By Jennifer L. Warren
NEWBURGH – Eddie Ramirez often offers his friends a special kind of “economic” advice.
“I always tell my friends, don’t invest in the Stock Market,” related Ramirez. “Invest in the Latino community.”
Ramirez, the CEO of R & M Promotions as well as the Director of the Latino High School Scholarship Fund, has been diligently following his own people tip for much of his life- particularly with area youth-for over 20 years with the creation of the Hudson Valley Latino High School Scholarship Awards program. Together, with his wife Norma, the two have relentlessly sought out gracious sponsors so that these higher education monies, along with other forms of recognition, can be secured for well-deserving, often overlooked youth. Their efforts have now resulted in yet another milestone: 140 recipients have received these scholarships. A record-setting 11, who were honored at Newburgh’s Ramada Inn Thursday night, made that number official. And the selection was not an easy process: another record-setting number, 65 candidates applied. Each carried with him/her an impressive resume of academic, athletic, and community accolades as well as creative, well-written essays and stellar teacher references. That pool of candidates, along with the special ethnic flair of the scholarship, were just a couple of the reasons Newburgh Free Academy senior, Taino Caballero, was thrilled to have been chosen.
“When I found out I was one of the winners, I was super excited; it was the first scholarship I actually got out of several I applied for,” recalled Caballero, who is headed to the University of Albany in the fall to pursue a major in Digital Forensics. “This one is special to me because it’s for my ethnicity of Puerto Rican and Dominican; I’m going into the STEM field, which is related to the sciences (and technology), a place where the Latin female presence is not really visible, so I want to inspire more Latin women to join that field.”
The evening’s guest speaker, Jacqueline Hernandez, Town of Woodbury Councilwoman and Deputy Supervisor of Woodbury, knows all about taking uncharted paths and inspiring just the way Caballero aspires to some day. Attending a predominantly white, upper class student body at Colgate University, Hernandez spoke about the discriminatory challenges that gave her a “tough skin,” helping mold her into the persistent, hard-working, “never-take-no-for-an-answer,” woman she is today. Relating her initial career path in the sciences, she spoke of the “meant to be” twists and turns that steered her toward being a businesswoman as well as politician, two paths she had no formal training in, but possessed something much deeper.
“A lot of times you have your sites set on one path, but the journey changes; every part of my journey led me to a bigger picture,” Hernandez asserted. What I thought was a dead end, actually started a new season.” Urging soon-to-be graduates to take chances, be creative, and most of all: follow their passion, she added, “You need determination and a plan, and you then need to put wings to it, execute and make it come alive.” Hernandez said. “You can achieve and overcome, as long as you put your mind to it.”
At least one of this year’s recipients appears to already be living the life Hernandez alluded to. Kayla Deleon, has been hard at work this past year with the McLymore Foundation, an organization promoting non-violence in Newburgh. The Newburgh Free Academy senior has been assisting with the group’s mission of getting kids off the streets while using art as a form of expression rather than violence. “Being Latina really shapes your mind and how people see you,” said Deleon, who will attend SUNY Cortland with a major in elementary education in the fall. “So, I want to break the mold, and not be another statistic; rather I intend to come back to Newburgh, the place and community that raised me and made me who I am, and teach here some day.”