Luna’s humble acceptance
“I’ve been called many things in my life, but never a humanitarian. Now here I am, being called a humanitarian,” said Luna to thunderous applause.
“But in my life I’ve been helped by hundreds and thousands of people. I’ve been helped, every step that I take, people have stopped and pointed along the way, given a hug or a handshake to let me know that I was somebody—that I could do this thing, whatever I wanted to do, complete my dreams.”
Luna recalled life with his late mother, who passed away last year. He called her “one of the most forward-thinking people” of his lifetime. He recounted how he attended a segregated school in Texas, all the while his mom encouraging him he could be or do anything he wanted and emphasizing “when,” not “if,” he would go to college.
Luna also told the crowd proudly of his days working the fields as a “tomato picker.”
“I know the kids laugh when I tell them that. But I’m very proud of what I did,” he said. “It’s hard labor and it taught me a lot. It taught me ‘Boy, mom’s right. I want to go to college. I don’t want to do this.’”
Luna spoke fondly of many mentors growing up: an art teacher who provided refuge in her classroom for him to be himself, older workers at the GM Central Foundry in Defiance, Ohio, who invited him to their “select” lunch table as he worked at the factory to put himself through college, and numerous college professors who guided, inspired and influenced him to obtain his undergraduate degree at BGSU and a masters in school counseling at Siena Heights University in Adrian, Michigan. He singled out the late Dr. Rolando Andrade to applause from older members of the crowd.
“He was a powerful man and there’s a special place in heaven for that man,” he said.
Luna spoke of being “unprepared” for college, much like many present Latino students. He took classes he didn’t need and failed others. He stated those experiences have guided his work with Latino TPS students for the past two decades.
“Life isn’t always easy, it definitely isn’t easy,” he said. “But with the help of friends and guidance you can always get through. So the most radical thing this leftist, militant knothead could do is go into education and teach the kids to think for themselves.”
Luna also serves on the Hispanic Advisory Committee at Lourdes University. He annually works with 400 Latino youth and their families at TPS, while also serving as a liaison with Adelante, Inc., the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), and other Latino-serving organizations and agencies to ensure students graduate and pursue higher education opportunities. Luna received a Diamante Award in 1998 in recognition of his commitment to education.
“You should approach everything with kindness and compassion,” he concluded in accepting Adelante, Inc.’s humanitarian award.
Luna then helped present Adelante, Inc.’s awards to four Toledo students he has mentored—high school students recognized for their academic success, leadership, and community service.
The Senior Award went to Elia Jiménez, a Woodward High School senior who is currently involved with Adelante’s Ganas program, the school yearbook staff, and volunteers at the Sofia Quintero Art and Cultural Center, Food for Thought, and her church. She received a three-credit hour summer scholarship at Lourdes University.
Other award recipients included: Manuel Rico from Bowsher High School, a freshman who wants to be a medical doctor; Mallory Otero, a sophomore at Start High School; and Jasmine Ponce, a junior at Bowsher.
The Senior Award will receive a 3-credit hour summer tuition scholarship from Lourdes University. The senior, junior, sophomore, and freshmen awards will receive recognition at the ceremony.
Keynote speaker Consuelo Castillo-Kickbusch
After presenting Adelante, Inc. with a resolution honoring the non-profit organization’s 15th anniversary and, also, its César Estrada Chávez Humanitarian Awards, Toledo City Councilman Adam Martínez introduced the evening’s keynote speaker, retired Army Lt. Colonel Consuelo Castillo-Kickbusch, now a motivational speaker and human development educator.
Ms. Castillo-Kickbusch spoke of servant leadership, a concept where one works to mentor and serve others. She also paid homage to Luna in her opening remarks.
“A servant leader is that individual that shares with others his or her knowledge. The true testament of servant leaders is taking great pride in seeing others succeed. Is that not Mr. Luna?” she openly asked to a round of applause.
Ms. Castillo-Kickbusch gave a bilingual address recounting her childhood in a Texas barrio, serving as a young translator for her Spanish-speaking parents, and watching them struggle to raise ten children. Her stories drove many in the crowd to tears as they recalled their own histories of parents who struggled and sacrificed as first-generation families.
She told the crowd what her father had said to her one day when she was young, words that still ring true today and guided her in eventually raising her own family and motivated her career.
“When you’re educated is when you’re free at last,” she said.
Ms. Castillo-Kickbusch also talked about an Army assignment as a liaison in Central American countries which were experiencing civil war and her struggle to understand why fellow Latinos were engaged in trying to overthrow their government. One central theme emerged, whether the country was Nicaragua, El Salvador, or elsewhere, “that brought them to their knees.”
“It was the fear that you’re not going to be educated,” she said. “There was always going to be a disparity somewhere—a world that stands between you and those on the other side. It was then that a mass, a group of people began to believe they must take matters into their own hands.”
Experiences of Adelante’s Mendoza
Guisselle Mendoza, Adelante’s Early Literacy Coordinator, spoke of her role at the agency from a personal perspective. Born in Nicaragua, her family immigrated to Miami when she was a young girl, but the Spanish-speaking community there did not require her to learn English. However, she moved to Sylvania and lost out on a speaking part for the Wizard of Oz because of her poor English. She described it as “culture shock” for both her and classmates, because she was “the only brown person there.”
Ms. Mendoza was finally motivated to brush up on her bilingual skills when her family relocated to Willard, a rural area in north-central Ohio.
“I finally learned English, but there wasn’t an Adelante, there wasn’t a community, just my family,” she recalled. “My church was it.”
When the family finally moved permanently back to Toledo, she sought out a newly-formed Spanish Club at Bowsher High School. Ms. Mendoza’s first experience with Adelante was a trip to see Disney on Ice. She later graduated from Owens Community College and joined the staff at Adelante, and developed a passion to work with the early literacy program.
“Once upon a time, I was one of those children,” she said. “When they come to my program, they’re lost. They don’t know where to go, they don’t have resources.”
Ms. Mendoza described her job at Adelante as “rewarding” because she can relate to the struggles of Spanish-speaking families when they first arrive in Toledo. She thanked the crowd for supporting Adelante with their attendance.
The gala event is a major fundraiser for Adelante, Inc., which serves as a Latino family resource center for education and literacy, social services, and economic empowerment. Nearly 150 people attended the awards ceremony. Its executive director is Mary L. Price and its Board chairt is Dan Briones.
Prior recipients of the Chávez Humanitarian Award include: Louis Escobar (2010), Ruth González de García (2008), Rudy Lira (2007), Baldemar Velásquez (2006), Sue Campos (2005), and Dolores Rodríguez (2003).
Fifth Third Bank recognized by Adelante with Amigo Award
Subsequent to the awards gala, Adelante, Inc. advised La Prensa that Fifth Third Bank of Northwest Ohio was the recipient of its Amigo Award. According to its press release, “for several years, Fifth Third’s partnership has assisted with building capacity to serve the Latino community and other underserved low income individuals to empower dreams.
“Their community investment has given people access to the tools and knowledge to move their lives forward for success. Fifth Third’s support of Adelante’s initiatives leverages other resources to help people reach their highest potential and empower tomorrow’s leaders today.
Fifth Third Bank serves Northwest Ohio through by operating business in a socially responsible way. Good corporate citizenship has been modeled through their community investments including financial empowerment programs and mobilization, fair and responsible lending, philanthropy, volunteerism, diversity and inclusion as well as environmental sustainability.”