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Published: Friday, 10/10/2003

Latino forum highlights education, opportunities

Conversations of education and opportunities popped up constantly during a two-hour Hispanic Heritage Month issues forum held yesterday at Owens Community College in Perrysburg Township.

The forum, “Hispanic Heritage Moving Forward,” highlighted community concerns from several local activists, but often came back to education and opportunities.

Some of the more stinging comments came from Robert Torres, Toledo's new director of the Office of Latino Initiatives, challenging Hispanics to hold organizations and businesses accountable for not including them and themselves to take leadership positions.

“When we have an agency created to benefit us and we can't find Latinos to run those agencies, then its shame - shame on us,” Mr. Torres said to an audience of about 100, not pointing to a specific agency.

He is, though, a former board member of Adelante, Inc., which has been without a permanent executive director since Louis Escobar resigned nearly a year ago.

Adelante is a drug and alcohol rehabilitation agency in South Toledo that offers Latinos a variety of services since it was established in 1992.

Margarita DeLeon, publisher of BRAVO magazine, said a recent commitment by the University of Toledo, Bowling Green State University, and Owens Community College to support the Diamante Awards program has been a turning point in local higher education's relationship with Hispanics.

Ms. DeLeon said before, the schools collectively have not designated any fund specifically to Hispanic scholarships. She said the institutions' $75,000 investment into the scholarship fund-raiser will be used to leverage additional scholarship support from the private sector.

“This was something that didn't happen overnight,” Ms. DeLeon said. “This is something that was 14 years in the making. Dealing with competing institutions which are competing for the same students is not easy.”

Jose Luna, coordinator of bilingual and related programs with Toledo Public Schools, said Hispanic parents must play a larger role in their children's education.

Mr. Luna said curriculum needs to be updated and schools should do more to reach out, but the parents' role lays a foundation to help their children overcome inherent barriers.

“We need to work with parents,” Mr. Luna said. “We can do all of these other things, but if we don't have parents at the table we're still going to sputter and falter. Parents have to be part of the solution.”

Dan Contreras, a retired Lucas County Sheriff's Office captain and a sheriff's candidate, addressed racial profiling as a consistent problem locally and nationally, but said law enforcement officers should not be painted with the same brush.

Mr. Contreras said even with the Sept. 11, 2001, tragedy, there is no reason for Americans to give up many of their liberties for protection. He added that racial profiling does not equal better law enforcement.

Maria Rodriguez Winters of the Viva South Toledo Community Development Corp.; Dr. Dee Morales of the University of Toledo, and Linda Stacy of Owens Community College, also participated in the panel. Jason Martinez of WTVG-TV, Channel 13 moderated.



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