Meet Our 2016 Honorees

Sandra Hernández (1952-2007)Sandra Hernández (1952-2007)

Born and raised in the South Bronx, Sandra Hernández was once a homeless mother suffering from substance abuse problems. Her strong willpower eventually helped her escape from that troubled life and to move from self-help to helping others.

Sandra Hernández was the founder and director of the Freedom Community Center (Freedom), which was created to improve the quality of life for residents in a four-block area of Mott Haven. Freedom was staffed by Sandra and volunteers who lived in the neighborhood and dedicated their efforts to community service programs that increased availability of quality housing, enhanced delivery of social services, and built community capacity. Freedom offered support to families as they relocated from homeless shelters, temporary housing, or substandard housing by providing case management, information, leadership training and referrals. Freedom worked with the elderly, substance abusers, and the physically disabled to provide referrals for mental and health care, job training, and placement assistance.

Sandra Hernández was also instrumental in helping to launch Brook Park in the South Bronx. As a respected elder in the community, she supported local efforts from the beginning and involved the youth from Freedom Community Center in joint activities and events in the park over the years.

A walk down 139th Street reflects concrete evidence of Sandra’s organizing work. At a I0-story building on the block, Sandra helped organize a tenants’ association that convinced the Department of Housing and Urban Development to make improvements. Several neatly fenced empty lots on the street are products of a march on the City Sanitation Department. Freedom continued addressing issues raised by residents at open meetings in order to make institutions accountable to the community and people that they are funded to serve.

Ms. Hernandez received the following awards: Albert Einstein College of Medicine Hispanic Women’s Group Award (1992), Acorn Leadership Award (1999), Union Square Award (1999), C & Kris Corp Recognition Award (2001), Military Academic Programs Inc. Humanitarian Award (2001), and the McAuley Institutes’s Courage in Community Award (2002). Members of Brook Park and other Mott Haven residents were instrumental in renaming of East 140th Street (between Brook Avenue and Willis Avenue) “Sandra Hernandez Place” in 2008.

In the words of our sister Esperanza Martell

“Sandra was a powerful sister who dedicated her life to her family and community. She is the first of our Circle Sisters to pass, becoming our loving ancestor. She will be missed by all those who worked with her and were touched by her love. When Sandra came to the first Circles and experienced its power of transformation, she made sure she brought us to her block. She is the reason Casa Atabex Ache found a physical home. She is the reason the young women’s program was created. She served on the Casa board, learned every thing she could and with our support, and created the Freedom Community Center to supplement our work. Many of our young women begun with Sandra and at the age of 12 came to Casa. We worked with parents jointly. She wanted to make sure our youth did not succumb to the street culture as she had. Her work to free her spirit from all the ills of capitalism was powerful. Sandra we learned so much from you. She was against the war being waged in her community and across the world. She went with us to Cuba, supported us taking community youth to Vieques, Puerto Rico, and was with us at peace demonstrations and many women rights conferences all over the country. She was generous, courageous, sister warrior, and friend.

Beloved Sandra we will never forget you. To your family we send our love. We will continue to stand with the women and children of Mott Haven of the world. We Love You and Thank You for Being You. Con Mucho Amor.”

Esperanza MartellEsperanza Martell

Esperanza Martell was born in Puerto Rico, a colony of the United States, in 1946. Her family was part of the forced economic migration of Puerto Ricans in the early 1950’s to the U.S.

She has confronted and dealt with all the ills of being a poor,  working class Afro-Taina in a racist, classist, and patriarchal society. Her life’s struggles are what makes her a human rights activist, educator, community organizer, trainer, life-skills transformative counselor, mother, and poet/artist.

Esperanza teaches Community Organizing and is an Advisor at Hunter College’s Silberman School of Social Work. Esperanza specializes in organizational development, team building, leadership skills, conflict resolution, diversity training, and alternative healing. Esperanza works closely with political activists and organizations to promote anti-oppression work, sustainability, the transformation of capitalism, and healing in community.

One of her many passions is training poor, working-class women of color, youth, and their allies to transform their lives and take on capitalism. Her trainings focus on critical thinking, basic organizing skills, conflict resolution, civil disobedience, direct action, legislative work, police violence, coalition building, life-skills, and self-care for the long haul. Her work has spanned all areas of organizing in community-based organizations, schools, city agencies, and radical groups.

Esperanza is the founder of the Urban Atabex self-healing training, consultant, and coaching practice. She facilitates healing-circle trainings and support groups using her own culturally based techniques for emotional self-healing, empowerment, and organizing. She is an active supporter and stands for the freedom of Mumia Abu-Jamal, Leonard Peltier, Oscar López Rivera, and all political prisoners. She also organizes with IFCO /Pastors for Peace. Since the 1970’s, she has been organizing civil disobedience trips to Cuba to end the U.S. economic blockade and travel ban. She loves the Cuban urban farms and the will of the Cuban people to stay free and believe a different world is possible.

For many years, Esperanza has worked on many social justice issues dealing with political prisoners, education, and health from a class, race, and gender lens. She was one of the co-founders of Casa Atabex Ache, a women-of-color, self-healing center in the South Bronx. She has been on the boards of many social justice organizations, including: the Brecht Forum, ProLibertad, The North Star Fund to name a few. She coordinated the Brecht Forum Institute for Popular Education’s “Paulo Freire: Education for Liberation” workshops for over 15 years. She is still providing this training for the community. She has also worked with various women’s organizations in Puerto Rico to end male violence, U.S. militarism, and colonialism. She believes in the restorative power of community as we save ourselves and the Planet.

Esperanza’s Ceramic Sculpture de Terra y Mar, has allowed her to create sacred space for manifestation and self-renewal. It allows her to find a new way to express her ideas about life, her African/Taino heritage, women’s culture, freedom, peace, and spirituality. Her Puerto Rican African/Taino ancestors used art magically in everyday life to give meaning to their existence and in healing. She does the same by opening to spirit and creating ceramic sculpture from her essences.  She hand-creates, using traditional images, methods and found objects. The ocean, stars, Mother Earth and all her children and inspire her. Her work is raw, rustic, and transformative, evoking primeval and dormant longings so as to remind us of our connection to ourselves, each other, the earth, and universe.

Esperanza holds a B.A. from City University of New York and an M.S.W. from Hunter College’s Silberman School of Social Work. She has published essays and poetry, including “In the Belly of the Beast – Beyond Survival,” The Puerto Rican Movement: Voices from the Diaspora, Temple University Press (1998). As a Revson Fellow at Columbia University (2003-2004), she studied Peace and Human Rights education from a gender perspective. Esperanza has been honored with many awards recognizing her work in New York and Puerto Rico. In 2002 the Puerto Rican Working Women’s Organization of Puerto Rico gave her the Peace & Social Justice Award. She lives in Washington Heights with her son Amilcar Loi Alfaro-Martell.

In her own words:

“My vision of love for all people generates my desire to restructure this society. We need to go beyond the cause at hand and strive to sustain our work for the long haul, creating new leaders, strengthening existing ones and building a broad citywide and worldwide community that will mobilize million’s for peace, the sustainability of the plant and economic justice.”

Amanda R. MatosAmanda R. Matos

Amanda R. Matos is a third generation Puerto Rican/Nuyorican from the Bronx, New York. She has devoted her work to alleviating barriers to reproductive health care and education in communities of color through capacity building, political education, and lobbying at the local, state, and federal level. She is the Founder and Executive Director of The WomanHOOD Project (Helping Ourselves Overcome Discrimination), which is an innovative after school mentorship program for young women of color in the Bronx. Amanda also works in the reproductive rights field, organizing communities to advocate for legislation that protects people’s access to healthcare.

Amanda was recently appointed Co-Chair of the Young Women’s Advisory Council for the Young Women’s Initiative, launched by New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito as a multi-sector approach to addressing the barriers young women and girls of color face locally.

Her dedication to racial and gender justice has been recognized by the national Peace First Prize, Young People For- a program of People for the American Way, and Columbia University.

Amanda is a graduate of Columbia University, where she studied Ethnic Studies and Human Rights, focusing on the intersections between sexism and racism in the United States. As an undergraduate, Amanda was Vice Coordinator of the CU Scholar Chapter of the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, where she helped her team lead a successful year filled with pre-professional events, educational events, and an all star mentoring and tutoring program for high school students. National HSF awarded the CU Scholar Chapter the 2013 Chapter of the Year Award under her leadership. Amanda was also house coordinator of Casa Latina, a Latino social justice house that served as a safe space for Latino students, and she was a leader in Columbia Urban Experience (CUE), a pre-orientation program that acclimates new students to campus and NYC through the lenses of community service and social justice.


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