On Thursday, March 29th, the White House will honor ten leaders being recognized as Champions of Change who, like Cesar Chavez, have dedicated themselves to improving the lives of others throughout their community and across the Nation. One of our Nation’s great civil rights leaders, Cesar Estrada Chavez camfe of age as a migrant farm worker, witnessing the injustice that pervaded fields and vineyards across California. Yet amidst hardship and abuse, Cesar Chavez saw the promise of change—the unlimited potential of a community organized around a common purpose.
The Chavez Champions of Change recognition is part of an Administration-wide effort to celebrate the life and legacy of Cesar Chavez as we approach what would have been the civil rights leader’s 85th birthday on March 31st. President Obama also signed a Presidential Proclamation affirming that, “On the 85th anniversary of Cesar Chavez’s birth, we are reminded of what we can accomplish when we recognize our common humanity…Today, we celebrate his courage, reflect on his lifetime of advocacy, and recognize the power in each of us to lift up lives and pursue social justice.”
The Champions of Change program was created as a part of President Obama’s Winning the Future initiative. Each week, a different sector is highlighted and groups of Champions, ranging from educators to entrepreneurs to community leaders, are recognized for the work they are doing to serve and strengthen their communities.
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Actress America Ferrera, who will be playing Helen F. Chavez in the upcoming biopic called CHAVEZ to be filmed this Spring, will participate in Thursday’s Champions of Change event. To learn more about our Champions go to www.whitehouse.gov/champions and to watch the event live, go to www.whitehouse.gov/live at 1:30 p.m. ET on March 29th. To read the full proclamation, click HERE.
In addition to the Champions of Change program, on Monday, Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis led an Induction of the Pioneers of the Farm Worker Movement into the Labor Hall of Honor. During that event the Secretary also dedicated the Department of Labor’s auditorium in honor of César E. Chávez. Administration officials including Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, and White House Director of the Domestic Policy Council Cecilia Muñoz were in attendance. On Thursday, April 5th, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar will also address the 12th Annual César Chávez Legacy Awards Dinner in Los Angeles, CA. In May in San Diego, CA, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Manpower and Reserve Affairs Juan Garcia will keynote a U.S. Navy ceremony to christen the USNS Cesar Chavez in recognition of the civil rights leader’s service during World War II.
The White House’s “Champions of Change” are:
Rev. Eve Nunez
Rev. Eve Nunez has dedicated her life to public service and has embodied the values of Cesar Chavez since she was a young adult. At the age of 17, Rev. Nunez volunteered and protested alongside Cesar Chavez. Even in her adolescence, she understood the importance of human rights, and public service. Since her early years of volunteering with Chavez, she has led a life devoted to public service, the fight for human rights, and faith. Rev. Eve Nunez is the Founder and President of Help 4 Kidz, which is an organization she founded after the passing of her beloved son Frankie. This non-profit organization has received local and national awards for her work with at risk children and young adults. Help for Kidz is a National Partner with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and has a SNAP satellite that also provides food boxes for homeless families in the valley. Help 4 Kidz served approximately 1,680 meals per week last summer for The First Lady’s “Let’s Move” Initiative. Help 4 Kidz is also a HUD approved site. The Help 4 Kidz HUD office provides services where clients can apply for, and participate in, Rental Assistance, First-Time Home Buyers Program, Foreclosure Prevention, Loan modifications, HARP AND HEMC.
Rev. Eve Nunez is also a Founder and President of Arizona Latino Commission, which is also a non-profit. Arizona Latino Commission is a HUD approved agency that serves clients with housing needs and foreclosure prevention/ first time home buyers program, and HARP. Rev. Eve Nunez is Vice President of Networking for National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference NHCLC which has over 34,000 churches and 16 million members. She is also an Executive Board member for NHCLC. She has recently become a member and citizen lobbyist for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. She received the National Service Award from Former President George W. Bush 2001 and Volunteer Service Award from President Obama 2012.
Mary Jo Dudley
Mary Jo Dudley is a faculty member in the Department of Development Sociology at Cornell University and is the Director of the Cornell Farmworker Program. As director of the Program her work focuses on improving the living and working conditions of farmworkers and their families by educating farmworkers and their employers on health, safety, cultural, and immigration issues and by conducting research that examines the contributions of farmworkers to the economic and social fabric of New York State. She directs a summer internship program through which Cornell and other students conduct research, prepare educational materials, and conducting trainings with farmworkers. She is a founding member of the Tompkins County Immigrants’ Rights Coalition, and is a member of the New York State Governor’s Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force. In 2010 she received the James A. Perkins Prize for Interracial Understanding and Harmony, and the Kaplan Family Distinguished Faculty Fellow in Service-Learning Award, both from Cornell University.
Rob Williams is the director of the Migrant Farmworker Justice Project. Established by Florida Legal Services in 1996 and funded by the Florida Bar Foundation, the Project’s mission is to provide access to justice for the more than 150,000 farmworkers who live and work in Florida. Williams began his career as a legal services lawyer in Immokalee, Florida in 1975. For more than a decade he has represented the United Farm Workers in their campaign to enact the AgJOBS immigration reform legislation which would benefit the one million undocumented workers and their families who harvest America’s crops. The Migrant Farmworker Justice Project also vigorously defends the rights of US workers and guest workers under the H-2A program, and has litigated dozens of cases in federal and state courts to enforce farmworkers’ rights to fair wages and working conditions.
Nita Gonzales, M.ED.
Nita Gonzales, of Denver, Colorado, is a noted community activist, educator, and nationally recognized leader in the struggle for social justice and equality. Nita is the President/CEO of Escuela Tlatelolco Centro de Estudios, a nationally recognized model for Chicano/Mexicano and indigenous education located in Denver, CO. Escuela Tlatelolco was originally founded over forty one years ago to provide culturally competent and socially conscious education to predominantly Latino youth. Nita also has a long record of supporting causes and activities that promote the economic, political, social, and educational strength of Latinos and underserved populations. She is a founder of the Chicano/Mexicano Education Coalition, the Denver Youth Employment and Education Task Force, and co-founder of the Colorado Latino Forum. She also is a board member of numerous organizations working to promote the welfare of the Latino community including Clinica Tepayac, the Denver City and County Community Oversight Board, and a member of the President’s Cabinet for Metropolitan State College.
Rogelio Lona is a farm worker, activist, community organizer and a leader. He has worked in the fields of California for more than 47 years and for 32 of those years he has been a member of the United Farm Workers. Just like his mentor, Cesar Chavez, Lona experienced and lived the struggles of the early farm worker movement. And, although the struggle is not over, Lona has also been able to savor some of the victories that farm workers had been able to accomplish through the work of the UFW to improve the working conditions of the men and women who labor in the fields. Until this day, Lona practices the legacy and values that Cesar Chavez left him: non-violence, respect, dignity, organization and empowerment of others.
Bernarda Wong, better known as “Bernie,” is a founder and the President of the Chinese American Service League (CASL). Under Bernie’s leadership, CASL has grown from a one-person shop in 1979 with an annual budget of $30,000 to $12 million. She spearheaded the initiative to build a $6.7 million Senior Housing facility as well as CASL’s new adjacent facility, the $7 million Kam L. Liu Building, a community service center that combined all of CASL’s disparate sites. Prior to founding CASL, Bernie served as Director of Social Services for a community center and a Head Start Day Care Program in a predominantly African American community.
Bernie truly understood what poor new immigrants face when confronted by a completely different culture and language, which gave her the courage to gather a few friends and begin the difficult task of building the Chinese American Service League from the ground up in 1979. Bernie chaired the Chicago Mayor’s Advisory Council on Asian Affairs and was the first Asian appointed to the Boards of United Way of Chicago and the Chicago Public Library. She also served on the Governor’s Asian Advisory Council and the Leadership of Greater Chicago Board. Currently, Bernie serves on committees including the Chicago Commission Human Relations (CCHR), the National Asian Pacific Center on Aging (NAPCA) Board, the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) Board, and Council for the Illinois Department on Aging. Bernie is also founding member of Chinese Immigrant Service Agencies Network International (CISANI).
For over 15 years, Melinda Wiggins has served as the Executive Director of Student Action with Farmworkers (SAF), a nonprofit whose mission is to bring students and farmworkers together to learn about each other’s lives, share resources and skills, improve conditions for farmworkers, and build diverse coalitions working for social change. Before that time, she coordinated SAF’s summer internship program and was a SAF intern with the Episcopal Farmworker Ministry.
Melinda has taken the lead in creating and developing two key statewide immigrant and farmworker coalitions: The Adelante Education Coalition and the Farmworker Advocacy Network (FAN). She has brought her core values of transparency, accountability and profound systemic change to these coalitions, and as a result SAF has a very strong network of individual and organizational allies from around the state. Melinda is also active with several other social justice groups such as Zomppa and the Windcall Residency Program.
Rose Garcia is the Executive Director of Tierra del Sol Housing Corporation, a New Mexico nonprofit corporation and a leading regional affordable housing and community development organization. She has worked for over 30 years to improve the quality of life for the rural poor, minorities, farmworkers and the elderly individuals in small towns and rural areas along the United States – Mexico border. She works closely with partners in both the public and private sectors to deliver services and meet the needs of people of New Mexico and the Southwest.
Nancy M. Cubano
Nancy M. Cubano is a native of Puerto Rico. She was born in Arecibo but grew up in the small town of Utuado where she lived with her family. She is a graduate of the University of Puerto Rico and Shippensburg University. Prior to coming to KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program, a network of public charter schools), Philadelphia, Nancy taught for 13 years as a Spanish teacher in Harrisburg where she taught Spanish to elementary school students, and in Gettysburg where she became passionate about her community and her teaching. She volunteered as an English tutor and advocated for the Gettysburg area’s migrant-workers. After a few years she moved to Philadelphia where she gain experience teaching elementary, middle and high school.
In 2005 she became an Educational Advisor to the National Youth Leaders State Conference (NYLSC) in Pennsylvania. Nancy is a founding member of the KIPP DuBois Collegiate Academy faculty. Nancy now serves as the Foreign Language Department Leader and Spanish II, III and AP teacher for KIPP DuBois Collegiate Academy. Her goal and big project is to see her Chavez Advisory Students make it “To and Through College”. The mission is to prepare students with the academic skills, intellectual habits, and character traits that are necessary for success in high school, college, and the competitive world beyond. In pursuing this mission, she aims to serve her community as a whole by educating students who will make a difference in our community and the world.
Elvira Diaz was born in México City, immigrated to the United States in 1986 and became a US citizen in 1992. She has been working for the pharmaceutical industry and involved in the Catholic Church for several years. She has a Spanish TV show “El Pan de Cada Dia” and has been a radio personality in two local radio stations in Reno, Nevada. She also writes a Spanish column in a local newspaper, Ahora Latino Journal. She has been working at PLAN (Progressive League Alliance of Nevada) since 2010 organizing health care events, advocating on behalf of immigration and LGTB communities, and works to help Latinos register to vote.