Latino Civil Rights Leaders: Eduardo J. Padrón

By Victoria Cepeda and Efrain Nieves

This week we showcase Eduardo J. Padron for his unrelenting efforts to grant opportunities to any student willing and determined to get a higher education.

Eduardo and his brother were part of Operation Pedro Pan (Peter Pan) that during the Cuban revolution gathered up children, whose parents were willing to send them overseas to escape communism,  and sent them to Spain, France, Latin America and to the United States. The year was 1961, Eduardo’s mother made him promise that no matter what he would get an education. He kept his promise to his mother and much more.

After graduating from high school, no college would accept Eduardo except for Miami Dade College. He then went on to earn a Bachelor’s degree at the University of Florida and Ph D in economics at the University of Miami.  Padrón went back to Miami Dade College as a professor and became president in 1995. Ever since his fight has been about placing no cap on acceptance for students from all walks of life and immigration status.  His latest objective is to get the Dream Act passed and has had the chance to speak to President Obama directly on the issue.

At times, though, his decisions were met with resilience by the college professors but in time it became evident that  Padrón was undeterred. It was all about the students and building an institution anyone could be proud to attend and work for. That much he has achieved. With over 170,000 students at eight campuses and several thousand more alumni, Miami Dade College is the college to emulate when it comes to equal opportunities.

He’s brought national attention to the importance of community colleges in American education,” says Freeman Hrabowski, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Padrón and Hrabowski recently made a Washington Post list of the 10 most influential college presidents in the country.

David Skorton, president of Cornell University, and also on the Washington Post’s list of influential college presidents, says Padrón’s soft-spoken and thoughtful advocacy for his students gives him a certain gravitas in national education circles.

  • In 1993, President Bill Clinton recognized him as one of America’s foremost educators.
  • President George W. Bush nominated him to the National Institute for Literacy Advisory Board.
  • More recently, he represented the U.S. at UNESCO’s World Conference on Higher Education at the invitation of the Obama administration and President Obama appointed him Chairman of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans.
  • In 2003, he got state approval to start offering bachelor’s degrees, arguing that the workforce needed more people with certain skills.
  • He is a member of the board of directors of the influential Council on Foreign Relations.Read more here.

In Padrón’s own words, we summarize why he is a true leader that keeps giving back to his community, an example of civil rights activism and living proof that where there is a will there is a way.

We provide people with an opportunity to get educated in a system that is responsive to their needs,” he says. “I have seen so many kids that come to me under the worst circumstances—broken homes, drugs, poverty, gangs—and they’ve been able to become millionaires. They found somebody here who took an interest in them, somebody who cared.

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