As the end of 2012 approaches, CTLatinoNews.com is looking ahead to 2013 as a year when we can all increase our efforts to work together to affect change in so many arenas. While this year ends with such sorrow for so many families in Newtown, we want to also focus on the good and inspiring deeds of so many in our state that have taken place daily this past year, impacting us all in a positive way.
To recognize these deeds within the Latino community, we launched a series this week called “Champions of Change” that highlights people and organizations that have worked tirelessly to affect change for Latinos and non-Latinos in Connecticut. They have accomplished change through various means, some through their professional work, others by generously volunteering their time, working for change through policy implementation or by using the legal system.
Our “Champions of Change” were selected by our editorial team and represent many sectors that include: health, business, politics, media, art and law. We present them to you in five categories – Top Five, Five Young Latinos Already Making a Difference, Five Non-Profit Organizations, Five Latinos in Media & Arts and the Most Visible Latino. Today we highlight Connecticut’s Top Latinos in Arts and Media that are “Champions of Change”: Bessy Reyna, Marcelina Sierra, Pablo de Jesus Colón Hijo, Daniel Diaz and David Greco, and Hugo Balta.
Bessy Reyna is one of the cultural icons of Connecticut as witnessed by her recent designation as a 2012 “Voices and Vision” honoree by the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame. She’s a Latina who, through her words, continues to be a “Champion of Change” for the causes she embraces as a talented wordsmith.
Probably no better example of that would be her questioning the Hartford Courant for its Spanish-language webpage that relied solely on Google Translation. In an op-ed entitled, “Courant en Español – Have Fun, Get Angry” for CTLatinoNews.com, Bessy used humor and indignation to point out what an insult the page was to Latinos. She asked, ” … does the paper think that Latinos are going to be ever so grateful to have to guess the meaning of the news in Spanish?” Her op-ed received national attention and ultimately resulted in The Courant abandoning its Google Translation strategy.
But Bessy Reyna is more than just an eloquent advocate in both English and Spanish for causes. Currently, she writes for CtLatinoNews.com and for the arts-and-culture page for the Hispanic newspaper Identidad Latina. A Master Teaching Artist for the Connecticut Commission on Culture & Tourism, she is a frequent lecturer and guest artist at colleges, libraries and museums. She has performed her poetry internationally; taught writing workshops in many venues; and served as a judge for poetry competitions, including the Connecticut Book Award for Poetry.
Thank you Bessy Reyna for using the power of the pen to be a “Champion of Change” for Connecticut and beyond.
Pablo de Jesus Colón, hijo
For many Latinos in Connecticut, Pablo de Jesus Colón, Hijo is known as one of the earliest pioneers of Spanish language radio in our state. A native of the Dominican Republic, he studied music at the National Conservatory of Music and radio broadcasting there before arriving in Hartford in 1969.
He soon became a radio announcer and program director on the Spanish language station, WLVH in Hartford, who many may remember as “La Grande.” Pablo’s deep baritone voice was easily recognizable, helping him quickly make a name for himself as a result of his charismatic broadcasts.
In November 1991, 20 years after he became a U.S. citizen, Pablo became the first Hispanic owner of a radio station in Connecticut and the first Dominican owner of a radio station in the United States when he purchased WCUM-AM radio in Bridgeport, known as Radio Cumbre.
In the 21 years since he has owned the station, Pablo has been committed to paying back the community, which so graciously and wholeheartedly supported him throughout his career and radio station ownership. As a result, Radio Cumbre has become one of the most powerful voices for the Hispanic community of Fairfield County.
Pablo was the founder of the Hispanic Congress, an organization dedicated to empowering the Hispanic community. He has led yearly campaigns to register voters with great success. He has conducted radiothons to raise money for the handicapped people of Puerto Rico as well as disaster relief for the following countries: Columbia, Honduras, Guatemala, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and Haiti (and Puerto Rico as well). He has been honored for these and many other efforts by countless institutions such as the American Red Cross, Bridgeport Merchants Association, Puerto Rican Parade, Park & Recreation Department, Puerto Rican Civic Society and the Connecticut General Assembly.
On a personal note, Pablo’s lifelong love of music was shared with his family. One son, Pablo Colon III, is now general manager of Radio Cumbre and another is R&B Vocalist Javier Colon, who many know from the “The Voice” television program. He says his father’s background was the driving force behind his musical career. Because of his father’s vocation, Spanish language music was the air that young Javier breathed he says, adding, “It was the constant background music of my childhood.”
Pablo De Jesus Colon, Hijo has spent nearly half a century in Connecticut radio and two things have remained constant – which make him a “Champion of Change” – his drive for excellence in everything he does and his fierce loyalty and dedication to his heritage and the Latino community.
Marcelina Sierra is executive director of Guakía Inc., the organization dedicated to promoting, preserving and celebrating Puerto Rican/Latino culture in the greater Hartford area.
Sierra is a “Champion of Change” because she has used art to inspire and motivate Latino youth through her tireless work, during two separate periods, to run Guakia. It’s personal sacrifice that keeps the organization afloat. It only perseveres because its staff falls third in place behind rent and utilities. Teachers in the program haven’t seen an hourly pay increase in about 10 years. Without that assistance, Guakía would quickly become a faded memory.
Guakía serves about 500 youths each year, and indirectly reaches 2,500 children through presentations at area schools.
Located at 75 Charter Oak Avenue, just south of Downtown Hartford, Guakia offers classes in Latin American music, dance, visual arts, creative writing and theater. For the past several years, the organization has presented the Ray Gonzalez Latin Jazz and Salsa Festival at Riverfront Plaza, which attracts thousands of music fans each year. Gonzalez is married to Sierra and is a music director at Guakia.
But Sierra is much more than just a successful non-profit executive director. She is also a talented painter, producer, dancer and graphic artist. The youth attending Guakia are learning under the direction of a true artist. Thank you Marcelina Sierra for being a “Champion of Change” for promoting Puerto Rican/Latino culture in the Hartford region.
The National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the Washington D.C. based premier organization of Latino journalists from across the country, is being led by a Connecticut Latino working out of ESPN in Bristol. That man is Hugo Balta and in his first year in office he is a “Champion of Change” improving opportunities for Latinos in the media and holding the media in general to higher standards of professionalism.
Balta, the son of Peruvian immigrants, first decided to pursue a journalism career at Seton Hall University in New Jersey because of his parents. His first break in the industry came in the form of an internship with Telemundo, which evolved into a part-time job when he was still in school. He began full-time work in the broadcasting field straight out of college as an assistant producer with Telemundo 47 in New York, writing and editing newscasts.
Hugo has just wrapped up his first year with ESPN, where he is coordinating producer, responsible for the content and on-air look of studio and event related programs; driving creativity, accuracy, storytelling and entertainment of sports news shows– including SportsCenter, NBA Tonight and Highlight Express.
At ESPN, Balta is leading an initiative to increase collaboration between ESPN platforms– television, radio, print and online– to be more successful serving the Latino audience. He is also a member of ESPN’s Hispanic Initiative Leadership team; a committee of ESPN leaders that champions diversity strategies within the company.
Thank you Hugo Balta for being a “Champion of Change” on the national level for Latinos everywhere and the media.
Daniel Diaz and David Greco
Daniel Diaz and David Greco created Arte Inc., a non-profit organization In New Haven to create positive change for the Latino community. Through their efforts, Arte runs numerous programs and events and offers highly effective youth programs, making them “Champions for Change” for giving young and adult Latinos a broader view of the arts and culture in Connecticut, which is extremely rich in the arts.
Diaz and Greco work to bridge communities, foster open dialogues and break down stereotypes. Their goal through Arte is to create better outcomes for Latino families through developing social networks, cultivating cultural, regional and occupational resources. Arte also encourages young Latino artists by giving them the opportunity to exhibit and sell their work.
The Diaz-Greco team can be proud to have served more 3700 people last year with programs like:
- SLATE – Socialization & Learning Adventures Through Education: “Every kid starts with a clean slate!” SLATE teaches life and social skills, exposes urban youth to new ideas and environments, gives children knowledge they will use for a lifetime.
- SLATE for Parents: Free workshops for parents focusing on: Digital Literacy, Financial Literacy & College Readiness.
- ASAP – After School Arts Programs: Art, education and mentorship programs to keep kids off the streets and out of trouble.
- College Bound Road Trips – Students are exposed to college life and become interested in college for the first time.
- The Hispanic Heritage Events, Cultural Events & Family Workshops – Arte prsents a variety of exhibits and events to celebrate Latino cultures and families.
- Scholarships – Arte has awarded $47,000 to 104 Latino recipients statewide.
For all they do to keep the arts and culture vibrant for Latinos, Daniel Diaz and David Greco are true “Champions for Change.”