Celebrating Latino Leaders: Daniel (Danny) Diaz

"No matter your background, no matter your ethnicity, no matter the obstacles that you find in life — if you work very, very hard and give back, you will be rewarded."

"No matter your background, no matter your ethnicity, no matter the obstacles that you find in life — if you work very, very hard and give back, you will be rewarded."

Daniel (Danny) Diaz

Coordinator of Parent Engagement, New Haven Public Schools

Hometown: Cayey, Puerto Rico

Danny Diaz and his family left Puerto Rico to head to the mainland, arriving in New Haven in 1979 just after Diaz completed eighth grade. He would start school at Richard C. Lee High School.

“My mother and my father worked very hard and instilled a strong work ethic in me,” Diaz remembers. “They helped me adapt and pushed me to study and get my education. I owe everything to my parents. They sacrificed so much for us, they are the reason for my success.“

Driven by hard work and a desire to do well, Diaz received a scholarship to attend the Yale Language Institute. Diaz went on to complete high school with a 4.0 GPA and to receive a full four-year scholarship to Southern Connecticut State University from Southern Connecticut Gas Company (SCG).

Hitting the Gas

The gas company continued to support Diaz throughout college, providing him with books and employment opportunities. When he graduated they offered him a job and the support did not end there. As Diaz worked as a full-time employee, SCG also paid for him to complete his master’s degree. He went to Sacred Heart University where he earned his degree in business administration.

“I had several positions with them — customer service, corporate investigations and several management positions,” Diaz explains. “While I was working, I became very involved in the community and worked on various community projects. I found volunteering and giving back very rewarding. It was my way to give back to the community that had given me so much. I considered myself to be very lucky.”

Eventually Diaz’s time at the gas company had to come to an end. A former SCG president recruited Diaz to come work for him at the Regional Water Authority. Diaz continued his community work while employed at the water company, serving on various boards including Latino Youth Development, Junta for Progressive Action, Arts Council of Greater New Haven, among others. He also worked in education indirectly as a volunteer teacher — which he loved.

Entering Education

Diaz left the water company and took a position with the New Haven Board of Education working in parent advocacy and engagement, helping students strive for success.

“Working at NHPS has given me the opportunity to be a part of a process that prepares our youth for the future, “ Diaz says. ” I love being able to guide and mentor young people.’

Diaz decided he wanted to do more. In 2004, he and his partner David Greco cofounded Arte Inc., an organization dedicated to developing and promoting Latino art, culture and education.

“Arte’s programs serve urban youth who lack the exposure and experiences of their suburban peers,” Diaz explains “The vision was to create an organization to address this and help Latino youth and families.”

Continuing Growth

To date Arte has awarded $76,000 in scholarships, runs numerous after school programs, organizes college bound road trips, provides family programming, exhibits and cultural events. Diaz helped create Arte’s successful SLATE program, which teaches middle school students important life and social skills.

All of Arte’s programs are free to parents and students. Last school year alone, Diaz says Arte gave New Haven Public Schools and the City of New Haven over $137,000 in pro-bono programs and services. He continues to juggle both his responsibilities at Arte, the Board of Education and in the community, still picking up degrees along the way. In 2016, both Diaz and Greco received Honorary Doctorate Degrees from Albertus Magnus College for their community work.

“Legacy is a huge word, but I what I want to leave behind is an impact.” Diaz explains. “I want people to say he helped me, he cared for people and he made a difference. In a few years when we retire we can pass the torch to the next generation who will continue to pay it forward.”

Danny applauds the Progreso Latino Fund for the difference they are making in the Latino community.

“The Progreso Latino Fund has a solid foundation and will continue to grow and benefit the Latino community.” Diaz says. “PLF has adapted to the changes within the Latino community. The well attended forums and talks target specific Latino issues and look to address our changing needs. The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven (TCF) has supported and nurtured the fund and has done so much for our community. Housing the fund at TCF was a smart move and could not be a better partnership.”

As Diaz continues his work with students, he especially hopes to share with them a key life lesson:

“That no matter what your background, no matter what your ethnicity, no matter the obstacles that you find in life — that if you work very, very hard and give back, you will be rewarded. Many young people don’t understand this and we need to help them realize their potential. I'm legally blind, I have English as a second language, I came from a poor family and I had all odds against me. But, through education and through hard work, I was able to accomplish so much and have done so much. I also think the best is yet to come.”

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