NSBA’s National Hispanic Council (NHC) presented this year’s Octaviano “Tony” Gonzales Abrazo Award to Former Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida and Former Representative Luis Gutiérrez from Illinois during its Annual Conference held March 30-April 1 in Philadelphia. The award is given annually to an individual who has demonstrated a commitment to improving the educational opportunities of Latinx children through their time, energy and resources.

Ros-Lehtinen was the first Latin-American woman elected to Congress. Born in Havana, Ros-Lehtinen fled with her family to the United States as a child. She was encouraged to seek elected office during her time as an educator by the parents of her students. After serving in the Florida Legislature, she went on to serve in Congress for 14 terms and rose to be the first woman to chair the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. During her political career, she openly opposed dictatorships in Latin America and supported legislation to allow a wider range of students to have access to Federal financial aid. By the end of her tenure in 2018, she was the most senior U.S. Representative from Florida.

The son of Puerto Rican immigrants, Gutiérrez supported immigration reform and the independence movement in Puerto Rico during his time in Congress. He was also the first elected official to sponsor the DREAM Act, which proposed a path for residency to 2 million minors. In 2009, he was appointed chair of the Democratic Caucus Immigration Task Force and he continues to serve as chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Immigration Task Force following his retirement this year.

“In acknowledging these legendary legislative advocates, NHC continues to demonstrate the importance of visibility and leadership in ensuring that public education serves Latinx students,” NSBA Chief Equity and Member Services Officer Verjeana Jacobs said. “Moreover, this award continues NSBA’s ongoing efforts to lift up the importance of an excellent public education for all students.” 

First presented in 1998, the Abrazo Award is given annually by the NHC to honor individuals who have committed their time, energy and resources to improving educational opportunities to Latinx children. The term “abrazo” translates to “hug” or “embrace.” The name was suggested by former NHC President Octaviano “Tony” Gonzales, who is now included in the award’s name to honor the contributions he made in paving the way for Latinx school board members.

The Abrazo Award is one of several NSBA-sponsored awards that recognizes schools that have prioritized educational equity. Learn about this year’s RISE Award and Luminous Eagle Award. The awards are sponsored by McGraw-Hill Education, a learning science company that delivers personalized learning experiences that help students, parents, educations and professionals improve results.