Rev. Carmen Hernandez is a Latina community leader, activist, and advocate, working for people for over 35 years in the Soundview section of the Bronx, NY. Inspired by mentors from a young age, she has always felt a calling to help people. Throughout her years as an activist she has created many organizations and services to help her community.
One such organization is Stratford Community Services, which aims to help and serve young people in the community. Carmen is also known for her famous annual Back2School Jam Block Party which she began coordinating in the ’90s.
In 2005, she started The NYC LGBTQS Chamber of Commerce Inc., a non-profit organization which purpose is to support LGBTQS minority businesses by assisting and facilitating economic development opportunities. Carmen has also created the “LGBTQS United As One Rally” in the Bronx as a way to unite gay and straight people from all cultures and gender backgrounds.
Additionally, she is also the founder and Tenant’s President of 1471-73 Watson Ave Resident Council Inc., one of the NYCHA developments in the Bronx helping to assist low income residents to obtain quality housing and equal housing opportunities.
A lifetime dedication to the community
All these amazing organizations show her dedication to her community. She says one of her strengths is “keeping it real and staying with one sermon.” She explains, “You see a lot of people…in business for the moment but then you see them after a while and they don’t last long in their business.” Carmen has remained determined and unwavering in her focus toward her goals as a leader and business woman. “I am still preaching my sermon to the business community,” she says.
This devotion to her community stems back to her early years, when she began working and participating in her community. At the age of ten, the late Hon. Robert “Bobby” Garcia hired her in her first job working in an office filing papers for $25.00. The Latina community leader notes “it was a lot of money in the 1970s.”
After this job, she also worked at the supermarket around the corner where she helped people take their groceries home. She did these jobs because she enjoyed helping others but she also had a passion for theater.
“El teatro Puerto Rico (the Puerto Rico theater) was my after school program. I wanted to go and see the famous Spanish soap stars and singers. My mom told me if I wanted to go to the theater I had to find work because we were poor and my mom couldn’t afford to give me money to buy my ticket,” Carmen explains.
It is this early passion that drove her to find ways to be helpful and involved in her community. Her faith has also been a moving force in her work. It has guided her through struggles and challenges and kept her focused on her mission to help others.
First God, then community
“It’s hard. Being a Latina and lesbian and disabled is not a piece a cake,” she says. “But when people see you year after year still standing, I can only image what is running in their minds. How does she do it? I tell them ask God because at times I ask myself the same question.
Through all her challenges, the Latina community leader has persevered by staying true to herself and not letting failures knock her down. Her personal motto is “There is hope in a mix-up world.” It’s this motto that reminds her of the positives when faced with challenges and helps her never give up on her goals.
Failures are not all bad either. “There has to be failure in order to be successful.” Mistakes will be made in life, but these mistakes serve to build a strong character that can face the hardships society will throw at you. Her Latina character has also made her strong.
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Being a Latina community leader
“Absolutely! Being a Latina gives me an edge every single day of my life,” says Carmen.
Her advice to others is to “just stay true to yourself.” She explains that business is tough and people may try to tear you down or take advantage. It’s hard to trust others in business when everyone seems to be looking out for only themselves.
She says, “Make sure you’re good in all levels, mentally in the mind and in your heart and you will be just fine. But most of all trust God in all that you do. And if you ever get to the level they call success, don’t be afraid to help another sister along the way. Remember someone helped you as well. Pay it forward.”
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