Karen Menendez Coller, executive director of Madison’s Centro Hispano, has been named the inaugural recipient of Forward Community Investments (FCI) “March for Justice” Award made in memory of Nan Cheney, a passionate social justice activist.
The current political climate has made things difficult for immigrant communities and organizations that serve these communities. Despite the many hardships and difficulties its constituencies have faced recently, Centro Hispano has flourished, thanks in large part to Menendez Coller and her team.
FCI is a statewide CDFI that aims to serve as an investor, connector, and advisor for organizations and initiatives that reduce social, racial, and economic disparities in Wisconsin communities.
“We’ve found that the work she has been doing is very timely to what’s going on right now … she has been doing this wonderful work for a long time,” Tom Behnke, FCI’s manager of communications and management, told Madison365. “Her boundless energy and being that kind of stand-up person makes us believe that Nan Cheney would definitely agree that she would be worthy of the award.”
Receiving the award in the midst of a chaotic time, Menendez Coller appreciates the recognition and recent support she’s received.
“It reinforces that we’re doing something right, but regardless of the recognition, the kind of work that we do at Centro is something that we’re committed to doing,” Menendez Coller said. “It’s not just the communities of color saying that this is what needs to happen, it’s an organization from the outside saying that this is the kind of work they want to see more of.”
Menendez Coller hopes this award is not just a one-time thing that everyone will forget about. She wants the larger Madison community to recognize the importance of Latinos in the Madison and begin to engage and support communities of color.
“I think if we’re really going to move forward as city, I think there needs to be an understanding about how to engage communities,” she said. “It’s important to shift the way we think about things like moving Madison forward means moving communities of color forward, it means moving black communities forward, moving native communities forward. We represent the city, we represent the future. So unless we start doing work the right way, unless we start understanding these communities, we’re never going to be able to grow and innovate and do what we really should be doing.”
FCI will present the award to Menendez Coller at a Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center event on Thursday, May 25.