Community Leaders Recognized at Newark Public Library’s María DeCastro Blake Dinner
Members, friends and supporters of New Jersey’s Latino communities came together Friday night to salute four outstanding individuals whose service in improving the lives of the state’s Hispanics was recognized by the Newark Public Library’s New Jersey Hispanic Research and Information Center (NJHRIC) during its annual María DeCastro Blake Awards Dinner at the Robert Treat Hotel in Newark.
Mayor Cory Booker was on hand to present the first City of Newark Medal of Honor to Dr. Hilda Hidalgo, former assistant commissioner in the New Jersey Department of Education and retired university professor and administrator. Booker praised the Puerto Rican born Hidalgo as a trailblazer and formidable advocate for the Latino community.
Dr. Olga Jiménez Wagenheim, founding chair of the NJHRIC Support Network, presented Hidalgo with the Lifetime Achievement Award, a mosaic plaque made by Christine Moss-Higuita, a New Jersey artist. The retired professor is the first person named by the NJHRIC to receive this honor. She is credited as co-founder of three of the state’s most important Hispanic community organizations: Aspira of New Jersey; La Casa de Don Pedro in Newark; and the Puerto Rican Congress of New Jersey.
"The institutions she helped create have touched and shaped the lives of thousands of people in New Jersey, helping give direction and guidance to the state’s Latino youth and its Puerto Rican population," said Jiménez Wagenheim, who also is a Professor Emerita in history from Rutgers University-Newark.
Hidalgo earned a PhD in public administration from Rutgers University, and taught for more than two decades at its School of Social Work and in the Department of Public Administration, where she created a master’s program for Hispanic professionals in public administration.
The evening also paid tribute to three other major figures in the Latino community, including the late actor and community activist Raúl Dávila, immigrant rights advocate María "Charo" Juega, and community leader and Hudson County Freeholder Eliú Rivera.
"This evening we celebrate these dedicated and talented people who have given so selflessly to the Latino community and to the state of New Jersey and recognize the role of these individuals in ensuring that Hispanics have a major role in shaping the future of our state and nation," said Library Director Wilma J. Grey.
Ingrid Betancourt, director of the NJHRIC, presented a community service award to Dávila’s widow, Isabel Pérez Dávila and daughter, Helen Melissa Dávila, and announced that the corner of Mt. Prospect Avenue and Heller Parkway in Newark’s North Ward will be named Raúl Dávila Plaza in his honor during a June ceremony, sponsored by the City of Newark. The resolution making this designation was sponsored by Councilman-at-Large Luis Quintana and approved by the governing body.
Dávila, a native of Puerto Rico, was a successful actor and producer in the Latino television and theater markets, and was a founding member of Channel 47, New Jersey’s Spanish-language television station. He also co-founded and presided over the Hispanic Organization of Latin Actors (HOLA), an organization that celebrates Latino achievement and helps promote and reward their efforts, and enjoyed success on mainstream television shows, movies and commercials, acting on All My Children, and the movie The Believers, among others.
A second María DeCastro Blake Award was presented by attorney and vice chair of the NJHRIC Support Network, Grissele Camacho to María "Charo" Juega. A native of Bilbao, Spain and the daughter of a former Spanish diplomat, Juega came to the United States attracted by its freedom and egalitarianism, enrolled at a U.S. college and graduated with a degree in economics. She became vice president of a major financial corporation, but also took time to volunteer in various business and community organizations where she found her passion in championing immigrant rights. She contrasted her immigrant experience with that of the more recent arrivals from Mexico and South and Central America and launched the Princeton-based Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund.
A member of the Hudson County Board of Chosen Freeholders and executive director of P.A.C.O. (Puertorriqueños Asociados for Community Organization) since 1976, Rivera received his award from Jose Acevedo, chair of the NJHRIC Organizing Committee and Senior Community Officer with the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration (Office of the Governor of Puerto Rico.) Acevedo praised the lawmaker for his lifelong work as a human rights advocate and for his extensive experience in housing, economic development, health, education and community development. A native of Puerto Rico, Rivera is slated to receive an honorary doctor in humane letters from New Jersey City University during commencement ceremonies at the Continental Airlines Arena on Wednesday, May 16.
This is the fifth year that The Newark Public Library’s New Jersey Hispanic Research and Information Center has held the María DeCastro Blake awards dinner honoring individuals whose outstanding volunteer efforts parallel those of the late Rutgers educator. Born in Vieques, Puerto Rico in 1911, Blake came to New York City in the early 1930s. A high school graduate with limited English, she was hired for a low-level job in the garment industry. By sheer will and perseverance, she worked her way up to become Assistant Dean of Admissions at Rutgers University-Newark where she was instrumental in recruiting hundreds of Hispanic students to attend Rutgers.
Throughout her long career and retirement until her death in 2001, Blake was an active volunteer. She taught English to newly arriving Puerto Rican families. She donated and raised money to send underprivileged children to summer camp, and served as a guide at the New York Public Library and the Museum of Natural History. In 1998, the 208th New Jersey Legislature recognized her as "Woman of the Year" and placed her name along with that of Clara Barton, Millicent Fenwick, and other notable New Jersey women.
The awards dinner was sponsored by Prudential Financial; The Foundation for the Center for Hispanic Policy, Research & Development; PSE&G; Berkeley College; Anheuser-Busch, and Provident Bank.
Click here to see photos from the event.
©2007 The Newark Public Library