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."
Daniel (Danny) Diaz
Parent & Community 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 an 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, completed high school with a 4.0 GPA and received a four-year scholarship to Southern Connecticut State University from Southern Connecticut Gas Company (SCG). Diaz obtained his Masters in Business Administration from Sacred Heart University. He is a Yale University - Elm / Ivy Award recipient and received an Honorary Doctorate Degree from Albertus Magnus College.
Hitting the Gas
Upon graduating SCG hired Diaz and continued to support him with scholarships to complete his master’s degree.
“I held several positions with SCG — customer service, corporate investigations, and several management positions,” Diaz explains. “At that time I became very involved in the community and worked on various community projects. I found volunteering very rewarding. It was my way to give back to the community that had given me so much. I consider myself to be very lucky.”
After 15 years with the company, the former SCG president recruited Diaz to come work for him at the Regional Water Authority. Diaz expanded his community work while employed at the water company, serving on various boards including Latino Youth Development, Junta for Progressive Action, and the Arts Council of Greater New Haven, among others. He worked in education indirectly as a volunteer teacher, which he loved.
Diaz left the water company and took a position with the New Haven Board of Education, working in parent advocacy and engagement and taking on the role of helping parents navigate the system and helping students strive for success.
“Working at NHPS has allowed me the opportunity to be a part of a process that prepares our youth for the future,“ I love being able to connect with, guide, and mentor young people.” Diaz says.
Diaz has witnessed the shift in populations and the rapid increase of Latino students attending New Haven Public Schools. While the Latino student population increased dramatically to a majority at 48%, the number of Latino teachers, administrators, and professional staff did not. With foresight, Diaz began consulting in 2010 and started recruiting teachers from Puerto Rico. Diaz has recruited for Connecticut, Texas, and Florida, helping diversify staff and expand Latino representation. In 2022, Diaz has recruited 16 teachers for Hartford Public Schools, and 10 teachers for New Haven Public Schools, and just began consulting with Teach for America.
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 free enrichment and educational 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 advance.” ARTE has served thousands of youth with multiple programs, workshops, events, and Latino scholarships.
ARTE has awarded $108,200 in scholarships, has multiple after-school programs, “Summer of Fun” family programs, college-bound road trips, and provides workshops, exhibits, and cultural events. Diaz helped write the curriculum for ARTE’s highly successful SLATE program, which teaches 7th & 8th-grade students important life and social skills. Diaz and ARTE have escorted four educational/cultural trips to Puerto Rico with SLATE graduates once they are sophomores or juniors.
A Legacy of Caring and Impact
After Hurricane Maria, Diaz spearheaded New Haven for Puerto Rico (NH4PR), local relief efforts to aid Puerto Rico. Diaz rallied community partners and together NH4PR fundraised over $150,000 to support families impacted by Maria. Diaz assured that every dollar was spent in Puerto Rico to help stimulate the island’s economy and help “Nuestra Gente.”
When asked about legacy, Diaz says, “Legacy is a huge word, I think of legacy as impact. I want to have an impact on my community and the people around me. I want to be remembered as some who cared for the well-being of others. I want people to say he was kind and he cared for people and he made a difference.” “With plans to retire in four years, we can pass the torch to the next generation who will continue to pay it forward.”
Diaz has always fought for Latinos, striving for equal representation and inclusion.
“It’s important we have a seat at the table and a say in the matters that affect us," Diaz says.
Diaz applauds the Progreso Latino Fund for the strides to accomplish this and 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’s well-attended forums and talks target specific Latino issues and look to address our changing needs while cross-pollinating and introducing communities to one another.
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 you face in life — that if you’re positive, 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, in order for them to soar! 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 hard work, I was able to accomplish so much and have soared so far.” I also think the best is yet to come.”
Originally published December 2020 and updated October 2022.