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Civil Rights Hero Featured in Launch of San Mateo County Latino Speaker Series

Flickr / Creative Commons

The Latino Leaders Coalition of the Bay Area has invited Sylvia Mendez to be the inaugural speaker in their new series. The 87-year-old Mendez is a pathbreaking Civil Rights activist, whose Latino family helped desegregate California schools in the mid-1940s.

Coalition co-founder and San Bruno schools trustee, Jennifer Blanco, said her group was inspired to create the coalition and this year’s speaker series after a dinner with Mendez last March. That’s when they realized that many people don’t know her story.

In the mid-1940s, when Mendez was just eight-years old, she and her brother were not allowed to enroll in a white school in their Southern California school district. Her parents sued the district, and won, putting an end to the then-common practice of forcing Latino students to attend segregated public schools.

Mendez was awarded the Presidential Medal of Honor in 2011. The Berkeley Unified School District renamed an elementary school after her five years ago.

The kickoff reception for the event is scheduled for five forty-five TODAY at the San Mateo Performing Arts Center. The festivities will also include a performance by the South San Francisco High School Ballet Folklórico group, Alma de Mexico, followed by a Q&A with Mendez.