News Release

Latino Trailblazers Honored at 2016 NCLR Awards Gala

July 25, 2016

Gabriela Gomez
(202) 776-1732

ORLANDO, Fla.—NCLR (National Council of La Raza) presented six awards this evening to Latino leaders and organizations that have demonstrated outstanding leadership in the fields of advocacy, philanthropy, communications, and sports. NCLR President and CEO Janet Murguía congratulated the winners during the Awards Gala, a ceremony celebrating the exemplary contributions of Latino trailblazers as well as the life and legacy of distinguished Latino leaders for whom each award is named. The event concluded the third day of the 2016 NCLR Annual Conference held July 23–26 in Orlando.

“NCLR is proud to honor this accomplished group of individuals and organizations for the measurable strides they have made to empower our community. The collective reach and impact of their work continues to transform the lives of many Latinos, and speaks volumes of our ability to drive meaningful change in our society,” said Murguía.

The 2016 honorees include NCLR Affiliate Hispanic Unity of Florida, Inc., a nonprofit organization based in Broward County, Fla.; Sylvia Mendez, prominent civil rights activist and recipient of the 2010 Presidential Medal of Freedom; Dr. Richard Izquierdo, renowned physician and founder of Urban Health Plan, Inc.; María Celeste Arrarás, Emmy award–winning journalist and host of Telemundo’s “Al Rojo Vivo”; Orlando Cruz, professional boxer and LGBT activist; and Wells Fargo, a frequent NCLR partner.

Hispanic Unity of Florida, Inc., a nonprofit organization based in Broward County, Fla., received the NCLR Affiliate of the Year Award for its tireless efforts to empower area immigrants to become self-sufficient, productive, and engaged in their communities. Since its founding in 1982, Hispanic Unity of Florida has been an indispensable resource for the Latino community, offering a host of programs and skill-building opportunities, such as housing counseling services, parent engagement programs, and professional training sessions. HUF has also been integral in NCLR's 2016 voter registration campaign, boosting electoral participation in central Florida.

The Affiliate of the Year Award is the most distinguished honor bestowed upon an NCLR Affiliate for its exemplary efforts in collaborating with NCLR to achieve positive, meaningful, long-term change for Latino communities.

Sylvia Mendez, a prominent civil rights activist and recipient of the 2010 Presidential Medal of Freedom, received the Graciela Olivarez La Raza Award for her unwavering commitment to promoting educational opportunities for all. An activist from a very young age, Mendez first made headlines when she was denied entry to an all-White school in Orange County because of the color of her skin. Determined to put an end to discriminatory practices in California’s education system, Sylvia and her parents, Felicita and Gonzalo Mendez, took action and filed a class-action lawsuit against the local school district. The landmark case known today as Mendez v. Westminster successfully dismantled racial segregation in California’s schools, and laid the groundwork for other decisions, including Brown v. Board of Education. Today, Sylvia, a registered nurse of 33 years, continues to champion educational rights by lecturing about the impact of the case and her parents’ courageous fight to ensure educational equity for all Americans.

The Graciela Olivarez La Raza Award recognizes an individual or organization that has made significant contributions to promoting the interests of Hispanic Americans.

Dr. Richard Izquierdo, renowned physician and 2007 recipient of the Surgeon General’s
Medallion, was honored with the Maclovio Barraza Award for Leadership for his lifelong efforts to ensure access to quality, affordable health care for Latinos in the South Bronx community. A graduate of the University of Lausanne Medical School in Switzerland, Dr. Izquierdo opened his first practice in 1962 to address the growing medical needs of his community; his dedication and popularity led many to dub him “The Urban Country Doctor.” Just a few years later, Izquierdo established the San Juan Health Center, known today as Urban Health Plan, Inc., one of the largest health centers in the state of New York. Through its reach and comprehensive array of services, Urban Health Plan has helped fulfill Dr. Izquierdo’s vision of ensuring Latinos lead full and healthy lives.

The Maclovio Barraza Award recognizes those who have worked for the betterment of the Hispanic community at the grassroots level and whose leadership has served as a source of strength and support to the Hispanic community.

María Celeste Arrarás, Emmy award–winning journalist and best-selling author, received the Ruben Salazar Award for Communications. An acclaimed Telemundo journalist and television anchor, Arrarás is a respected figure in Hispanic media, known for her straightforward journalistic style and in-depth coverage of issues most pertinent to the Latino community. Serving as co-anchor of Telemundo’s “Noticiero Telemundo,” and host of the nationally acclaimed talk show, “Al Rojo Vivo,” Arrarás has cultivated a strong and leading media presence in the second-largest Spanish-language network in the United States. Her exemplary and trailblazing work has earned numerous accolades including an Emmy and a Silver Chair Award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences; Arrarás was also featured on the cover of Newsweek’s “20 Most Powerful Women of the Next Generation.”

The Ruben Salazar Award for Communications is given to an individual who has dedicated his or her professional life to portraying issues, concerns, or news relevant to contemporary Hispanic America and promoting the positive contributions that Latinos have made to U.S. society.

Orlando Cruz, boxer and LGBT activist, received the Roberto Clemente Award for Sports Excellence for his bold and courageous achievements in and out of the ring. Cruz began boxing at age seven, and quickly became a breakout star with an amateur record of 178–11, eventually becoming one of Puerto Rico’s most dynamic and inspirational athletes and representing Puerto Rico in the 2000 Sydney Olympics. In 2012, Cruz came out, making him the first openly gay man in boxing history. As a charismatic fighter, he set the example for other athletes, and was honored in the first class of inductees into the National Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame in 2013. Today, Cruz continues to shine as one of boxing’s top fighters. He has racked up an impressive 23 wins—11 by knockout—reigns as the Super Featherweight Champion for the North American Boxing Organization, and currently ranks number five in the featherweight class by the World Boxing Organization.

The Roberto Clemente Award for Sports Excellence is presented to an individual renowned in the world of sports and committed to the advancement of Hispanic Americans.

This year’s Raul Yzaguirre President’s Award, presented each year to an individual or organization that has shown outstanding support for NCLR’s mission, was awarded to Wells Fargo, a frequent NCLR partner. Wells Fargo has stood by NCLR as it established and grew the NCLR Homeownership Network, making the American Dream of homeownership a reality for thousands of first-time homebuyers. Wells Fargo also worked with NCLR to launch Líderes Avanzando—a program designed to ensure first-generation Latino college students obtain a degree—and partnered with NCLR on a bilingual bank teller program for millennials who want a career in the financial services industry. NCLR is proud that Wells Fargo is a partner who shares our vision that the future of America is undeniably tied to the success of the Latino community.

The NCLR Awards Gala is co-sponsored by AARP, Ford Motor Company Fund, PepsiCo and UPS.

NCLR—the largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States—works to improve opportunities for Latinos. For more information on NCLR, please visit, or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.