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‘Unidos:’ School system, OneForsyth partner for inaugural Hispanic Heritage Month celebration
School and county leaders hold up says reading "Unidos" as Ozzie Rodriguez speaks on the importance of unity among cultures and communities in Forsyth. - photo by Sabrina Kerns

Forsyth County Schools and OneForsyth hosted an inaugural Hispanic Heritage Month celebration at the FoCAL Center on Tuesday, Oct. 4, highlighting Hispanic culture, music, food and voices in the community.

As community members walked into the center, they were greeted by a gallery of artwork created by Forsyth County Schools students and the delicious aroma of empanadas and conchas provided by Palapas Bar and Grill.

But before guests started to dig into the Hispanic cuisine, Superintendent Dr. Jeff Bearden kicked off the event by thanking OneForsyth and reminding everyone of the importance of celebrating the diverse communities that make up Forsyth County.

“We have been celebrating the histories, cultures and contributions of Hispanic Americans whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America for many years, but this is our first opportunity to partner with OneForsyth to expand the celebration beyond the walls of our schools,” Bearden said.

Julie Brennan, member of OneForsyth and publisher of MyForsyth Magazine, then welcomed all of her fellow Hispanic community leaders in attendance, noting all of the different nations and cultures represented in the room — Puerto Rico, Cuba, Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Colombia and the Dominican Republic.

“You have no idea how much this means to me as a Latina and as a Puerto Rican,” Brennan said. “This is what we’re all about. We’re about community. Yes, we’re proud of who we are and our heritage, but we’re also very, very proud and honored to be part of the U.S.

“We’re here, we’ve embraced your community and thank you for embracing ours,” she continued. “Thank you for celebrating the differences and accepting that, ultimately, we’re all one people.”

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From the left, Julie Brennan, Dr. Jeff Bearden and Dania Peguero. - photo by Sabrina Kerns

OneForsyth and FCS also used the moment to recognize a teacher at Forsyth Central High School they said always embraces the different communities in the school, standing proudly as a Hispanic man while teaching his students to be proud of their own heritage.

“[Vince] Cordoso is one of the people that I categorize as being someone that’s in education for the right reasons,” Principal Dr. Josh Lowe said. “He gets it. He loves kids and kids love him. Kids come to school because they love him. They feel valued, they feel heard, they feel accepted. And he is a driving force in our school for our students to …. feel connected.”

Cordoso heads La Familia Hispana, a club where students can meet to learn more about Hispanic cultures throughout the world. Lowe said with Central having a population of 28% Hispanic students, it has quickly become the largest club at the school.

That is one of the many reasons Lowe and Brennan surprised him at the event with the 2022 Leadership in Education award.

Cordoso thanked FCS and OneForsyth, dedicating the award to his students.

“My kids deserve this, and I will take it and give it to them when I see them tomorrow,” he said. “They have made it very easy. We get the credit, but this is not mine. It belongs to La Familia Hispana.”

Vince Cordoso hugs Julie Brennan after accepting his Leadership in Education award. - photo by Sabrina Kerns

Dania Peguero, community engagement specialist with FCS, then encouraged the crowd to enjoy the music, food and art at the event representing the more than 20 Spanish-speaking nations throughout the world.

But before closing out the event, Brennan invited Ozzie Rodriguez, owner of Palapas Bar and Grill, to give one last speech about what the event is all about — “unidos” or one united Forsyth community.

“Unidos is a very important word for our city, county, community, state, country and world,” Rodriguez said. “The challenge is we need more unidos.”

He said the best way the community can do that is by listening more, taking more time to understand others’ ideas, highlighting individuals’ accomplishments and bringing love for one another instead of hate.

“Here in Cumming and Forsyth County, let’s not build a wall but a bridge for our Hispanic community,” Rodriguez said.

The FoCAL Center displays letters written by students in Latin America. - photo by Sabrina Kerns
A drawing by a Denmark High School student was displayed with other student artwork during the inaugural Hispanic Heritage month event, highlighting creations by the Hispanic community in Forsyth. - photo by Sabrina Kerns
Palapas Bar and Grill provided a variety of food and flavors from Latin countries. - photo by Sabrina Kerns