Last Friday San Bernardino made the national news when a police officer was critically shot after he and his partner encountered a group of people in front of a residence during the early morning hours. One of the men in the group reportedly shot Officer Gabriel Garcia in the head and torso before being fatally shot by Officer Garcia’s partner, an unnamed trainee. The officer was placed in an induced coma and has responded well to treatment. Friday night was the first of many candlelight vigils held in support of the injured officer and his family.
That same night, I was fortunate to be at quite a different type of event in San Bernardino. No, it didn’t make the national news, or even the regional news, but it should have. It was one of those community events that unfortunately go unnoticed to the community at large. It celebrated the best in our community, those individuals and organizations that make our cities safer, smarter, and more culturally and socially enriched. The dinner lasted a little over two hours but the achievements celebrated were enough to fill ten lifetimes.
The event, the Legacy of Exemplary Service Gala, was hosted by Libreria Del Pueblo and honored some of the most charitable and committed individuals in our community: Deacon Joe Acosta, Lucia Negrete, Felix Diaz, Gloria Zometa, Anthony Bocanegra, Consulate General of Mexico Carolina Zaragoza Flores, former San Bernardino Mayor Pat Morris, and my dad Hardy Brown.
Martin Valdez, the current president of the organization, said that the common thread that weaves the honorees together is their love for their neighbor, their service to others, and their altruistic nature. Honoree Gloria Zometa, also one of the organization’s founders, is an excellent example of someone who expresses that love, compassion, and community advocacy. Born in El Salvador, as a college student Gloria was involved in organizing students advocating social justice when civil war broke out in that country. Gloria was forced to escape or possibly face death if she stayed. Once she arrived in San Bernardino she worked organizing young women while employed by the Catholic Diocese. In association with Father Patrick Guillen and Sister Rosa Martha, Gloria founded Libreria Del Pueblo almost 30 years ago with a mission to assist immigrant families by providing social, health, and citizenship services. For three decades the organization has quietly gone about its work sowing seeds of life and hope for some of the poorest and neediest of those in the community: victims of domestic violence, farm workers, undocumented individuals and juveniles.
Gloria believes that it is important for the disenfranchised and poor to develop leadership skills so that they can improve their own future. In that regard, the organization focuses on self-empowerment through education and information. The concept was not to provide assistance but to develop leadership so the community can develop their own resources. Last Friday evening was the organization’s annual event to remind the community of that mission as well as to honor other individuals who believe serving others is not a sacrifice, it is a mandate.
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