2020 marks the tenth anniversary since the local immigrant-integration, non-profit UnidosNow was formed. I am proud to be one of the founding members, having done so amidst the backdrop of local, state and national issues negatively impacting immigrant communities. On a local level, from 2009 to 2012, a period during which I served as City Commissioner and Mayor, the bright light of disparate treatment of minorities by law enforcement focused on the City of Sarasota’s Police Department.
Similar to recorded killings of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, the only reason that this came to the public’s attention and outrage was due to the Sarasota Herald’s publication of a video recording showing an SPD officer allow an inebriated immigrant, Juan Perez, climb out of a squad car and fall six feet onto his head, his hands handcuffed behind his back. The officer then proceeded to kick and stand on the man. It ultimately led to the firing of the officer, the resignation of the Chief of Police, the creation of a City Police Complaint Committee and an Independent Police Advisory Panel. In spite of a history of other complaints of excessive use of force against the offending officer, similar to what is seen in Minneapolis with former Officer Chauvin’s record, he remained and advanced with the force prior to the Perez incident that ultimately cost the City hundreds of thousands of dollars in lawsuit settlements and legal fees. Perhaps most disturbing, three years after the incident, a panel of Sarasota residents that included a former and current City Commissioner on the Civil Service Review board voted unanimously to reinstate the fired officer, giving him three years of back pay, in spite of the then African-American Chief of Police appearing before the board advocating that they ratify the officer’s termination, due to his dangerous disregard of policies and protocol in caring for a handcuffed individual.
I share this story because the frustration and the violence we are seeing in our country today is not just about the individuals who police us; it is really about us and a four-hundred year history since African slaves were brought to these shores of not demanding better, in spite of our insistent belief in American exceptionalism. When I say ‘us’, I’m really referring to us, the majority white population of this country that inherit, whether we like it or not, the legacy of our nation’s forefathers who wrote and signed a “Declaration of Independence” that declared “all men are created equal”, while many of the signers, including the principal author, Thomas Jefferson, owned thousands of African slaves, including their own children. A little over a decade later, this caste system was enshrined in the Constitution, an amended version that we still use today, determining that a slave was only 3/5ths of a human being. This year’s Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Nikole Hannah-Jones, wrote in her award winning New York Times essay last fall, “Our democracy’s founding ideals were false when they were written. Black Americans have fought to make them true.”
UnidosNow was formed in many ways, then, to stand in solidarity with our black community and join the fight to make these ideals true as we seek to integrate our vibrant immigrant community into the social, economic and civic weave of the American Dream. The fight is not a struggle that our black and LatinX neighbors (many of whom are also descendants of African slaves brought to Latin America) must wage on their own. Indeed, the truth and reconciliation process must take place within our nation’s Caucasian community where the hope of any progress to get us beyond where we are now will take place. As Dr. Ibram Kendi in his best-selling book, “How to be an Anti-Racist”, points out – it is not acceptable to simply say, “I am not a racist.” The question for all of us is rather, “how are we being and behaving in an actively anti-racist manner?” Anyone who has watched the videos from Georgia and Minneapolis this past month is horrified. Many are moved to action, as witnessed Sunday in Payne Park with hundreds of local residents peacefully convening and marching throughout downtown Sarasota calling for greater police accountability. While this is a start, white residents have the obligation to educate themselves how to be better allies and active, committed anti-racists. As Americans guided by the noble aspirations of our Founding Fathers, it is our obligation to help create a more just and equitable society where all people have a fair chance to be healthy, free and alive. To better empower conversations and civic activism in that process for white residents and parents, here is a link to a myriad of resources that will help you become a more engaged, anti-racist: bit.ly/ANTIRACISMRESOURCES
Another silver lining of this pandemic has been the support we’ve received from our Future Leaders Academy Scholars and alumni during the 2020 Giving Challenge. We asked a few of our scholars why they wanted to get involved and what they got out of the experience. Here are two answers:
The Giving Challenge is a unique opportunity for community members to show how much they care for and appreciate local organizations, which do so much to empower, inspire, and encourage the next generation of movers and shakers.
UnidosNow—being at the forefront of this unceasing, rewarding task—can and will always count on my support and participation. I especially enjoyed getting to be a panelist this year because I got to showcase just a sliver of what I have learned as a Future Leaders Academy scholar and UnidosNow alumna.
I hope that through this experience and future ones, I can become a role model for younger teens. I want to show them the importance of giving back to the people and organizations that shape you and help you achieve your goals. In that way, The Giving Challenge is as much of a gift to me as it is to our wonderful Dream Team and UnidosNow programs. – Leonela Tasé Sueiro
Because of COVID-19, I have had the privilege to come back home and connect with local nonprofits and other organizations that once served me. While I have been home, I have specifically extended a hand to UnidosNow. Their mission highlights my aspirations and passions; “to elevate the quality of life of the growing Hispanic/Latino community through education, integration, and civic engagement.”
My passion for nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and their promotion of higher education within minority communities has given me the motivation to support organizations such as UnidosNow. When helping during The Giving Challenge, I felt empowered as a past Future Leaders Academy student who was now supporting other promising Latinx students. Through this experience, I got to stand on the other end of the program as I promised to support this organization in any way possible. – Liam Ordonez
COVID-19 will not defeat us—especially when we have resources like our Future Leaders Academy (FLA) Scholars and alumni—embodying the UnidosNow mission: Elevating the quality of life of the Hispanic/Latino community through education, integration and civic engagement. Guest college students and current FLA members have come to rescue because they understand the difficulties our young students and parents face.
When COVID-19 hit us and forced us to stay home, many of our families needed to adapt to this new way of life, as they became “substitute” teachers, learning how to manage technology so their children could join online classes.
Many parents—unprepared and uncomfortable with their new role and concerned that their children were becoming demotivated—began asking for our help.
That’s when we turned to our scholars to tutor these students during the “New Normal” of online classes.
It’s a simple concept that our scholars understand and practice: “Give back to the community.” Almost immediately, they registered to help one or two young students. Methodically, we assigned students to our tutors, depending on the subjects they feel comfortable teaching. Now, our tutors are meeting once or twice weekly, helping students with homework while addressing their struggles with online learning.
We’re proud to say that elementary- and middle-school students and Parent Leadership programs are benefiting from this new support we are offering.
Someday, COVID-19 will be a topic in a history book. But because of our scholars, our young students will be making history.
Join us on Wednesday, April 22 at 5:30 p.m. to learn from experts about healthy living, good posture, leadership, self confidence, and more!
This online workshop is part of the 2020 Giving Challenge, an exciting giving event that connects nonprofit organizations with passionate donors. Support these community-based organizations that are making an impact in the lives of families in Sarasota and Manatee County.
Click here to attend via Zoom, or watch us on UnidosNow Facebook Live.
When Sandy Chase read the UnidosNow placard her husband, Gary, had brought home from a local exposition several years ago, she knew she wanted to learn more about the organization.
“This card, a little larger than a bookmark—with three words: Educate, Elevate, and Integrate, and quotes like ‘I have found my own path to success,” and a list of such programs as Future Leaders Academy, UnidosNow Clubs, and College Prep Workshop Series—motivated me to explore volunteer opportunities.”
Since that time, Sandy has been collaborating with the Dream Team and Future Leaders Academy (FLA) Barancik scholars to help bolster the UnidosNow mission—whether as a writing coach or part of the newsletter team, led by Beatriz Paniego-Béjar, an experienced communications director. Most recently, Sandy has also been working with Cintia Elenstar, program manager, on her important alumni e-newsletter.
Sandy says, “My role at UnidosNow intrinsically rewards me, especially when high-school seniors reach and often times exceed their goals—graduating with honors, being accepted to the college of their choice, and receiving scholarships to fund that educational experience.”
Sandy further explains how editing the newsletters—with her “eagle eye” and relentless “red pen”—is win-win.
“Even if I’m not involved in all UnidosNow programs, I’m learning firsthand how this organization helps students and parents embark on their journeys to success—whether it’s the FLAG ‘Mighty Queso Coders,’ parent-leaders at Gocio and Tuttle Elementary schools, or Peer Buddies, alumni giving back to the community.”
As an UnidosNow EDITOR, Sandy’s life has been:
Dedicated staff who are
Respected in Sarasota and Manatee counties for furthering the goals of the Latino community
Sandy summarizes her appreciation: “Gracias por la oportunidad de disfrutar de mi jubilación.”
Altruism is win-win for everyone—for those who receive a gift (beneficiary) and those who give of themselves (benefactor). It’s like a circle that can’t be broken—each group evolving into the other.
For example, benefactors (donors, volunteers, and sponsors) are rewarded—deriving satisfaction from knowing they have made a difference in others’ lives. And beneficiaries (receiving money and other contributions) give back—especially to the community—when they use their newly found gifts for improvement.
As beneficiary, UnidosNow was most fortunate to work with Florida Studio Theatre (FST), under the supervision of Associate Artist Catherine Randazzo, who praises the Future Leaders Academy (FLA) for sharing personal stories.
Fifteen scholars were all-time beneficiaries because they learned so much more than playwriting, acting, and theatre. In this safe environment, many first-generation Latino students became role models for one another, learning about common challenges and ways to overcome them—striving to turn them into dreams.
Catherine was the ideal mentor, given her expertise and experience as a theatre educator in Manatee and Sarasota counties. “A large number of my students were Latino, drawn to the world of theatre—a discipline they didn’t have much exposure to—so it became my mission to introduce them to its importance. For some, it was life changing.”
Highlighting FST’s role as beneficiary, Catherine says, “I’m grateful that I could once again mentor a group of gifted Latino students. My gratitude goes to Executive Director Luz Corcuera, the UnidosNow team, and the students who made me realize how much I don’t know about their world. Their community-service project has changed me—for the better. That’s the POWER of theatre.”
And that power was evident when FST offered this poignant theatrical piece as a play reading to the public in May 2018. This performance helped “enlighten the audience,” to use Catherine’s words. Attendees learned about the unique experiences of Latino students and common issues faced as teens.
UnidosNow also helped FST promote its mission to create a public forum for the issues of our day that will foster positive change in our community and beyond—while FST helped to support UnidosNow in its efforts to empower Latinos—making a difference in this region.
Warmly, Luz remembers how an individual in the audience approached her after the show. “He said, ‘Keep doing this amazing work,’ folding a check in my hand—a significant donation to add to the Giving Challenge goal. He left as quickly as he came.”
UnidosNow received other donations. FST donated the proceeds of the evening to UnidosNow, and together they received Best Community Event Award during the Giving Challenge. The Latino organization reaped tremendous benefits from this experience.
The gifts UnidosNow gives to the community know no bounds. Dedicated to empowering low-income, first generation Latino students and their families, it also helps fortify the community—and beyond:
100% of its scholars entered college—40% to selective institutions—culminating in earning over 2.5 million dollars in scholarships and grants.
Many high-school and college students volunteer at UnidosNow and elsewhere. Recently, a Princeton student interned at an Ohio nonprofit media thinkhub, and a high-schooler was chosen to spend a week at the Florida Capitol in the House Page & Messenger Program.
Future Leaders Academy for Girls prepares younger students to explore different and careers, notably related to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math).
Luz proudly says, “We are building the next generation of leaders through education, leadership, and community service.”
As exemplified by the 2018 Giving Challenge, benefactors and beneficiaries will evolve—for the better. Most important, the Community Foundation of Sarasota County and The Giving Challenge partners, continue to be the catalyst.
Cultivating talent, intelligence, and hard work for the benefit of our community and beyond, UnidosNow looks ahead to the April 2020 Giving Challenge.
Back in the start of freshman year in high school, sweets and a well-lit room welcomed me. And there he was: Hector Tejeda was sitting there, smiling looking at everyone and asking their names. That is when I knew: this club is The One.
I got to understand UnidosNow’s vision and what they wanted us to grasp from them: presentation skills, communication skills, and most importantly, loyalty.
UnidosNow showed me the ins and outs of college, starting with New College, all the way to talks with an admissions officer at UPenn. These skills were fully grasped with the Future Leaders Academy program.
With special training and dedication from the UnidosNow team, they helped me succeed in my college journey. I can’t be grateful enough for the whole team starting with Juan Arcila, who was funny, but got serious when he wanted to, to Hector and Luz, who started this whole connection together.
FLA helped me step out of my comfort zone by hosting classes at Mote Marine with a professor from USF showing me new scientific instruments I had never seen. With this being only one of the many things they provided me with all along the way.
There are two days I will never forget from FLA and those are the days that I first heard of Vassar College and when Robin gave me the final push to making my college essay amazing. For the first day, Robin was calling out students and giving them clear cut matches on what schools they should be looking at according to their criteria. She calls me out and she reads me off a list of schools that I would like, and then I sat down. Paula, one of my classmates, came back and we compared lists; she had a school that I didn’t get, Vassar. That was then the day I first learned about Vassar and also the day I applied to their fly-in program. The second day, Robin was going around giving college essay help, and she gave me the final boost to help perfect my application.
All in all, I’m very grateful for FLA and the UnidosNow program for all that they’ve done for me and for all they have continued to do!
The Braden River High School UnidosNow Club features Bella Macías as President, Xavier Rosado as Vice President, Sophia Innocenti as Secretary, Michael LaPointe as Treasurer, and Ayaka Quesen as Publicist.
This mighty group of five work extremely hard to prepare an informative presentation every other Friday at their advisor’s—Mr. Kirchberg’s—classroom. The team usually meets on the Fridays when they do not have a club meeting, establishing their topic for the upcoming presentation. The club also consists of four committees: Community Outreach, FAFSA & Marketing, Workshop, and Essays, and each committee has their own committee chair.
Moreover, to encourage ESL students to participate in the club, they have an ESL Outreach Ambassador who bridges the communication between the two parties. The main goal of the club is to provide enough information to their members, where they feel confident enough to tackle the college application process. Whenever anyone has a question of any sort, they are always free to ask questions to any of the officers.
Besides the many informative meetings the officers have scheduled, each committee has a particular goal they set for themselves for the year:
The Community Outreach committee, with Orlando Chinchilla as chair, has aided the club in establishing a sister program with Oneco Elementary’s Boys & Girls Club. They volunteer there every other Thursday, where they offer help in tutoring for all sorts of academic topics, while also offering some support for the kids.
The Essays committee has received multiple college essays at the beginning of the year, and Demi Dionela, the chair, has organized the committee members to edit specific essays depending on their strengths. The project was a success, and many seniors were grateful for the grammar and spelling checks that were provided by the club.
The FAFSA & Marketing committee, with Fiorella Recchioni as chair, was instructed to create the FAFSA video during the first semester, where they helped the club win the prize of a pizza party. Overall, the video helped inform not only the club about the FAFSA application process, but many other students who follow them on social media.
Finally, their Workshop committee, led by Khushbu Patel, is currently working on constructing a College/Job Resume Workshop, where any student from the school could attend the meeting in order to learn how to write a resume. The Club has also held a few workshops led by the officers team, including their College Kid Workshop, which featured previous BRHS students who gave advice to their members on college information during the potluck meeting.
This club has not only allowed students to grow and learn, but they are all able to work through their struggles and hopefully attend the college of their dreams. “When convincing my many friends to join the club, I always say that it’s worth it, because everyone needs help, even me,” says Macias.