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A 4th of July Message

By Kelly Kirschner, UnidosNow Board Chair

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On behalf of the UnidosNow Board, our staff, dedicated volunteers, students, and families, I want to wish you a happy and safe 4th of July holiday. Never in my lifetime has there been a more sober period in our national experience to honor and celebrate Independence Day. 

The celebrations in 2020 will be muted as public fireworks performances, festivals, and parades are cancelled, and we all wrestle with the pain of the ongoing pandemic; the global financial and unemployment crisis; and a reckoning with our long-held myth of American exceptionalism, in particular as it relates to our neighbors of color being able to equally participate in such an exceptional land.

With the backdrop of the current Black Lives Matter protests and the tumbling of statues around the country, it is a good moment to reflect on the history of the Statue of Liberty–our nation’s most iconic and recognized statue and its intersections with our current national challenges and the work of UnidosNow. As documented in this 2019 Washington Post article, the Statue of Liberty was originally conceived in 1865 to celebrate freed slaves, not immigrants. 

The plaque with Emma Lazarus’ poem—“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” was not added to the base until 1903, not too far from the broken shackles of slavery that lie at Lady Liberty’s feet, but rarely do we see included in images of her. The same French benefactors who beat the bushes to raise money to make the statue were also eagerly raising money to support recently freed slaves, who had been set forth into a land without a penny in their pocket, much less any benevolent-aid organizations to help them adjust to such a radically different life. 

African slaves were immigrants—not of choice but by brutal force. Yet in many ways, the Lazarus’ poem does apply as much to the descendants of slaves as it does to today’s immigrant community: this nation, founded on the premise of Liberty, stands out amongst all others in the world, as you will breathe free here and share in the equal opportunity to pursue life, liberty, and happiness. 

Amidst these uncertain and tumultuous times, there is a latent sadness many of us share with how our nation’s ideals continue to be elusive, if not an outright scam for so many of our fellow citizens of color. Maybe this was best encapsulated on July 4, 1936, when President Franklin Roosevelt honestly reflected on our nation’s Founding Fathers during an Independence Day celebration at Monticello, the former slave plantation of Declaration of Independence author and President Thomas Jefferson: “Theirs were not the gods of things as they were, but the gods of things as they ought to be.” 

As a supporter of UnidosNow, helping us raise an astounding $282,000 during the recent 2020 Giving Challenge that now supports over 400 of the region’s most vulnerable families bridge our current crisis, it is with utmost gratitude and appreciation that you are here with us and support us in this effort to build and make things as they ought to be in our community today – continuing to call into being the promise of our nation that was laid out on July 4, 1776. 

Please enjoy your holiday, be safe and thank you for your continuing support.

Our Required Work

By Kelly Kirschner, UnidosNow Board Chair

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

My UnidosNow Story by Rey Claro

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!

Learning Beyond the Classroom

The end of July marked the successful culmination of our 2019 Summer Parent Leadership Program, when our participants met to celebrate their accomplishments. What brought us together was a love of learning—extended beyond classroom walls.

We proudly recall:

  • Visiting the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, the Betty J. Johnson North Sarasota Library, and the Women’s Resource Center and its Unique Boutique (career closet). 
  • Inviting such amazing community partners to our classes, such as author and business woman, Jane Plitt; artist and Reiki master, Ingrid Brandt; officer and commercial associate of Bank of America, Paula Rincon; and program coordinator for JFCS Healthy Families/Healthy Children, Anna Baker. 
  • Receiving copies of Jane Plitt’s book, Martha the Hairpreneur has inspired participants to start their own business. 
  • Obtaining library cards, learning about managing money, and signing up for programs offered by both the library and the JFCS. 
  • Improving English skills and learning about leadership—thanks to Ingrid and Marnie Howell.  
  • Expanding horizons and becoming aware of many organizations to explore further.
  • Building bridges and fostering lasting friendships.

Thank you to all our partners, especially St. Jude Catholic Church, who generously hosted our parents and children. We owe a debt of gratitude to the Community Foundation of Sarasota County. Without their generous support, none of these experiences would have been possible.

A Passionate Associate’s Experience

by Jackie Perez

Dear reader,

My name is Jacqueline Perez and I’m a rising junior at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina (Go Blue Devils!). As a first-generation college student from a low socioeconomic background, I know firsthand the issues UnidosNow is tackling. In high school, I had a dream team of my own: three amazing teachers who pushed me into achieving something greater, ultimately, becoming a National QuestBridge Scholar. This summer, I’ve been fortunate to meet and work alongside another dream team—a dedicated group of individuals who are doing incredible things in the Latino/a/x community. 

Being an associate at UnidosNow has provided me with the opportunity to explore my interest in educational access and outreach—a passion that somehow always ended up being placed on the back burner. But UnidosNow challenged me to think critically. My main UnidosNow project was working with the Future Leaders Academy (FLA). I was responsible for establishing a foundation to strengthen career-exploration opportunities for these students. 

For someone who enjoys solving puzzles, I didn’t mind spending hours brainstorming what an effective career-exploration curriculum would look like. I was also able to strengthen my communication skills by going into the community and initiating dialogue on future collaborations. I had the opportunity to meet both community partners and employment-agency professionals, and educate myself on the resources available at State College of Florida and Manatee Technical College. 

Given the size of UnidosNow, I learned how to adapt and wear many different hats, so to speak, which I appreciate because it gave me the opportunity to work with students one-on-one, from mentoring students seeking to become QuestBridge Scholars to helping other students reflect on who they are and what they value. For a long minute I could see myself as a college advisor. 

Moving forward, I have no doubt that I will apply the skills I’ve learned during my UnidosNow experience, whether it’s in the education field or in public health (another passion of mine). What I am sure of is that I want to continue serving the Latino/a/x community in the U.S. and affecting the lives of future generations.

I’m extremely grateful to everyone at UnidosNow for an amazing and welcoming experience. Thank you for all the work you do to help students dream big!

Mil gracias,

Jackie 

Jacqueline Perez

She/Her/Hers

Duke University Class of 2021

QuestBridge Scholar

Palmetto High Alumnus

Mina Quesen, First 30 at Princeton, Gets Ready for Her Next Chapter

by Mina Quesen, Class of 2023

Three weeks ago, I was packing my things and getting ready to leave sunny Florida for Princeton University. Although I can’t seem to escape the Florida heat—even in New Jersey—I’ve found myself in a whole new world ready for discovery. I’ve met people from across the globe, found new challenges in classes, and even gotten rubber chickens stuck on the ceiling. My experience with Princeton’s Freshman Scholar Institute—a summer program for incoming freshmen who are connected as first-generation, low-income students—has been irreplaceable. 

The interim between high school and the start of fall term allows me to ease into college life and to learn about the campus before the rest of the students arrive. I’ve already learned the importance of using a planner and keeping a budget since events—and expenses—quickly add up. 

I’m learning to take things in stride and push forward when faced with challenges, especially when it comes to classes. My greatest challenge, thus far, is learning that it’s okay when I don’t understand something on the first try. My coding class taught me very quickly that there will be times when I’ll be totally lost, but there are always resources waiting to guide me out of the dark. I must seek them out.

Even after these last few weeks, I’m still excited. I’m excited about new ideas and memories I’ve yet to make. I don’t know if the allure of Princeton will ever wear off for me, especially when I hope to continue to be excited by endless possibilities.

Eric Daniel Silva-Gomez: Turning Pretext Into Promise

Eric after his interview for the Selby Foundation Scholarship.

By Sandy Chase, a UnidosNow volunteer writing coach and co-editor of the monthly newsletter, who has been working with Eric on his college essays.

Excuses can crush us—only if we let them.  

As a high-school freshman, Eric had finally realized that he was nurturing deception, so he began starving it.  A “highest-honor” graduate and multiple-scholarship recipient entering Flagler College this fall, he’s determined that success will thrive.  

“I let poverty, immaturity, and academic challenges dictate my life—although my mom tried valiantly to protect my sisters and me.  By attacking faulty thinking, I’ve overcome obstacles—the biggest one, me.”

Eric reflects on his poor choice of friends, who scoffed at college.  Mob mentality reinforced his excuses for failure.

“As a terrified eighth grader failing math, I deceived myself, thinking that dropping out would be the right path.  If my dedicated drama teacher, Ms. Mills, hadn’t come to my rescue, providing math tutoring, I don’t know what would’ve happened.”    

Eric continues, “I got a fresh start at Booker High School (BHS).  Looking back, I can say that mistaking the College and Career Resource Room for the guidance office was the best mistake I could’ve ever made, even if that room intimidated me at first—with all those smart kids.”

Eric looked for an escape but couldn’t come up with any excuses.  Lured back to that room, he met Saul Coplan, a volunteer for Take Stock in Children (TSIC), and others who have been a positive influence.

“Mr. Coplan, who’s relocated to CT, is the reason I joined TSIC.  I’m convinced I wouldn’t be a multi-scholarship winner without him.”  

Eric attributes his triumphant journey—quashing excuses—to other BHS and UnidosNow mentors and coaches as well.

“Mr. Coplan’s successors, Mr. Downing and Dr. Mims, have encouraged me to reach my goals.  And Mr. Andrews, BHS’s postsecondary advisor—renowned amongst his colleagues and prized by his students—has helped me navigate the college application process, including scholarships.”

Downing and others attribute Eric’s success to his communication skills and critical thinking:  “Eric has demonstrated that he’s a focused life-long learner in pursuit of personal and educational goals.”

For Eric, post-Christmas was a whirlwind of completing college and scholarship applications—all while working part time at Detwiler’s Farm Market; volunteering at the North Sarasota Library, shelving books and reading to the kids; and assuming a leadership role.

Eric knows his direction.  “Time management is critical to accomplishing my academic and career goals.  I now have a weekly schedule.”

Eric’s diligence has “paid” off—receiving scholarships from the following organizations, foundations, and institutions—enabling him to pursue a tuition-free political science degree towards a political career.

A frequent visitor to the college room, Eric also learned about UnidosNow at the beginning of his senior year.  Since then, Eric has worked tirelessly with Hector Tejeda, his mentor, who’s provided a writing coach, transportation—even an “interview suit.”

Eric at his graduation.

Hector attributes Eric’s exemplary achievements to who he is:

“Eric is the epitome of grit. Faced with hardships, he’s demonstrated courage and resilience in overcoming every obstacle.  He’ll make a difference in this world.”

Eric has already made a difference because he’s committed to others—bolstered by his leadership skills.  

Eric’s community service began as an adolescent, helping to feed the homeless through MIRA, a community nonprofit.  As a senior, he became a peer counselor for BHS’s College for Every Student (CFES) program, introducing freshmen to the college room and CFES.  (For information about CFES, click on here).

“Through CFES, I helped distribute canned food to Hurricane Irma victims.  I’ve also mentored Take Stock underclassmen about preparing for interviews.”

Closer to home, he’s turned bilingualism into a strength and has been a role model for his two sisters.  In fact, his older sister has joined the UnidosNow Future Leaders Academy (FLA).

“I helped save my neighbor:  I was his wife’s translator so she could understand what information the EMT needed when her husband was having a heart attack.  I’ve also translated for my mom during parent-teacher conferences. At Flagler, I want to use this skill once I’ve adjusted to college life.”

Introduced to politics by Jose Maldonado, a senior Eric befriended as a freshman during gym class, Eric is determined to learn everything about the political process.  “Jose is my role model.”

Inspired by Maldonado, Eric also donates monthly to Senator Bernie Sanders’ campaign.  Moreover, Eric’s interested in volunteering, saying “I’ll go door-to-door and speak with the St. Augustine community, encouraging constituents to exercise their right to vote.”

Eric—the first in his impoverished family to attend college—will be facing unknown hurdles.  

“I can’t wait to start Flagler.  I realize I’ve much to learn between now and August—and excuses are out!  Money management is critical. Hector will teach me budgeting. As a Selby scholar, I’ll also be provided with a community mentor whose background is related to political science”

Dr. Rachel Shelley, BHS’s esteemed principal, who has worked with Eric as a student-government officer, says, “Eric has flourished, demonstrating unbelievable leadership skills, especially in the aftermath of the Parkland shooting.  As a Booker Ambassador, he has a passion for helping others.”

She continues to say, “I’m proud to be his principal.”

UnidosNow Receives 2019 Spirit of Manatee Awards

Mina Quesen, Future Leaders Academy Scholar, receives the Young Spirit Award (left), and Luz Corucera is honored with the Charles Clapsaddle Community Spotlight Award (right).

Bradenton, FL – UnidosNow Executive Director Luz Corcuera received the inaugural Charles Clapsaddle Community Spotlight Award at the Manatee Community Foundation’s 2019 Spirit of Manatee Awards on March 20th.

“Luz Corcuera is regarded as an inspirational leader by foundations, donors, nonprofit colleagues as well as local colleges and universities, students, and parents. Together with the community leaders that created this award—Paul Sharff, Amanda Horne, Ashley Brown, and Judge Durand Adams—we are delighted that Luz is the first recipient,” said Susie Bowie, executive director of Manatee Community Foundation.

The Charles Clapsaddle Community Spotlight Award is a new honor, this year, created to recognize an outstanding nonprofit professional who embodies the spirit of philanthropy and community in Manatee County and has transformed normal projects from ordinary into extraordinary, according to the foundation, and is named for Clapsaddle, “whose dedication to the nonprofit community is well-known and celebrated through Manatee Educational Television.”

“I am deeply honored and humbled by this very special recognition. Charles Clapsaddle embodies selflessness and service.  I am privileged to collaborate with many organizations to empower remarkable young people to Dream Big and to call Manatee, a community with a heart, my home.”

In addition to Corcuera’s recognition, one of UnidosNow’s outstanding Future Leaders Academy program participants, 17-year-old Mina Quesen, also received the Spirit of Manatee’s Young Spirit Award. A senior at Braden River High, Quesen leads her school’s creative writing club, newspaper, and academic team. She also founded and served as president of the Braden River High UnidosNow Club, where she promotes and fosters the group’s mission of empowering students to obtain a post-secondary education.

“Mina is a natural leader and a great role model for her peers,” said Corcuera, “We are thrilled

for her that she is the Young Spirit awardee and, of course, we’re extremely proud of her.”

About UnidosNow

With a mission to elevate the quality of life of the Latino community through education, integration, and civic engagement, UnidosNow aims to empower first generation, low income students to successfully pursue higher education.  For more information, visit www.UnidosNow.org.

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Our Leader Recognized

Luis Corcuera, Luz Corcuera (the honoree), and Cathy Layton.

On January 16th, Luz Corcuera, UnidosNow’s Executive Director, was honored—together with Jo Rutstein, Julie Leach, and Diane Roskamp—at the National Council of Jewish Women, Sarasota-Manatee award ceremony:  “Women in Power.”

Below is an excerpt of Luz’s speech, which had stirred the attendees:

“When I was seven years old, I was introduced to the kindness and giving spirit of the American people through the Peace Corps volunteers who went to Peru.  Not only did they teach me English and sports, but they reinforced my confidence and my mother’s encouragement that I was capable of doing anything if I put the work into it, and, most important, that I have a voice.  

Through my work at UnidosNow, I’ve met outstanding young people and parents who have made extreme sacrifices to give their children a life of dignity and the opportunity to live out their true potential.  

My dream is that our next generation of leaders will use their gifts and passion and will become the type of leaders who lead honorably—with love, with kindness, and nonviolence of the heart.

I call upon all of us to be a voice for the voiceless and to empower others to find their voice.  Let’s work together across generations, cultures, religions, and languages. It is the strength of our diversity that makes America great.  

Let’s knock down the walls of indifference and fear and build bridges of love, hope, and compassion—empowering our next generations to be the ordinary Americans of extraordinary character.”

The College Experience of Our Scholars

Our scholars are seeing the fruits of their hard work. They are on the path to success because of years of determination and goal setting.

Liam Ordonez

Having joined the Future Leaders Academy (FLA) as a junior, Liam says that his week at Cornell University this summer has convinced him to pursue a career as an epidemiologist. Accepted to the university, he will graduate with the Cornell Class of 2023.

Liam, we are very proud of you. Thank you for being a role model—showing your fellow scholars that it is possible. Continue Dreaming Big!

Daniel Paredes

Daniel’s words echo those of many of our scholars:

“I can say without a doubt that I loved my first semester at Haverford College. At first, I was anxious, but those fears dissipated quickly because I soon learned that I would be living with two of my fellow Chesick Scholars.

I’m thankful for having been chosen to the Haverford scholars program, which selects 15 exceptional students from either underrepresented, first in their family to attend college, or under-resourced backgrounds to participate in a five-week summer program that helps make the transition from high school to college easier.

Knowing that I had a support group of friends enabled me to benefit from the rest of orientation week. And meeting other first-year students and upperclassmen advisers living at the same hall made the transition almost seamless. It’s great sharing classes with my friends.  

My first semester included STEM courses such as physics, calculus, and computer science, and Spanish literature. Although my first semester was challenging academically, my professors—especially those in physics and calculus—helped me meet those obstacles head on.  

What’s great about a small liberal arts college like Haverford is that you can meet with your professors—instead of speaking with a TA (teaching assistant)—and that’s not a guarantee.

A key to success is meeting with your professors and working with fellow classmates on assignments.  Also, you learn pretty quickly that you must devote three hours of studying for each hour of lecture.  

I started improving by taking advantage of my professors’ office hours and asking for extra help. Even when I didn’t have questions, I would still meet with my professors—a concept that may sound bizarre to high schoolers.

Unlike your high-school experience, you learn so much outside the college classroom. I’ve also become involved in such extra-curricular activities by:

  • Being chosen as one of two first-year representatives for the QuestBridge chapter at the college, where students shadow upperclassmen in helping to organize school events. More important, as a member of the QuestBridge board, I’m also giving back.
  • Participating in the soccer, badminton, and dance clubs.

Next semester, I’ll be exploring other fields by taking courses in city development, environmental studies, English, and drawing/sculpture … all thanks to the extensive liberal arts curriculum.

I’m looking forward to completing the rest of my first year at Haverford. And I’m especially grateful to UnidosNow, who has helped me pursue a meaningful college education.”

Marilyn Gurrola

Our FLA Scholar Marilyn Gurrola was determined to fulfill her dreams—no matter what. This young woman couldn’t find a program like FLA in her town of Cape Coral, so she drove more than an hour-and-a-half each way so she could participate in ours. Because of her resolve, she has been accepted to Case Western Reserve and the University of Seattle, intending to pursue a degree in nursing.

We are very proud of you, Marilyn.

Alec Lemus

Alec, one of our featured scholars in our Giving Challenge 2018 video, has had a great start to his college life—achieving a 4.0 GPA—in his first semester. He has also come to realize—by taking various assessments; working with his mentor, Alan Brumagin; and participating in the State College of Florida STEM Program—that his passion is science.  Alec has changed his major from accounting to biology, aspiring to earn a Ph.D.

Alec has also been selected as one of two students to attend (all-expenses paid) the National Emerging Science Researchers Conference in Washington, DC, at the end of February.

Your story makes us smile, Alec. Continue Dreaming Big!

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