Every year at this time, we at CTLatinoNews.com take a look back at some of the people and issues we have covered during the past year and try to highlight some of the Latinos in our state who stand out in their efforts – many as volunteers – for the betterment of the community. Some are better known than others, others quietly work in the background but they all display the same qualities – a sense of duty and desire to give back to their communities. This year our editorial team has identified five ‘Champions of Change’ for 2017.
We have selected two individuals and for the first time three organizations or groups of people who have come together for a common goal. Collectively these groups are having a significant impact on the state’s Latino community. We congratulate all of them and thank them for your commitment, hard work and caring. Leading our ‘Champions of Change’ list this year, the New Britain Latino Coalition, which several years ago took over the mission of creating a monument and park to honor the ‘Borinqueneers’. That is the nickname the members of 65th Infantry Regiment from Puerto Rico chose after enduring discrimination and hardship as they fought valiantly in four wars for the United States.
The idea to create a tribute in the city actually began over five years ago; the effort then stalled for awhile until the New Britain Latino Coalition, a bi-partisan organization made up entirely of volunteers, stepped in and despite setbacks is getting ready for the monument and park’s dedication in the spring of 2018.
The monument will be the centerpiece of a memorial park which will be the largest U.S. monument recognizing these heroes. There are many of you who kept this project moving, so on behalf of the state’s Latinos, we thank all of you for not giving up and ensuring this piece of history will be shared now and for years to come.
Our next ‘Champions of Change’ is also a group, actually several groups, of volunteers. They are the multitude of people who sprang into action soon after learning the harsh reality of the devastation of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.
It was one of the darkest days in the island’s history, leaving the island’s 3.5 million residents without power, clean water and other necessities. But while the federal government’s response and President Trump’s cavalier attitude toward this huge humanitarian crisis added to the gloom, Connecticut’s Puerto Rican community and its friends have provided a bright beacon of hope.
In recent months, community-driven efforts to support the people of Puerto Rico have expanded from sending supplies and money to the devastated island, to creating Resource Centers around the state to help thousands of Puerto Ricans, as well as many Virgin Islanders, who are coming to Connecticut for shelter and less perilous living conditions while their homelands are rebuilt.
Without funds, volunteers created an extensive network of Hispanic organizations, emergency and welfare agencies, local school systems, charities, hospitals and government agencies to create one-stop operations where the displaced islanders can obtain warm clothing, food, health care and other necessities, such as baby supplies, as well as onsite access and referrals to job search and training, mental health counseling, English as a Second Language programs and applications for the limited temporary housing offered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Some of the more prominent of the multi-faceted relief programs are the Center for Our Caribbean Friends in Hartford, which is coordinated through the Capital Region Educational Center; the Bridgeport center organized by the city and Career Resources Inc.; New Haven’s support program, which uses the Junta for Progressive Action as a clearinghouse.
Thanks to all of you who have and continue to help the people of Puerto Rico and other devastated islands through your volunteerism. You are all indeed are ‘Champions of Change’.
Our third ‘Champions of Change’ for 2017 is actually two chapters in the state of a national organization. They are the National Association of Hispanic Nurses.
Connecticut Chapter in the southern part of the state and the NAHN’s Hartford chapter. The two are made up entirely of volunteers, nurses who, in addition to their jobs, then dedicate their time – evenings or weekends – to help improve health care for all people and, in particular, Hispanics.
They do this by not only holding events in order to raise money for college scholarships for Latino students interested in nursing careers, they also hold community health education events, and speak at events. CTLatinoNews.com is proud to select your organizations and all your members as ‘Champions of Change’ for 2017. Thank you and congratulations!
As for the two individuals we selected as ‘Champions of Change,’ they are both shining
stars with their own style. The first is Yolanda Negron of Windham. If you don’t know who she is, we are happy to fill you in. For starters, this past February the town of Windham named Yolanda Negron a 2017 Cupid, an honor bestowed on individuals for their service and love they give to the community. That Yolanda was chosen for this distinction was hardly surprising, and even overdue, but that she was fooled in thinking the crown was going to someone else was a major shocker.
Virtually nothing good happens in Willimantic, especially within its large Hispanic community, without the irrepressible and ever-present Yolanda involved as a volunteer and leader. She is there for anyone needing help, whether it be supporting the hurricane-stricken people in her native Puerto Rico , leading voter registration and turnout drives or offering support to the undocumented parents who fear they will have to leave their U.S.-born children behind if they are deported. And in turn, the community is devoted to her welfare, whether if be shoveling her sidewalk or transporting her to the mall or her numerous social gatherings.
An example of Yolanda’s commitment to the people of Willimantic was the role she played last winter in Windham’s establishing itself as a sanctuary city, which would help protect its undocumented residents as best it could from the deportation threat ratcheted up by the anti-immigrant Trump administration. Because of wintry conditions, it was difficult for Yolanda to get out on her wheelchair to attend meetings, but she worked diligently behind the scenes through social media and phone calls to champion this cause.
More recently, she traveled to Puerto Rico on a personal and charitable mission, which included bringing financial donations gathered in her hometown to help churches in Juana Diaz and Santa Isabela and to deliver food and water to homebound elderly and disabled residents.
Yolanda also serves as a one-person Willimantic news bureau, using Facebook to provide news and information about the town and as Willimantic’s ever-roving reporter, live-streaming coverage of rallies, meetings, parades and other local events.
One thing is for sure, Yolanda’s hair color and style is subject to periodic change, but her love for Willimantic is permanent and greatly reciprocated. Yolanda Negron, you are certainly a ‘Champion of Change’. Thank you for all you do and congratulations!
Rounding out our 2017 list of ‘Champions of Change’ is Wildaliz Bermudez.
One might say that Wildaliz was born to public leadership, as the daughter of activist Puerto Rican parents and a childhood plaintiff, along with sister Eva, in the landmark Sheff court decision, which changed public education in Connecticut.
But in recent years, especially in 2017, Wildaliz has clearly demonstrated through her political acumen and drive, that she is very much a young woman charting her own course.
As the Working Families Party’s minority leader on the Hartford City Council, Bermudez has helped craft and pursue a variety of legislation, including one to regulate and tax the use of marijuana. She also has helped deliver local environmental concerns into the office of Governor Malloy.
Meanwhile, Bermudez has gained wider recognition, helping found the Connecticut Puerto Rican Agenda, a statewide nonpartisan coalition that is part of a national organization devoted to just treatment and economic relief for the U.S. territory.
In December, she shared the podium in front of the Lincoln Memorial at the Puerto Rican Unity March with national figures such as Broadway’s Lin-Manuel Miranda, calling for disaster relief and congressional action to remove laws detrimental to Puerto Rico.
Recently, the Hartford city councilperson joined with the CICD Puerto Rican Day Parade and other Hispanic leaders to stage a festive holiday gathering, the Parranda de Esperanza, at City Hall to bring some holiday cheer to hundreds of hurricane victims from Puerto Rico who have moved to Hartford.
Bermudez also has stood with immigration rights activists and supporters of the Dreamers, the young undocumented Latinos whose ability to stay in this country has been threatened by the Trump Administration’s denial of the Deferred Action for Children Arrivals programs.
Not the least of her achievements this year, Wildaliz, who is married to attorney Ken Krayeske, added the title of ‘mother’ to her credentials.
Clearly, Wildaliz Bermudez is a star that has risen in Hartford and beyond, and is likely to help brighten the future of all Latinos, the capital city and Connecticut. Congratulations and thank you for your commitment Wildaliz!