As the oldest of seven children of poor Mexican immigrants, Antonia Hernández always knew she wanted to dedicate her life to helping those less fortunate. Even before she could drive, she would walk the picket lines in support of California's farm workers.
Then she spent two decades working to protect the rights of the nation's 35 million Latinos: as president and chief counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) from 1985 to 2003, she worked to create voting districts that equitably represented Latinos, opposed the nominations of federal judges with poor civil-rights records, and successfully defeated a California state measure that would have denied health and education benefits to undocumented immigrants.
"I'm a do-gooder," acknowledges Hernández."What I truly want is for every person to have the opportunity to fulfill his or her potential." Today, as the new president and CEO of the California Community Foundation, the nation's ninth-largest community foundation, overseeing more than $650 million in assets, her role is to marry the resources of generous donors with causes such as health and education. While the focus has narrowed, the overall goal is the same: to improve the lives of poor people.
"Being able to create an opportunity for people of wealth to share their resources with those in need is wonderful," Hernández says. "We're creating a community in which we're all interdependent. It's what makes this country so great."
*The name of this award was originally the Impact Award. In 2008, the awards were renamed as the Inspire Awards.