Dozens of young Puerto Rican scholars, many of them recipients of the 100 academic scholarships awarded by the Parade this year, were invited to attend a Centro Puerto Rican Cultural Ambassador Program Bootcamp, which took place at the Silberman School of Social Work in East Harlem this past Saturday, June 2nd.
“Centro is proud to once again partner with the National Puerto Rican Day Parade (NPRDP) to offer these young scholars with the tools to deepen their understanding and appreciation of their heritage as they become the future leaders of our community,” said Centro Director Dr. Edwin Melendez.
In addition to classroom workshops, the program included three guest speakers, beginning with a presentation by Dr. Virginia Sanchez-Korrol, Professor Emerita in the Department of Puerto Rican and Latino Studies at Brooklyn College and a 2018 NPRDP honoree. Dr. Sanchez-Korrol, a renowned historian, is also the author of 15 books, including the recent young adult novel, The Season of Rebels and Roses, published by Piñata Books of Arte Público Press.
“I’m fascinated by the heritage I never had as a kid,” she told Centro Voices before sharing an anecdote of a young Puerto Rican student who, for an assignment, chose to ‘adopt’ baseball superstar Darryl Strawberry as their hero since they did not have a Puerto Rican one. “No kid should have to adopt heroes because they don’t know their own history,” she concluded.
After group presentations, NPRDP board member Orlando Plaza led a conversation via video conference with Nuyorican hip-hop pioneer and founding member of the legendary Rock Steady Crew, Rich ‘Crazy Legs’ Colon, affectionately shortened to ‘Legs’ by Plaza. Colón began by sharing his story of growing up in the South Bronx in the 1970s to his early career as a b-boy. Colon, who is also among this year’s Parade honorees, then discussed his post-Maria humanitarian volunteer work in Puerto Rico.
National Public Radio (NPR) featured his unlikely story less than two weeks after the storm. Thanks to Rock Steady For Life, a non-profit founded by Colón after María, 196,000 people on the island have clean water. Colon was among the first responders, distributing and installing portable filtration systems to the western part of Puerto Rico. Colon also led a fundraising campaign for solar lights that has raised over $160,000 (a 10-minute documentary produced by Red Bull on Colon’s hurricane relief efforts was released this past April).
Dr. Teresita Levy; Associate Professor in the Department of Latin American, Latino, and Puerto Rico Studies at Lehman College; then prepared students for an afternoon of workshops on Puerto Rican History spanning the pre-Columbian period to post-Maria, while also asserting that it was a history of resilience and struggle.
Students were also introduced to the Centro Library & Archives by Library Manager Anibal Arocho, followed by a presentation of the Centro’s Oral History Project by Oral History Coordinator Andrew Viñales, before concluding remarks from several of the organizers of the event.
“These scholars fell in love with being Puerto Rican and are poised to become lifelong learners and contributors across all platforms to the Puerto Rican experience," said Melinda Gonzalez, Coordinator of the Centro’s Puerto Rican Heritage Cultural Ambassador Program. "Our duty is to pass the baton and make sure the sons and daughters of our community know the kind of mettle they come from. We laid the groundwork for them to share knowledge and connect it to the rich continuum of our community's journey. It wouldn't surprise me at all if they become the new wave of presenters at the Bootcamp in years to come."
The 61st National Puerto Rican Day Parade is scheduled to take place on Sunday, June 10th.