SABINA WALTERS — Special to the Southern News
When Francisco Ortiz looked across the room filled with students who came to listen to his presentation, he saw a room full of people who can make a difference.
“Challenge yourself, challenge each other, and challenge this institution in order to make an impact,” Ortiz said. “Do work you can measure, like volunteering for your local community, and have fun along the way.”
Ortiz said he was honored when Southern asked him to give a talk at the “Empowering Lives” event, which took place last week in the Adanti Student Center Ballroom.
The event, presented by the Multicultural Center and Organization of Latin American Students, was part of the SCSU Hispanic heritage celebration month.
Ortiz, born and raised in New Haven, has a firsthand knowledge about struggles and triumphs of minorities in the community.
Avid civil rights advocate and a first Latino Police Chief in the Greater New Haven area, he received numerous public service awards. Ortiz, who is the current director of security operations at Yale University, spends many hours volunteering for community groups that help underprivileged youths and talking to college students about the importance of community involvement.
Despite the recent spike in gun violence in New Haven area, Ortiz said he believes that young people, who are passionately engaged in their local communities and make their voices heard through service, can help police officers reduce crime and violence.
“Police department is in good position, but they can’t do it alone. Violence is a community problem,” he said. “We need to make sure we do everything possible to partner with the community to prevent crime, because you can’t arrest your way out of it.”
Besides the guest speaker, “Empowering Lives” offered a vibrant and colorful entertainment program. Kaiesha Johnson, senior sociology major, performed a “Dreaming of You” dance tribute dedicated to the late Mexican American singer Selena.
English major sophomore, Andrew Carrion, read his humorous “Rice and Beans” poem, followed by a dance number by the Symphonic Pulse Dance Company, and another poem read from Katherine Gonzalez, sophomore Education and Spanish literature major.
Angelica Heron, a sophomore social work major, along with Felix Reyes, concluded the program by a lively dance performance — a mix of hip hop and Latino dance moves. Heron, who is half Puerto Rican and half Jamaican, said she was happy to see so many students joining together to celebrate Hispanic heritage and that she was inspired by the Ortiz’s message.
“I believe in the importance of education and working extra hard, so people can’t tell me I can’t do something because I don’t have a degree,” said Heron. “Seeing so many more minorities coming to college and graduating gives me so much hope and faith that we can strive and our future is beautiful.”
Heron’s dance partner, Felix Reyes, who emigrated from the Dominican Republic in 1991, said he chose dance as his contribution to Hispanic heritage celebration, because sometimes he feels that words are not enough.
“Expressing ourselves through dance is a form of communication, where we allow ourselves to be free and get our message out there. It’s unexplainable,” said Reyes, a junior theater major.
Food has always been a big part of Hispanic culture without a doubt, and students got a chance to taste authentic Latino dishes like rice and beans, pulled pork and fried plantains. Many
non-Latino students, like Maura Dolan, a senior communication major, came to see the event and gain a new perspective.
“I think Southern should do it with more heritages, like Italian and Irish,” said Dolan. “Why not? It would be nice to see that celebrated and recognized.”