After 50-plus years Bernie Valdez is still a prominent name in the Latino Community. Valdez became a prominent community leader in a time when Latinos were seeking civil rights. Valdez accomplished goals that still continue to empower the Latino community. Valdez’ life work opened up many doors for many Latinos that followed. His wife, Dora Valdez, worked along his side and inspired him.
True to his work, Valdez received awards that include: the Martin Luther King Human Relations Award, the naming of LARASA’s luncheon, the Bernie Valdez Awards Luncheon. Also, two significant Denver buildings were also named in his honor: the Bernie Valdez Heritage Center and the Valdez-Perry Branch Library in north Denver. He was a founder and the first chairman of LARASA’s Board of Directors, a co-founder of the Latin American Educational Foundatio
n (LAEF) and National Council of La Raza (NCLR).
In a book written by local community leader, Juana Bordas, she recalls, “In the turbulent 1960s, when Latinos were just beginning to forge their identity and to organize a community. Bernie inspired others to do the same. The decades it took to desegregate the Denver Public Schools are a testament to his endurance and persistence.”
Valdez was a constant voice to those who did not have one. He sought solutions for what he believed the Latino community deserved. He became a beloved figure in the fight for equality and justice. Bordas’ words are a small representation of all of the hard work and results that Valdez achieved.
One of his greatest indirect accomplishments was the formation of LARASA Leadership, Advocacy and Research Organization (now CLLARO), a rebirth of LARASA.
LARASA was formed in 1964 when there was a movement to address the needs of Latinos in education, youth, job development, training and employment, health and welfare, housing and community resources. It took 27 of the city’s most influential community members to come together and create LARASA. The organization became the country’s first Latino based 501(c)3 agency and the organizaton was created in the hopes that people from all ethnic and racial groups could work together to improve conditions for Latinos.
In 2007 LARASA become CLLARO and today the organization is led by Executive Director, Christine Alonzo, who is engaged in the community in the areas of education, policy making and civic engagement initiatives, the elderly, job development, voting initiatives, Latino market research and more. Alonzo offers, “Bernie Valdez exemplifies what a true leader in the community is, Bernie fought against discrimination towards Latinos in education economic justice, and for civil rights. Not only was he a leader who received support from his community in holding government accountable, he did it with integrity and principle. A true leader that we can all learn from.”
On Friday, September 23, CLLARO hosts the 52nd Bernie Valdez Awards Luncheon at Mile High Station. Consequently, Valdez is still a major icon in the Latino community and his work is celebrated annually. Many people still consider him their voice when they are facing today’s problems. Valdez’ valiant work and accurate vision continue to inspire those seeking fairness, equality, justice and a better life.