When Jorge Plasencia says he has always loved service and civic participation, he is not kidding.
“It all started for me when I was named president of the Service Club in 4th grade,” says the gregarious 38-year old public relations executive, who was just named Chairman of the Board of the National Council of La Raza. He is the first Cuban-American and only the third non-Mexican to head the national civil rights organization’s board in almost forty years. “I co-founded Amigos for Kids, now one of NCLR’s non-profits which helps at-risk youths, when I was seventeen,” he says, adding he is still working in the organization after 21 years.
Plasencia, who has served on the NCLR board for the past six years, is highly regarded for his work in public relations. He has previously worked at Univision and for the Florida Marlins, as well as for Emilio Estefan’s entertainment company. He says his passion has always been community service.
“More than ever I would say that the Spanish expression, ‘en la unión está la fuerza,’ (in unity there is power) is the case as we look to the needs of the nation’s 50 million Latinos,” says Plasencia. He explains organizations like NCLR are instrumental in working for Latinos’ increased economic development, and for working on issues surrounding education, immigration, homeownership, voter registration and civic engagement.
While NCLR has hundreds of affiliates around the country, Plasencia is the organization’s first high-profile Latino from Florida. ”To be able to be the first one to represent my state is very exciting,” he says.
Like many Latinos around the country, Plasencia’s parents are immigrants. His father spent time in Houston before settling in Miami, and Plasencia credits his father’s constant praise and mention of Mexican-Americans as one of his childhood memories. “While I am proud to be Cuban-American, I was aware and open to all Latino nationalities since I was young, and I credit my family with that,” he explains.
Plasencia says he is conscious of how hard Latino families have worked for the American Dream. His father worked in banking all his life, but after he passed away, Plasencia found a rejection letter from the advertising firm Young and Rubican in his father’ s papers. His father did not make it in the advertising world, but the son did. “When I started my public relations firm with my business partner, we named it Republica, for Republic National Bank, where my father worked and where so many Hispanics got their first loans.”
Plasencia says his years on the board of NCLR have shown him the organization ”truly represents all Latinos.” His aim, he says, is to use his experience to create more opportunities for the nation’s Hispanics.
“I believe to whom much is given, much is expected, ” he says.