Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting members of the Department of Commerce and their contributions to an Economy Built to Last.
Guest blog post by Jorge Ponce, Director Policy and Evaluation Division, Office of Civil Rights U.S. Department of Commerce
Cuba is my birth place. My parents, my sister and I left our homeland for the United States when I was 11 years old in search of freedom. No, I did not come in a raft as I have strong allergies to shark-infested waters! While most people think that if you are Cuban, you must be from Cuban Mecca Miami, I am an anomaly to this assumption. I grew up in Arlington, Virginia, and attended St. Thomas More Elementary School, Bishop O’Connell High School, and graduated from Washington-Lee High School. Subsequently, I attended George Mason University, and completed my graduate studies at Catholic University.
This year’s celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month is an important one in our history as we celebrated the 500th anniversary of the landing of Juan Ponce de Leon in Florida.
I consider myself to be a civil rights champion. As such, I’ve co-chaired the Council of Federal EEO and Civil Rights Executives from 2001 to 2012, and maintained its webpage. I have met with the top leadership of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the U.S. Office of Personnel Management regularly to address civil rights issues in the Federal Government.
I’ve used my pen prolifically to write about issues that need to be aired—so that others in the media and diverse communities get the other side of the story. I often write about the lack of human and civil rights in Cuba, about the 43-year Hispanic underrepresentation challenge in the federal workforce, and about the need to build bridges of understanding with other communities to facilitate the tearing down of walls of bigotry that have prevented us from living as one harmonious family and embracing the “fierce urgency of now!”
I honor all the civil rights champions of the past who fought the battles to make it possible for me and others to live in an America as it was meant to be. The late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. continues to be one of the greatest influences on my thinking. One of my favorite quotations from Dr. King is “the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
I have worked for the Federal Government for my entire professional career. While a bureaucrat, I am also a man for all seasons. I take time to smell the roses. I love all kinds of music – as long as they have harmony. Growing up, I took piano lessons, as well as classical guitar for four years. Music and being around water have a soothing effect on my disposition.
But, I always like to save the best for last. Among my greatest lifetime achievements are my 35-year marriage to a Cubana, and our son Stephen – who graduated from the University of Virginia and now works as a management consultant for KPMG. When asked for my secret for staying married for so long, I respond that I’m a firm believer in the 3-C’s theory of relationships – “Communication, Collaboration, and Compromise.”