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Guest Voz: Georgia’s Latinas creating legacy of empowerment

By Gigi Pedraza

The first years of Raquel Lavender spent in Georgia, were marked by limitations and sacrifices.  Raquel was not able to afford her daughter, now a college student, enrichment programs even though she had a deep love for gymnastics.
Last week, Raquel, now a successful entrepreneur, took the first step to make a long awaited dream come true; she started a family fund to provide other children, like her daughter, the opportunity to explore, learn and enjoy sports and arts enrichment programs knowing that those activities could shape children’s future and opportunities, just like they did for her son that now plays baseball professionally in Japan.
Raquel’s family has come full circle; and their story, one of hard work, resiliency, and community investment is wonderful and inspirational but is not unique.
Latinas in Georgia, have led and continue to lead the growth, development and engagement of the community across diverse industries, spheres of influence and geographic locations.
The philanthropic investments of Elena Díaz-Verson Amos and Olga Goizueta as well as other Latina latina leaders shaped the way many organizations developed and grew.  The leadership of Maritza Soto-Keen in the Latin American Association and later Sara Gonzalez (RIP) with the Georgia Chamber of Commerce provided a reference point to outsiders on what Latino Americans in Georgia could accomplish when organized.
Belisa Urbina now, runs one of the fastest growing nonprofit organizations in the state staffed almost entirely by volunteers, raising awareness of the need of cultural appropriate services and programs focused on families and youth.
Aida Perez-Flamm, led the creation of the largest fundraiser for the community to date “The Latin Fever Ball” and bridged the gap between the social season in Atlanta and the Latino community.
Adelina Nicholls, Catherine Montoya (RIP) and America Gruner have been at the forefront of the fight and recognition of civic rights for Latinos in the state through the nonprofit organizations they lead, creating movement and action that rippled through other southern states.
Julia Perilla, Ph.D and Natalie Hernandez, Ph.D., MPH have lead research at GSU and Morehouse College advancing the knowledge of what works with our communities, recognizing their uniqueness, challenges and potential.
Estrella Sanchez and Brenda Muñoz are fearless advocates for the Georgia Trans-Latina Coalition and the Center for Leadership Disability at Georgia State University respectively, reminding us that diversity and inclusion means so much more than race and ethnicity.
“Latina voters in Georgia outperformed Hispanic males in our state with 73% participation rate.
For all women of all races nationally, the voter participation rate was 63%.  Latinas in Georgia out-performed in the category of all women too!” noted Jerry Gonzalez, Founder and Executive Director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials (GALEO) quoting a report his organization issued analyzing voter participation in the last Presidential election.
In 2016, Brenda Lopez became the first Latina ever elected to Georgia’s legislature. Brenda represents District 99, a majority-minority district in Gwinnett County.  Brenda and her Chief of Staff, Clara Puerta, happen to also be successful entrepreneurs and very much representative of a large percentage of Latinas in Georgia that lead nationally in opening and growing businesses.
Susana Chávez (Parking Company of America), Veronica Moreno (Ole Foods), Guiomar Obregón (Precision 2000) are among many representatives of the economic power and influence of business leaders using building community through specific business decisions and nonprofit involvement.
In business, philanthropy, academia, and politics, Latinas in Georgia are co-creating, innovating and writing history, one that is particularly proud of our strength, contributions and important role in moving the state to a future that is more inclusive, more diverse, more colorful and definitely bicultural and bilingual.
Featured Photo: Georgia Latina Legacy leaders: Aida Perez-Flamm, Gigi Pedraza, Brenda Lopez and Maria Vinces Peck.
Gilda (Gigi) Pedraza is the founder and executive director of the Latino Community Fund (LCF) a nonprofit dedicated to increase investment, collaborative work and positive narrative focused on the Latinx/Hispanic community in Georgia.

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