Rev. Juan Antonio Gonzalez; 2021 Top Latino Lider in Florida

What is your Latino/Hispanic Heritage. New York Rican/Nuyoriqueno/Nuyorican: in other words, conceived in Puerto Rico and born in New York City.  [Heritage: Puerto Rican]

What area of Florida do you live in: Southwest Florida.

What is your profession: Served as lead parish pastor (now Emeritus) in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod for over 35 years.  Currently, President & CEO of the HIVE Community Development Corporation, Inc. and Founder/Principal Partner of EGM Consultants [AKA: Effective Growth Management]

Meet Rev Juan and other Lideres at the Hispanic Heritage Celebration at 3rd Annual FORD Taste Of Latino Festival!

Latin Times Magazine: Tell us about what you do for a living and how you got into it.

Rev Juan:  My career path was originally to become a corporate lawyer after being accepted to Law School in the early 1980s. I also had early interest in both architecture and urban planning, then run for public office as a U.S. congressman and for the U.S. Senate. Instead, I’d pivot, and I went on to go to Seminary for the pastorate, where I thought at the time, I could make the greatest contribution and most effective impact in society.

What motivated me at the time was to fight for issues of justice, equity, and against ignorance and institutional racism and walk humbly with God. My faith and passion for God and a strong compassion for people lead me to serve, advocate and represent as an unapologetic and powerful voice for the marginalized, disenfranchised, the voiceless, and the underrepresented. Serving for over 42 years as servant-leader, committed to equipping individuals and communities empower themselves, creating opportunities through holistic approaches that resulted in positive transformation and a better quality of life. To be about Paradigm Shifts. Attitude Adjustments. Influence. Community Building. Fostering cooperative goals. Seeking innovative solutions. Building trusting relationships.

Although, for over 35 years I’ve served as a Lutheran parish pastor; I played various roles, positions, and wore various hats in the community locally, nationally and internationally. Throughout my lifetime served as an executive, leadership coach and consultant for various professional, non-profit organizations and small businesses. Including as a published poet & writer, artist, theologian, activist, urban planner and entrepreneur.

Throughout my entire career in public service, I have been a champion of policies and programs protecting of all community residence, advancing the quality of life for all, and aiding underserved and at-risk communities. Championing the causes of children, encouraging and empowering our youth, and turning their faith into action. I have been a staunch advocate for quality education, inclusion and diversity in opportunities and the workplace, safe and clean water, environmental stewardship, clean energy, small businesses, healthy communities, and stable and affordable housing. Working in collaboration with community leaders, business leaders, government officials, schools, colleges, foundations, and other community groups making neighborhoods a better place to live.

I pride myself as celebrating over 42 years of marriage to my dear wife Eva, father of three adult children and a grandfather of three.

Latin Times Magazine: In your industry, what would you say separates you from your competition. 

Rev Juan:  My clear pastoral calling, task assignments, and faith-walk or journey.

Latin Times Magazine:  During Covid-19, tell us about your Biggest Challenge/obstacle and how you overcame it/or are overcoming it.

Rev Juan:  Although, it was a difficult and uncomfortable period during Covid-19 for most of us, I personally loss 18 family members and friends of my inner circle through the pandemic and with unexpected deaths. This season was used as an opportunity to serve in consoling and comforting my family, parishioners, and the local community.  

As challenging and painful as this season was, I used it as a moment for assisting individuals and families who experienced grieving and their loss of loved ones, loss of employment, identity, purpose, and meaning themselves. When many people were going through challenging times, already feeling isolated, enduring heartache, undergoing food insecurity, grieving things, my presence and words of encouragement uplifted many people and their families. Providing them with pastoral care, guidance and/or validation was particularly relevant during the pandemic.  

I also ran for public office in 2020 – as a full-time candidate for the Board of Lee County Commissioners. This truly was a challenge of a lifetime, learning to be still and relying on God, family and friends. The challenge in adjusting to “social distancing” from meeting friends and acquaintances at church, social gatherings, coffeehouses, and business networks.

Growing accustomed to wearing face masks, quarantining at home, and using web technology as my only means in social interaction with family, friends and the community. Which was foreign to many of us.

The idea of setting oneself apart has long been part of this season for spiritual retrospection, introspection and self-care. Enduring months of welcomed silence, solitude and respite. An opportunity to rid myself from toxins (toxic people, foods, and spiritual bondages), hinderances and distractions.  A season of separation as a necessary stop for a journey towards spiritual maturity and victory. Helping me to pay attention, focus more on what is important, and prioritizing in order to operate every bit better, harmonious, and healthier in this space and season. An opportunity for capacity building, personal leadership development, and spiritual growth. Helping me be more convicted in relying on God’s presence, providence, and provisions. Listening and showing me new directions.

Latin Times Magazine: Tell us about your biggest achievement, and how you achieved it (Covid or non-related)  

Rev Juan:  Began the path towards balanced self-care and self-love. Built new skills, created new rhythms and healthier personal habits. Organized myself and my office files for better efficiency and effectiveness. Able to complete unfinished business assignments and task. Reconnected with old friends, drew closer and spend quality time with God, and communicated more readily with my immediate and distant family members. Complete writing and editing five book manuscripts – readying with book cover for publication. Became better at stewardship of money, talents and resources. Strategically planned, continually built on individual, organizational and community capacity, and ran for public electoral office – garnering over 130,000 votes [with little or no funds, against an incumbent opponent who spent 10 times the amount raised against me].

My next biggest task assignment is to conquer and organize my home garage.

Latin Times Magazine:  What is next for you? What can people expect to see from you?

Rev Juan:  Resume my global travels, continually pursue my writing, and celebrate family time, Bible Study, the beach and outdoor camping. Enjoys conversing about faith, the marketplace, and public policy. Increase my coaching, consulting and teaching availability. Be the best husband, father and grandfather. And servant leadership. 

My interest is in continually recruiting and raising up a new leadership with shared vision, who canrepresent a fresh voice, new energy, and a new vision for Lee County and surrounding communities, then “step back. Pursue the right public policies that affect everyday people, families, including youth, and children, especially the underserved communities of color.

My interest is for equipping the next generation to take the helm of citizen responsibility and mantel of leadership – for building healthier communities and their neighbor.  Increase Latinos and people of color in participation in electoral voting and running for public offices, boards of directors of non-profits, higher education, school boards, banks, foundations, and corporations, etc.  Ensuring Lee County and the rest of the State of Florida is a place where individuals of all walks of life are valued, respected and have the tools to achieve the American Dream. This means an equal chance for everyone to have a good-paying job, quality education, thriving business, safe community, health services, tools and resources they need, and the ability to enjoy a quality of life, and not just for the few.

For the next three years, as President and CEO build the continual capacity of the HIVE Community Development Corporation, Inc. as an asset-based non-profit organization for underserved communities (especially Lehigh Acres, Florida) to have access to attainable housing, wellness and health, food security, youth and family enrichment, the visual and performing arts, luring new businesses, increasing workforce development & supporting entrepreneurship. Advocate and invest in infrastructure & community economic development that also protects the environment. The environment is our economy.

Latin Times Magazine:  What does being a U.S. Citizen mean to you? ***

Rev Juan:   For me, being a U.S. Citizen means the right to civil rights, the right to freedom of expression and access to information, and the right to freedom of association and organization and equality before the law.

Latin Times Magazine:  What is your opinion of the state of affairs in our nation? ***

Rev Juan:  This is a loaded question, looking at the current state of affairs in our nation.

Some often say, Americans cannot agree on anything.  Where people have elected to retreat into separate, contradictory camps or universes. At the extremes, these beliefs approach a kind of comic-book absurdity — that the victims of mass shootings are actually paid actors, or that every political development of the past four years is part of a devious foreign plot. But there is at least one thing on which almost everyone, across the entire spectrum of realities we have chosen to inhabit, can apparently agree: Many are saying… None of this is “normal.”

 “This is not normal.”  Dire breaches of longstanding principle.

Latin Times Magazine: What words of encouragement can you offer?

Rev Juan: 

  • “Your past does not define your future!”
  • Everyone has God-given gifts and potential, in other words, each Latino in a community has something to contribute for the greater good of their community.
  • Latinos of our communities should be viewed as actors—not recipients—in development.
  • I believe that those who consider themselves leaders, it is your awesome responsibility to do your level best to seal up the cracks or gaps in society, catch people when they fall, and address the root causes of poverty, work boldly and cooperatively with all people to take-on readily available resources to all vulnerable populations. Learning to show others how much you care about them through acts of kindness, justice and compassion.
  • Latinos must be connected through trusting relationships for resiliency and sustainable community development to take place.
  • Latino leaders must involve others, by equipping, and then stepping back. 
  • Building community together with their neighbors: I believe that the Latino community can be improved through the resident’s involvement if they are equipped with the skills, resources, and given signs of hope.

Latin Times Magazine:  Is there anything I didn’t ask that you would like to share?

Rev Juan:  • Soon to publish (7) seven literary art books between 2021-2022: “Clever Conversations”, “Latino Buffalo Subway Poets”, “Tropicalized: Volumes 1 & 2”, “Jazz on My Mind: Let it Flow, Volumes 1 & 2”, and “We City Kids.”

In 2018, Gonzalez with two other Latino poets/writers, were awarded an art commission by the Children’s Hospital in Buffalo, New York to create and produce a Latin Gallery mosaic poetic arts mural wall: “6 x 30 feet” in brightly colored tiles. To be installed in 2022.

In 2018, the Global Center for Generosity of the Cape Coral Community Foundation

awarded and honored him as Southwest Florida 25 Most Influential Diversity Achievers.

(Celebration of influencers and community builders committed to developing more prosperous communities across the region).  And in early 2019, the Global Center for Generosity of the Cape Coral Community Foundation awarded and honored him as Southwest Florida 50 Most Influential Faith Leaders.

Three times awarded U.S. Congressional commendations: In 2000, 2004 & 2005, the Congress of the United States, U.S. House of Representatives [13th District], Washington, D.C. commended him and his parish “for outstanding and invaluable service to strengthen our families and for outstanding efforts to help build a healthy and sustainable community. Championing the causes of children, encouraging and empowering our youth, and turning their faith into action. Working in collaboration with other community groups making Lorain, Ohio a better place to live.”

• In 1995, the Metropolitan Miami-Dade County government awarded him with the “Key

to the County” (one of the highest leadership recognition awards given by the county

government).

• Also, in 1995, was a recipient of a Dorothy Richardson National Award for “Outstanding

community leadership, commitment to revitalizing America’s neighborhoods and demonstration of solutions for local community problems from the inside out” by the Neighbor Works’ Partnership Institute (formerly Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation, Washington, D.C.).

• Furthermore, in 1985 he and two other Buffalo poets/writers, were awarded an art

commission by the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority (NFTA), created and

produced the Latin Gallery poetry wall: “8 x 30 feet” in brightly colored tile. Colored enamel

fused to steel tiles for the Allen/Medical Campus (formerly Allen-Hospital), a Buffalo Metro

Rail station. [Installed in fall 1986 and in 2021 the mural celebrated 35 years of its installation]. (See: www.buffaloah.com & www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allen/MedicalCampusstation).

Founded in 1982: El Museo Francisco Oller Y Diego Rivera, of Buffalo and Western New York.

Latin Times Magazine:  What is YOUR comida Latina favorita?

Rev Juan:  That is a very hard question to answered what is my comida Latina favorita. I enjoy everything Latina/o. I love Latina gourmet foods and seafood of all kinds.   However, it depends on the mood, who is cooking, the place and time. It must have rice and beans of some kind.   If I had to pick just one or two…Puerto Rican Pasteles or Alcapurrias. But again, I must be in the mood, and at my age…watch what I’m eating.

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