‘Sense of Urgency for Justice’

Hero’s name: Norman Kaeseberg

Home city: Chicago

Organization affiliation: ONE Northside

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“Norm is a leader with ONE Northside’s affordable housing team and is a board member of the Grassroots Collaborative. Over the past three years, he has worked tirelessly to preserve and improve single-room occupancy (SRO) hotels with and for the low-income tenants who live there. He became involved in ONE Northside as a SRO tenant himself.

Although he has since secured affordable senior housing, he remains deeply committed to the struggle to preserve this extremely at-risk housing for everyone who needs it.

He organizes tenant associations at two local SROs that are facing potential sale and displacement. He door knocks, educates tenants about their rights in meetings and helps secure meetings with and commitments from elected officials.

In addition to his tenant organizing work, he was a member of the Chicago for All coalition’s negotiating team. Chicago for All was a coalition headed by ONE Northside leaders whose aim was to pass the SRO Preservation Ordinance. It passed in November 2014.

Norm played a huge role in this victory. On the negotiating team, he met regularly with the mayor’s policy and legal representatives to push for the strongest ordinance possible and communicated all information back to the bigger group.

Norm is a strong leader behind the scenes as well as at the microphone. He has spoken at rallies, protests and press conferences about the egregious loss of affordable housing in our communities. He has called on elected officials to take action.

Norm connects his passion for affordable housing to other issues as well. As a member of the Grassroots Collaborative board, he strategizes about ways that groups working on different issues can come together to call attention to injustices that are experienced broadly across the city.

As a member of the ONE Northside Leadership Council, Norm understands the intersection of all of the organization’s issues and supports them accordingly. Very recently, he led a team in Springfield to fight against the state budget cuts. A few months ago, he put his formidable artistic skills to use and was in charge of the props at a 1,000-person Grassroots Collaborative rally.

Norm consistently takes action on his sense of urgency for justice and I am excited to nominate him for the Equal Voice Cesar Chavez Day Community Hero Award.”

Honored by: Nathan Ryan of Grassroots Collaborative

Cielo Gomez – A Multilingual Woman Organizes in Florida

Hero’s name: Cielo Gomez

Home city: Lutz, Florida

Organization affiliation: Casa Chiapas Tampa

Why this person is a Community Hero:

Cielo Gomez is from Chiapas, Mexico. Gomez is currently a fighter and organizer in her city of Lutz, Florida.

She speaks three languages: her Native dialect from Chiapas, Spanish and English. Gomez organizes the Chiapaneca community, teaches English classes for free and helps support May Day events every year.”

Honored by: Marisol Marquez

Christian Hurtado – After a Loss, a Son Raises His Voice

Hero’s name: Christian Hurtado

Home city: Austin

Organization affiliation: Workers Defense Project

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“At Workers Defense Project in Texas, we lift up the voices of the roughly 1 million men and women who build our state. They work hard in the deadliest state to work construction, yet, by many accounts, 52 percent of construction workers earn poverty-level wages.

At Workers Defense Project, we work together to improve the construction industry and create dignified, safe jobs.

Christian Hurtado is the lead work site monitor at Workers Defense Project. He serves as a daily reminder of the power in each of us to make change.

In 2004, Christian’s mother and father, Victoria and Angel, were hired to build a roof, a project they had never done before. Just like a large portion of construction workers, Angel and Victoria never received the proper safety training.

At one point, when Victoria called out to her husband, she heard no response. She walked around the site to find him. Angel was lying on the ground bleeding from his mouth and nose. Victoria called 911 but was unable to get help because the operator did not speak Spanish. Angel died on site, in the arms of his wife.

In the aftermath of the accident, their employer denied responsibility, leaving Victoria and Christian responsible for covering expenses related to that day. Christian had to drop out of college to find full-time work to take care of his family.

Seven years later, Christian and his mother came to Workers Defense Project. They were able to get an attorney to answer their questions. They also found a community that was working hard to make change. Ever since then, Christian has been fighting to to avoid the kinds of accidents that cost his father his life.

In his efforts to win better protections for construction workers, Christian has testified before the Austin City Council about the need for a living wage. He has been on the floor of both houses of the Texas Legislature to urge lawmakers to pass a bill to ensure proper safety training for construction workers.

Christian has traveled to Washington, D.C., Chicago and throughout Texas to tell others about how Workers Defense Project is winning for workers.

What sets Christian apart from other leaders is his drive to develop the leadership of others in his community. He talks about the issues working families face and encourages people to take action.

Over the past several years, Christian has mobilized thousands of construction workers to support immigration reform and rally for good jobs. His actions are building power for working people.

Christian has joined the national movement of organizations that seek to provide low-wage workers with the resources they need to improve their working and living conditions. His motivation and dedication to this movement inspires his friends and co-workers to tap into the power that each of us has and to come together to be part of the change.

Christian still feels the loss of his father deeply, but he uses this emotion to continue fighting for workers so that no one else has to go through what he and his family endured.

That is what makes him a hero.”

Honored by: Cristina Tzintzún of Workers Defense Project

Eva Garcia – An Immigrant Mom Is Not Afraid

Hero’s name: Eva Garcia

Home city: Edinburg, Texas

Organization affiliation: La Union del Pueblo Entero (LUPE)

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“Eva Garcia is a leader of her colonia, Curry Estates, located outside of Edinburg, Texas. She is a vocal advocate for relief from deportation and for comprehensive immigration reform. Though she has only been involved in organizing for a year and a half, her passion, dedication and willingness to learn by doing have made her into a leader.

Eva is not afraid to use her voice. As a colonia resident and undocumented mother, she knows that her perspective is powerful and can change the hearts and minds of those not facing the challenges of colonia life and a broken immigration system.

She is glad to receive media at her home and has even appeared on national television sharing her story and her community’s need for deportation relief and immigration reform.

When a federal court temporarily blocked the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) program and the expansion of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in February, we needed undocumented parents to step up and speak on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of Texas immigrants who fear being separated from their family through deportations.

Without hesitation, Eva rose to the challenge. She spoke to local and national media about her own need for protection under DAPA and about the benefits the program would bring to her community. With our help, she took to social media to share her story and encourage her fellow undocumented parents to not lose faith and be ready to apply the moment the applications become available.

She is the mother of four children and draws inspiration and motivation from them.

‘My children — they are all I have,’ she says. ‘I am a single mother. They completely depend on me. They are my everything, my motivation to keep going in this life.

‘I consider myself a great mom, despite that I’m by myself. I have always moved forward with my children. And my children come first. First, them and next, them and last, me.’

Eva is getting ready to apply for, and receive protection under the new DAPA program, the moment the courts allow it to continue. She knows that others have fears and doubts about applying and need someone like her to show them that there’s nothing to fear.

There are at least 1,464,000 undocumented immigrants living in Texas, and approximately 594,000 immigrants would be eligible for one of the deferred action programs.

Enabling these immigrants to register with the government, request a reprieve from removal and apply for a temporary work permit would increase Texas revenues by $338 million and lead to a cascade of economic benefits across the state.

For Eva, DAPA program will be an opportunity to provide a better life for her children.

‘[My life] will improve 100 percent, because I will give my children a better quality of life, a safer home, a more comfortable home for them.’

Honored by: John-Michael Torres of LUPE

Alma Bowen – A Firefighter-Activist Gives Her All

Hero’s name: Alma Bowen

Home city: Montgomery, Alabama

Organization affiliation: Waugh-Mount Meigs Volunteer Fire Department

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“Growing up as a young woman in a small rural community in Montgomery, Alabama, Alma Bowen always thought of herself as becoming an entrepreneur.

She attended Tuskegee University. Upon graduation, she started working as a computer specialist at what was then Gunter Air Force Base.

Because of her love of entrepreneurship, Alma opened a Christian bookstore named Robes & Gowns, while working full time at Gunter and raising a son as a single parent after the death of her husband.

She is always thinking of others in her neighborhood. People in her community were experiencing house fires and she realized that many of the homes could have been salvaged if there was access to a fire department.

She also knew that residents who had access to a fire department would save on the cost of homeowners insurance.

As Cesar Chavez once said, ‘Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.’

For about three years, Alma sacrificed time and effort to build an infrastructure to aid her community.

She drove around her rural community, knocked on doors, held town hall meetings, raised funds, networked and completed the paper work to move the project forward.

Alma’s actions, sacrifice and faith enabled her to organize a volunteer fire department in the Waugh-Mount Meigs area, which has expanded to Pike Road and Cook Station.

She is the president and a first responder of the volunteer fire station in a community which had no fire protection for their homes.

Now, residents can rest peacefully with the assurance that if a fire does start or if they have a medical emergency, someone can get to them quickly.

As she said in an interview years ago with the U.S. Department of Defense: ‘I’ve always been one of those people who saw a job that needed to be done and I would go out and do it.’

On March 3, she was one of five women inducted into the Alabama Southern Rural Black Women’s Initiative (SRBWI) 2015 Hall of Fame. Communities often take for granted or diminish the extraordinary lives and efforts of women who are among us.

SRBWI’s Hall of Fame is a way to honor, value and lift up those contributions.

Honored by: Sophia Bracy Harris of the Federation of Child Care Centers of Alabama. The photo of Alma Bowen standing in front of a fire truck is from 1997. The photo is from the U.S. Air Force.

The Bravos – They Organized to Stop Son’s Deportation

Names of heroes: Enrique and Vicky Bravo

Home city: Costa Mesa, California

Organization affiliation: PICO National Network

Why these people are Community Heroes:

“The Bravo family are community heroes in Orange County, California. The family emerged as leaders fighting for a pathway to citizenship in 2013 and then rallied supporters across the country to free Luis Bravo, a son who had been unjustly detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

In 2013, Enrique Bravo and his wife Vicky took a three-week sabbatical from their jobs as an electrician and hairdresser, respectively, to join a 21-day pilgrimage to raise awareness about the need for a pathway to citizenship. The pilgrimage was organized by the Campaign for Citizenship, an effort of the PICO National Network.

They, along with 11 other pilgrims, walked 285 miles from Sacramento to Bakersfield – the same route that was taken by Cesar Chavez in a 1966 march for farmworker’s rights.

The pilgrims journeyed across highways and through fields. They pushed their bodies to the point of physical exhaustion. The chance to provide opportunities for their four children – Luis, Daniel, Jessica and Alex – made the sacrifices worthwhile, the Bravos said.

‘I am involved because I want to support my children in this huge fight,’ Vicky said. ‘They are the engine of my life.’

The Bravo family came to California in 1988 from Mexico City. With the exception of the youngest, Alex, everyone is undocumented. But that does not stop them from speaking out.

As members of Orange County Congregation Community Organization (OCCCO) and PICO National Network, the Bravos organize events, canvass their community and lead phone banks.

They traveled to Washington, D.C. and boldly showed Congress what the faces of aspiring Americans look like. Enrique and Jessica took part in the five-day hunger strike, the Fast for Families, to urge immigration reform.

Then, in September 2014, a nightmare came true. Agents with ICE came to their home and took Luis into custody.

Shocked, angry and heartbroken, the family immediately began to organize. Jessica quickly called an OCCCO community organizer to tell them what happened, then went to her computer and recorded a tearful video plea that quickly went viral: ‘We need your support to be able to stop Luis’ deportation.’

OCCCO, its national affiliate PICO National Network and allies at the National Day Labor Organizing Network (NDLON) organized nationwide communications urging people to call the local ICE office and release Luis.

The organized efforts were successful and Luis was released. ‘Although I was released from ICE custody, we were all reminded that thousands of families go through such traumatizing experiences every day,’ Luis said in a thank you letter to supporters.

The day of Luis’ arrest, the family hung a banner in front of their home that reads ‘2 million 2 many, Stop deportations.’

The sign remains up to give hope to other undocumented families.”

Honored by: Tameka Bell of PICO National Network

David Beaty – ‘Always at the Forefront’ of Positive Change

Hero’s name: David Beaty

Home city: Jamestown, Tennessee

Organization affiliation: Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment (SOCM)

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“David Beaty and his wife, Beckey are longtime activists in Tennessee. David cares passionately about our water and land. He has worked to stop mountaintop removal coal mining. He also has worked at the local, state and federal levels to get policies in place to protect residents in coalfield areas.

He is a co-chair of SOCM’s Green Collar Jobs Committee and serves on the SOCM board, finance committee and the E3 Committee (Energy, Ecology, and Environmental Justice Committee). He represents SOCM on many fronts, including working with The Alliance for Appalachia and is a part of The Alliance Energy Transformation and AML Team (Abandoned Mine Land).

David was a minimum-wage worker who became a UAW union worker. He eventually worked his way up to becoming Fentress County’s county executive, an elected position. While serving as county executive, he strongly advocated for justice and fairness for all people.

So much so that many wealthy and powerful people in the county worked hard to keep him from being re-elected. Tennessee is known for its “good old boy” attitude and people that work for justice and fairness are a threat to that mentality and way of life.

That has not keep David from being an advocate for justice and staying involved in his local community.

David is now retired. He continues to protect our environment and work for policies that are fair. They are policies that protect our rights to equal access to affordable health care, a living wage, voter rights and civic engagement from the local level to the federal level.

Whenever there is a cause, David is always at the forefront paving the way for ordinary people to make change. He believes that together we can make change and improve the quality of our lives.”

Honored by: Linda Cowan of SOCM

Hilario Barajas – An Activist Who Stood With Cesar Chavez

Hero’s name: Hilario Barajas

Home city: Auburndale, Florida

Organization affiliation: Young American Dreamers

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“Since 1970, Hilario Barajas has dedicated his life to advocating for not only farmworker rights but for all human rights. That may have been when his activism began. His story begins 20 years earlier. He was born in Rio Hondo, Texas but was raised in Mexico.

He returned to the United States at the age of 11 with only his older brother, Valentin, who was just 13. They worked as migrant farmworkers, traveling across the country as they followed the crop season. It was these life experiences as an unaccompanied minor, working on farms and living through poverty firsthand that taught him about the injustices done to others.

When Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers (UFW) came to Florida to organize citrus workers in 1970, Hilario was one of the first to answer the call to action. Valentin was appointed to be the head of security. He would include Hilario in all security details.

As time progressed, Hilario learned more and more until he finally became the UFW’s local president in Winter Haven. Hilario’s family was host to Chavez whenever he visited the area and always provided sleeping quarters. In 1972, Hilario formed part of the negotiating committee that signed the historic contract between Coca-Cola and the United Farm Workers, the first ever agreement of its kind in Florida.

In 1981, Hilario then co-founded the Farmworkers Ministry in Winter Haven alongside Sister Pearl McGivney. He continued advocating for all immigrants and farmworkers until he returned to the orange groves of Florida, the tobacco fields of North Carolina and the apple orchards of Michigan.

In 2001, he again took to action in support of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and the Fair Food Program. Then in 2006, he began re-organizing his local community in response to the 2005 signing of the Border Protection, Anti-Terrorism and Illegal Immigration Control Act.

It was his long history of activism that inspired his youngest daughter, Maria Isabel, to found her own group in 2010 called the Young American Dreamers.

With his wisdom and guidance, she was able to organize many local youth. She reunited many veteran activists with the new generation of upcoming leaders. After her passing in 2012, to ensure that her legacy continued, the newly-formed board of directors for the Young American Dreamers appointed Hilario as chairperson.

He is now the undeniable voice of reason and leadership that is relentless and unwavering in the fight for all human rights.”

Honored by: Enrique Martinez

San Juana Cantu – In Fresno, She Gets the Job Done

Hero’s name: San Juana Cantu

Home city: Fresno

Organization affiliation: Central Valley Children’s Services Network (Parent Voices)

Why this person is a Community Hero:

“San Juana Cantu, who is also known as ‘Jennie,’ was born in Fresno in 1952. She came from a family of 14 siblings. While growing up, she and her family had to learn to survive on a limited income. Her mother was very creative and used this ability to help support the family.

At a very young age, Jennie was always caring for others. Since she was 10 years old when she helped her mother sew clothes for the family. As she grew older, she had more responsibilities at home and school, limiting the time she had to sew. A friend introduced her to the secondhand stores, where she discovered she could dress nice and still be within her budget.

Jennie worked at packing houses during the crop seasons, putting in long hours and seeing firsthand the needs of others as they struggled to meet their day-to-day needs. Today, Jennie has children and grandchildren and continues to go to secondhand stores.

Now, she buys for others. She buys clothes for men, women and children and gives them away to anyone who needs them. She has taken the clothes to a local park and lays out the clothes to give to homeless individuals. She helps the parents that attend our Parent Voices meetings in Fresno.

At times, our agency will get calls from social workers trying to find resources for their clients. All we have to do is call Jennie and she responds by saying: ‘Let me see what I have in storage. If I don’t have it, I am going to the thrift store tomorrow.’

This is not all. Jennie is a Purple Heart Ladies’ Volunteer and is part of Parent Voices, a grassroots organization run by parents. She advocates for children and families by making calls to legislators when needed. She also participates in legislative visits as the need arises to advocate for quality and affordable child care. She also advocates for better learning opportunities for children that come from underprivileged homes.

You can always count on Jennie to get the job done!”

Honored by: Lourdes Hernandez

Read About How Cesar Chavez Inspired People and Watch a Video About His Influence


'A Hero’s Legacy' by Emma Torres

Remembering Cesar Chavez