HABLA Spells Opportunity

Five simple letters that form a powerful word, HABLA is the Spanish present tense form of the word speak, and the acronym for the Hispanic Achievement & Business Leadership Awards, which recognizes Hispanic leaders in their local communities for their hard work. But for four deserving $5,000 HABLA Verizon scholarship winners in Orlando, Houston, Charlotte, and Atlanta, this modest word means more than just “speak” or an acronym for a business awards luncheon. It spells opportunity. It means they are one step closer to the American dream.

The HABLA Awards began in October of 2007 in Atlanta, Georgia as part of National Hispanic Heritage Month celebrations. As president and founder of Lanza Group, LLC, a Hispanic marketing, public relations and events firm, we were looking for an opportunity to highlight the many positive accomplishments of our growing community. We decided that the best way to do this was to ask the community to nominate HABLA Award candidates and then invite the award winners to a luncheon to highlight their successes. In celebrating and demonstrating the successes and accomplishments of these Latino leaders, the HABLA Awards helped highlight these role models in a multi-media campaign that provided recipients with the recognition they merited. Today, the event has expanded to Orlando, FL, Charlotte, NC and Houston, TX.

In each market, there are four categories that Hispanic leaders can be nominated for: Corporate Executive, Civic/Government, Entrepreneur, and Unsung Hero. Additionally there is also one deserving Hispanic high school senior or college freshman in each market who is awarded the $5,000 HABLA Verizon scholarship. This year, more than 200 scholarship applications and essays were received. To be eligible, students must have a grade point average higher than 3.2; however, many applications surpass this requirement with perfect, or more than perfect cumulative averages.

The essays are the most impacting heartfelt words you will ever read on a sheet of paper. These students and their families have often gone through so much in their young lives and are so transparent in their short memoirs that not only describe the turmoil they have experienced, but also how and why they have surpassed it, and what their plans are for the future. Most are very hungry for an education and to ameliorate and enrich their futures and that of their loved ones – none of them wanting to take their family’s sacrifices in vain.

Currently, college enrollment among Hispanics is rapidly increasing. With this in mind, it is imperative that we understand the importance of elevating these student’s lives to deepen the impact of the handprint they will leave as leaders of this country. Since the inception of the scholarship program, the HABLA Awards has provided $40,000 in scholarship funds – not enough by any means, but at least a small start towards bringing to the forefront the best and the brightest in our communities.

The winner of the Charlotte HABLA Entrepreneur Award, Manuel J. Betancur, says it best. He arrived in this country not knowing a lick of English, with nothing but the clothes on his back and shoes on his feet and $1,000 in his pocket. Now Manuel and his wife are the proud owners of Las Delicias Bakery, the oldest and largest Latin Bakery in Charlotte. He and his wife also own Charlotte Angels, a company established to send designated drivers to local bars and take overindulgent revelers back to their homes in their own vehicles. Last year, 528 Charlotte residents were safely taken home with the use of this service. “We are in the United States,” said Betancur as he accepted his award, “dreams come true in this country.”

Perhaps the most rewarding portion of the HABLA Awards tour is meeting the many business and civic leaders and students who share their stories with us. There are many, many terrific Latino success stories across the country and thanks to the generous support of our presenting sponsor Verizon, the HABLA Awards are able to convey these stories to the community at large during National Hispanic Heritage Month.

Mil gracias, and I am looking forward to seeing you on the road again during National Hispanic Heritage Month in 2014!

Ralph E. Herrera