SARA J. González, a modern day role model
"Sara was a friend whose vision for Georgia included everybody. She dedicated her life to her family and worked tirelessly to form alliances and partnerships for the betterment of the Hispanic community all the while advancing business opportunities for all minorities." — Former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin
Sara J. González was born in Havana, Cuba, where she lived until 1960, when the newly-placed government issued public denouncements targeting her family. With two small children, one suitcase and limited English, she fled to the United States for the safety and well-being of her loved ones. Ms. González first settled in New York City and ultimately in Atlanta.
In 1978, she and her husband opened up a small Cuban diner on Bolton Road called Sarita, which they ran with limited success for eight years. She said of the experience: “I didn’t know anything about business. I thought that a good product was all you needed. I was extremely naive. I had to close it, and I lost everything.”
Her desire to help immigrants succeed was fueled in part by that failure. Eventually Ms. González began working as a receptionist at the Latin American Association, a social services organization dedicated to helping newly arrived Latinos in Georgia. It was there her calling began to take shape as she provided guidance and resources to the community while rising to an executive rank at the non-profit.
In 1995, with the Summer Olympics a year away, she was recruited by the International Olympics Committee to be the Director of Hispanic Community Relations, working to ensure the inclusion of Atlanta's Latino community in the planning and execution of the games. This led to her final position as President and CEO of the Georgia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce [GHCC], where she advocated for 12 years on behalf of Hispanic business leaders, entrepreneurs and employees.
As President and CEO of the GHCC, she increased membership significantly while also engaging corporate entities for the first time. Her leadership firmly established the GHCC as the largest Hispanic Chamber in the Southeast. During her tenure, she created the GHCC Annual Gala, making it the largest event reaching the Hispanic market in the state of Georgia. Ms. González also created the Hispanic Caucus at the Georgia State Capitol, Hispanic Day at the Capitol, and Political Candidates Forums, helping to bring Hispanic politicians and issues to wider audiences in Georgia.
Of particular interest to Ms. González was the economic empowerment of the Latino community. In 2000, she inaugurated the Hispanic Business and Career Expo with more than 700 participants annually in Atlanta. In 2001, she established HACED (the Hispanic American Center for Economic Development), the first-ever business incubator for Hispanics in the Southeast United States. Thanks to HACED, more than 11,000 new businesses opened in Georgia and 35,000 entrepreneurs benefited from more than 100 educational seminars offered. Satellite offices and programs were launched in Savannah, Dalton, Athens, Augusta, Cartersville, Canton, Gainesville, Lyons, Moultrie, Nashville, Newnan, Rome, Quitman, Tifton, Valdosta, and Warner Robins, Georgia.
From 2004 to 2007, under the umbrella of the GHCC, other Chambers were created to open doors to new markets for Georgia businesses and their international counterparts: the Argentine-American Chamber of Commerce; the Dominican-American Chamber of Commerce; and the Ecuadorian-American Chamber of Commerce.
In 2007, Ms. González was a recipient of the prestigious Purpose Prize, which awards grants through the John Templeton Foundation and the Atlantic Philanthropies to civic leaders and entrepreneurs over the age of 60 who combine their passion and experience for social good. Watch her acceptance video below (courtesy encore.org). Click here to support the park. Follow us on Facebook here.