Sara J. González was a force to be reckoned with.
During my first week working at a local nonprofit, people often mentioned her as reminder and inspiration of what we could do if we strived for excellence and if we worked hard. Never mind that it had been years since she had actually worked there. Sara loomed large over the work we did every day.
That was 15 years ago.
Today, Sara is still very much part of the fabric of the vibrant Latinx community in Georgia, one million strong.
Sara, originally from Cuba, came as a refugee with her two children by her side and a little more. She opened a restaurant (“Sarita”) in Bolton Rd., she worked as a receptionist and secretary, she led the Hispanic outreach for the 1996 Olympic Games, and eventually became the CEO and President of the Georgia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (GHCC).
Under her leadership, and before her passing in 2008, the GHCC grew in membership and corporate support. I remember clearly the GHCC gala at the time was the largest Hispanic event with over 1,000 attendees, and it was always in downtown Atlanta; because we deserved to be seen.
Sara also created the Hispanic Caucus at the Georgia State Capitol, Hispanic Day at the Capitol, and Political Candidates Forums, helping to bring Hispanic politicians and issues to wider audiences in Georgia, other business chambers under the GHCC umbrella, and incorporated HACED (the Hispanic American Center for Economic Development).
While HACED is no longer actively operating, during Sara’s tenure, and with the leadership of Luis Izaguirre, HACED certainly strengthened the position and significance of the Georgia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce as it served thousands of small businesses and entrepreneurs with in-house incorporation services, workshops, and seminars.
In 2007, Ms. González was a recipient of the prestigious Purpose Prize, which awards grants through the John Templeton Foundation and the Atlantic Philanthropies to civic leaders and entrepreneurs over the age of 60 who combine their passion and experience for social good.
To honor her lifelong contributions to the Hispanic community, and the community at large, her family, led by daughter Isabel González Whitaker have been leading volunteer groups to clean up and improve a small part just a few blocks away from where Sara lived for 30 years.
Thanks to the generosity of friends, family, Park Pride and local business leaders, Mrs. González Whitaker has this coming August marked in her calendar, as the date when the Sara J. González Memorial Park, the first park named for a Latino in the State of Georgia, will be inaugurated with US$200,000 worth of enhancements including wheelchair access throughout, a playground for children of all abilities, a soccer field and a legacy plaza that will celebrate the broad diversity of Atlanta.
The Sara J. González Memorial Park honors inclusiveness and cultural diversity while providing accessible child and family oriented greenspace to the Atlanta Westside. It is located at the intersection of Coronet Way and Bolton Road.
(video courtesy of encore.org)
Photos of a small gathering that took place at Nuevo Laredo Cantina on March 26, hosted by Isabel González Whitaker, Liz Lapidus, and Alisa Toney. (photos courtesy of Isabel González Whitaker)