ACHIEVERS: Gainesville resident honored for civil rights advocacy


Published: Sunday, July 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, July 1, 2007 at 12:50 a.m.

Gainesville resident Hilda Hidalgo recently received a Lifetime Achievement Award for her role in defending the civil rights of minorities for more than four decades.

Hidalgo, the former assistant commissioner for the New Jersey Department of Education, was awarded the first-ever City of Newark Medal of Honor by the New Jersey Hispanic Research and Information Center (NJHRIC).

The award, presented by Newark Mayor Cory Booker, identified Hidalgo as a trailblazer and advocate for the Latino community in the Newark, N.J., area.

"She was not afraid to get in your face and call attention to the problems and the plight of the Puerto Rican community," said Ingrid Betancourt, project director for NJHRIC.

Hidalgo, born and raised in Puerto Rico, recalls the day she decided to work toward fighting racism.

"I asked for a Coca-Cola and the man pointed to a sign that said 'No n*****s. No Mexicans. No dogs,' " she recalled. "I had never been so angry and so moved."

Infuriated, Hidalgo said she asked once more, and in response, the clerk picked up a warm, dirty bottle of soda off the ground and placed it on the counter. "I smashed the bottle ... there was blood everywhere," Hidalgo recalled. "I still have the scar on my hand."

"I knew then that I had to do something to change that," she added. "And so I became involved in the Civil Rights movement for the next 40 years."

One of the first efforts Hidalgo undertook was to desegregate the Girl Scouts of America as the group's district director of the area.

Hidalgo later helped launch three of New Jersey's largest Hispanic community organizations: Aspira of New Jersey; La Casa de Don Pedro in Newark; and the Puerto Rican Congress of New Jersey.

She earned a Ph.D. in public administration from Rutgers University and taught for more than two decades at its School of Social Work and in the Department of Public Administration, where she created a master's program for Hispanic professionals in public administration.

And though she has sacrificed a lot - she once had a bomb planted in her car and was arrested during numerous protests - she says she wouldn't change a thing.

As she accepted her award in early May, Hidalgo looked into a crowd filled with more than 50 of her former students. "I was delighted and very moved to see how many of my students are doing such wonderful work today," she said. "It has paid off on so many levels."

Hidalgo relocated to Gainesville two years ago. Now retired, she volunteers with Friends of Wild Irish and Equality Florida.

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Damian Adams of Gainesville, recently received a Ph.D. in Food and Resource Economics from the University of Florida.

He earned a Bachelor of Science degree with highest honors in business administration from UF in 1997; a Juris Doctor from the UF Levin College of Law in 2001; and a Master of Philosophy from Queens' College Cambridge in 2004.

Adams recently had two papers about invasive species in Florida accepted for publication in the Journal of Agricultural & Applied Economics (JAAE).

He is the son of Eleanor Adams of Gainesville.

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Isaac Hardee, a 2007 graduate of Chiefland High School, has been awarded a $1,000 scholarship by White Ford Mercury and Ford Motor Company.

Hardee, who graduated with a 3.98 GPA, was co-salutatorian of his class and has received an academic scholarship to Berry College in Rome, Ga., where he plans to major in veterinary sciences. He has been an active member in Future Farmers of America (FFA).

He is the son of Chris and Fran Hardee of Chiefland.

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Ashley Harris, a 2007 Suwannee High School graduate, has been awarded academic and athletic scholarships to pursue an education at Lyon College in Arkansas.

She is the daughter of William and Kim Harris of Live Oak.

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Lester B. Jackson, a retired social studies teacher from the former Spring Hill Middle School in Alachua, has been nominated for inclusion in "Who's Who Among American Teachers and Educators."

Jackson, a graduate of Bethune Cookman College, taught for the School Board of Alachua County for 35 years. He retired June 2003.

He has been nominated six times for his role in affecting the lives of students.

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Marcus Ladd has been named to the Dean's List for outstanding academic achievement during the spring semester at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania.

He is the son of Anthony and Janice Ladd of Gainesville.

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Travis Stringfellow has been named co-valedictorian of Middleburg High School for the 2006-2007 school year.

Stringfellow, a member of Youth Leadership Jacksonville, has received the Clay County Spotlight Award and the Hugh O'Brien Leadership (HOBY) Award.

He is the son of Merni Stringfellow and Sandy Stringfellow, both of Clay County; and the great-grandson of Hart Stringfellow Sr. and Lillian B. Stringfellow, founders of the Stringfellow Supply Company of Gainesville.

Know someone in the community who has achieved something special? Contact Suzy Richardson at 374-5038 or Suzy.Richardson@gvillesun .com.

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