Massiel Abramson and “The Power of Our Narratives”

During the entirety of the COVID-19 pandemic, Latinos, in particular, have suffered and faced disproportional health and economic impacts. For example, the group is 1.7 times more likely to contract COVID-19 than their non-Hispanic white counterparts and 4.1 times more likely to be hospitalized from COVID-19, and 2.8 times more likely to die from the disease.

The pandemic is taking a toll on mental health. A 2021 Healthy Now survey found that about 60 percent of Americans were more likely to feel stressed, anxious, and/or depressed last fall as compared to 50 percent during the fall of 2020.

On June 5, 2020, Wallingford resident Massiel Abramson launched her online business Massiel Abramson, LMFT Therapy and Consulting. Abramson saw the opportunity during the pandemic to support people with their mental health.

“I have an entrepreneur spirit and it’s always been my calling to increase communication among individuals when it comes to mental health needs,� said Abramson.

Massiel Abramson is a sought-after guest speaker.

Abramson felt compelled to support a world struggling with social justice issues, isolation, and interpersonal conflicts. Her business provides mental health treatment, consultation, and coaching services.

“I see myself as the cousin, a Latinx Mary Poppins, you didn’t know you had, bringing an afro-centric, family-focused, and strength-based perspective. I bring humor, creativity, and playfulness to my work,� said Abramson.

She approaches therapy by addressing an individuals’ problems through family history and the community, she said.

Coming to the United States from the Dominican Republic at the age of 5, Abramson speaks fluent Spanish and provides services in both languages.

“I bring my cultural humility and pride into the work that I do,� said Abramson. “I find that my background and culture bring more people into the conversation, and I am able to highlight the need for all of us, American born or immigrants, to know ourselves from a cultural perspective,� she added.

Another motivation for starting her business came after the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota in 2020, an event that caused protests nationwide. As a person of color, Abramson felt the need to help with issues involving race and discrimination, she told the Latino Communities Reporting Lab. 

“In these recent times, we are being challenged on how much we are willing to push for change and equality,” Abramson wrote in Reflections of an Afro-Dominicana Family Therapist in 2017. “As an Afro-Dominicana, my silent torment has manifested in many different ways — from overly proving my worth at the workplace to graciously deflecting unwelcome advances and even chemically straightening my hair.”

She said that as a family therapist, she’s come to appreciate and value the power of “our narratives” and reflect on those stories during times of transformation. “More specifically, the stories that intersect with the different parts of my identity”, she said. “Through that intersectionality, she has come to explore and expand her “reflective capacity” — the ability to find different ways to process the choices “we’ve made and the circumstances we are dealt with.”

Jeanette Chavarria-Torres on building a successful business and reputation

Jeanette Chavarria-Torres’ neon yellow jacket and headgear strike the eye against shades of brown and silver metals in the background. While bulldozers encircle the area and a red crane rotates in the sky, Chavarria-Torres glances to her right at the ALLY construction site, 1229 W. Concord, in Lincoln Yards and has a moment of contemplation.

“Sometimes, I can’t believe it. It’s important to me what I do, and I know in my own way I’m making a difference, and that’s important to me. And I know that a lot of people now depend on me, and that is a lot of pressure sometimes,� she said through tear-filled eyes.

Jeanette Chavarria-Torres, owner of DCH Construction & Hauling
talks about overcoming challenges in reaching goals.

Jeanette Chavarria-Torres owns Franklin Park-based DCH Construction & Hauling, which moves material to and from construction sites. DCH is currently working under its largest deal since its inception in 2014, a half-million-dollar contract with mega-developer Sterling Bay on its Lincoln Yards development.

Lincoln Yards is branded “Where Chicago Connects� and consists of over 50 acres of land bridging the Bucktown, Wicker Park, and Lincoln Park neighborhoods. The new infrastructure is projected to develop in phases over ten years and create approximately 10,000 construction jobs during the process.

Of those jobs, Sterling Bay has expressed a commitment to ensuring the inclusion of traditionally marginalized communities with about 30 percent participation from minority businesses and 10 percent from women business enterprises, according to a recent report presented before the Department of Planning & Development.

“I always say diversity is a verb, not a noun, and it has to be measurable,â€� said Keiana Barrett, Director of Diversity & Strategic Development at Sterling Bay. 

Keiana Barrett, Sterling Bay, and Jeanette Chavarria-Torres, DCH Construction & Hauling talk as work is underway on the Lincoln Yards megadevelopment in the background.

Chavarria-Torres says she gained the attention of Sterling Bay through networking and maintaining a relationship with Walsh Construction and the Hispanic American Construction Industry Association (HACIA), an organization that advocates for the growth of minority-owned women businesses. She says building connections is vital for anyone attempting to establish themselves in this industry.

“Definitely get connected with organizations that can help you meet the right people, networking is everything and building relationships,� she explained.

Earning a significant contract didn’t come easy to DCH Construction. However, Chavarria-Torres is honest about her journey and the struggles she faced in building her business as a 22-year-old single mother.

“I don’t come from connections. Honestly, every customer that I have, I have earned every single one of them by knocking on their door to ask for an opportunity. So I think that the hardest thing for me one, was that I was a woman, but I was also a very young woman,� she said. “I had to build my reputation.�

In her words, Chavarria-Torres used her savings to buy the “dinkiest� trailer and spent three years pitching herself to contractors before finally landing a gig with Walsh Construction. She credits her persistence and honesty to getting her foot in the door.

“I didn’t tell them I can take on the whole job, I just told them if I can get a piece of that contract, [and] perform well at my capacity, that’s all that I wanted,� she said.

This transparency established her reputation in the industry.

“They always know if Jeanette says that she can get you 10 trucks, she can get you 10 trucks and if I say I will get you 50, I will get you 50 trucks. I’ve learned what my capacity is and I don’t over-commit,� she explained.

Success in this field meant more to Chavarria-Torres than just establishing a business. It was a redemption story.

Her involvement in the industry came at an early age. Her father also owned a trucking business but faced challenges due to his language barrier as a native Spanish speaker. She says that as a 10-year-old girl, she helped him complete his paperwork, which branched into a passion for trucking as she grew older. Her father eventually lost his business and filed for bankruptcy after a deal with a contractor fell through.

“I decided then in high school that I was one day going to open a trucking company to kind of redeem ourselves from what happened,â€� she said. 

When she approached her father with the idea, he stressed the importance of education. 

“Under one condition that he would one day help me was that I needed to come home with a 4-year degree in business and accounting,â€� she said. 

She followed through with her promise, earning a 4-year degree in Business Administration, and a minor in Accounting from Dominican University.

She says that although her parents are not verbally expressive, she knows that they appreciate her hard work and dedication.

“I know they’re proud of me and I just want them to know that all their sacrifices and what they left behind in Mexico were worth it because it gave us a better life,� she said.

Barrett also expressed admiration of Chavarria-Torres’ journey and emphasized the importance of minority representation in all industries.

“We’re always happy to be able to collaborate with firms such as Jeanette’s that has such an inspiring story of how she’s been able to triumph and continue to move forward… I always say young people aspire to be what they see. So when they see individuals that look like them, it gives them a sense of hope and it broadens their lens to know what opportunities exist for them,� she said.

Keiana Barrett, Director of Diversity & Strategic Development at Sterling Bay – shares insights on being intentional in making diversity measurable.

Chavarria-Torres hopes her story motivates others to pursue business ventures despite the difficulties. 

She said, “I want other people to see that you can make it even though there’s a lot of obstacles. I don’t like to say obstacles, challenges, but I don’t think there’s a challenge that I have not been able to conquer. You just figure it out.�

Although there were many obstacles along the way, DCH Construction has grown from one “dinky� truck to now owning six. It has expanded its subcontracting area, allowing for collaboration with other women minority-owned businesses, and has earned a half-million-dollar contract with one of the largest real estate firms in Chicago. Chavarria-Torres hopes this experience creates a lasting relationship with Sterling Bay.

Chavarria-Torres poses with model of the future Lincoln Yards at Sterling Bay offices.

“This is my first big, private job so it’s a huge honor for me to just be part of the Lincoln Yards project and I’m very thankful for Walsh Construction and not only them, but Sterling Bay that have really opened the doors to want to see me succeed, and I know that this is just the beginning of many projects that we’ll be on together,� she said.

Cover Photo: Jeanette Chavarria-Torres at the construction site of Lincoln Yards. Credit: Sterling Bay

Ric Estrada: Representation Matters

Since 1857, Metropolitan Family Services has empowered families to learn, earn, heal, and thrive. Founded as the Chicago Relief and Aid Society, the organization has helped families get through the devastating hardships of poverty, world wars, epidemics, and natural disasters.

“We are very proud in all the areas that are important to our community,” said Ricardo “Ricâ€� Estrada, president and CEO of Metropolitan Family Services. “Economic stability, education, emotional wellness, and empowerment,” he continued in describing “the four E’s” paramount in realizing the non-profit organization’s mission.

Estrada was a guest on the Latino News Network (LNN) podcast, “3 Questions With…�, where he shared how Metropolitan Family Services assists marginalized communities that have proven to be resilient once again through almost two years of COVID-19.

Pandemic aside, he believes too many children are being left behind due to parents working several jobs to make ends meet. “It is incumbent on us as a society to make certain that people have a living wage so that children can be children; could learn and have their parents at home,” said Estrada when talking about how many children, particularly in immigrant families, have to help raise their younger siblings, especially during remote learning.

21.5 percent of Hispanic-Latino residents of Chicago, Illinois live below the poverty line, according to Welfare Info.

“I am excited to join the board of ComEd because the company is and will be at the forefront of our region’s energy, environment, workforce, and community investments,� said Estrada about his recent appointment as an independent director with ComEd.

He is the only Latino on the board of the largest electric utility in Illinois, and the sole electric provider in Chicago. “I think we need a Latino voice there to make certain that our community is not ignored, but is a part of every opportunity,” Estrada said about how he plans to guide ComEd on initiatives addressing the environmental challenges that impact the company and the public.

A poll by Earthjustice shows that registered Hispanic-Latino voters have a strong commitment to conservation, the environment, and a genuine interest in how climate change impacts their families and communities.

Estrada also serves on the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois as well as on the Board of Directors of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, the Woods Fund of Chicago, the Grand Victoria Foundation, A Better Chicago, and Erie Elementary School.

SUGGESTION: Ricardo Estrada Named To ComEd Board Of Directors

“As a Latino, Latina, Latinx – we seem to be not seen in the media,” said Estrada about the lack of representation in newsrooms. “We need journalists to make sure that these stories are told accurately, with the right nuance, with the right perspective.”

Last year,  the U.S. Government Accountability Office produced a report on how the absence of Hispanics-Latinos in major newsrooms, Hollywood films, and other media industries deeply skewed non-Hispanics’ perceptions of that community.

Estrada and his wife, Beatriz Ponce de León, reside in Chicago and are the parents of two young adult daughters.

To listen to more episodes, click on this link: 3 Questions With…

Roberto Jiménez Rivera: The Candidate

“I am running because the people of Chelsea and Everett deserve a state rep who will lift our voices in Beacon Hill and who won’t settle for small fixes to the urgent issues we face,� Roberto Jiménez Rivera, Democrat, said in his announcement to run for the newly created 11th Suffolk seat in the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

With redrawn boundaries as part of last year’s redistricting process, the new 11th Suffolk represents Chelsea and parts of Everett — a majority Latino area.

“I was part of the Drawing Democracy Coalition that advocated for this district and for districts around Massachusetts that were ‘districts of opportunity’ and are really meant to help lift communities of color and working-class people across Massachusetts,� Jiménez Rivera told the Bay State Banner. “It’s just a huge opportunity for the people of Chelsea.�

The 31-year-old organizer for the Boston Teachers Union successfully ran for the at-large seat on the Chelsea School Committee in November 2019. Jiménez Rivera was re-elected this past November.

“It was important to me that we got to know as many people as we could, talk with people about why I care about our schools, and share the work I had done already in education,” recalled Jiménez Rivera about the 2019 campaign. “People were really excited to have somebody come talk with them about these important issues,â€� he said in an interview with the Chelsea Record.

Jiménez Rivera was born in Norwood but grew up in Manati, Puerto Rico. He says his parents decided to move back to the island because they wanted him to grow up around family.

He lived in Puerto Rico until graduating from high school. From there he attended the University of Michigan where he studied for six years, receiving his undergraduate degree in 2012 and his master’s degree in 2013. Following graduate school, Jiménez Rivera moved back to Massachusetts in 2014.

With the experience of living in Puerto Rico, he said he also looks to be a strong advocate for racial justice, and that he would be a valuable addition to the Legislature’s Black and Latino Caucus.

“Because of the pandemic and the kind of broader racial justice movement that we’ve seen after the murder of George Floyd, I think there is an appetite from voters and legislators to really push for broader racial justice measures. And I think it will be the best way to go about doing that work, to listen to the legislators of color,� Jiménez Rivera said.

“I believe every person in Chelsea and Everett has the ability to succeed if we properly invest in our community,” said Jiménez Rivera on his campaign’s website.

Roberto with his family (Photo Courtesy: Twitter)

Roberto, his wife, Sarah, and their son, Robi, live in Chelsea.

Publisher’s Notes: This story is an aggregate from Candidates vying for House vacancies and Making an Impact in Chelsea Jimenez-Rivera Will Run for State Representative.

Elliot Rivera: Creating Change

“YIA plays an imperative role in the development of youth and their adult allies, going beyond traditional approaches to leadership development by prioritizing social-emotional development,” said Elliot Rivera when he was named Executive Director of Youth In Action (YIA) in 2019.

Since then, Rivera has been working to fulfill YIA’s mission of creating opportunities for youth to become their best selves. “They address power imbalances that stifle the potential of youth, especially young people of color, and create more caring and fair public institutions and systems,” reads in part the About section of the YIA website. By building power, leadership, and action amongst youth in our communities, YIA believes a more equitable and safe world is possible.

Growing up in Worcester, MA as a first-generation Salvadoran, Rivera did not have the access to most resources. What he did have were two dedicated parents working countless hours in manufacturing and janitorial services to get by. Never really thinking he would end up working with people, opportunities to support his communities from fighting within a union for undocumented worker rights to supporting youth in multiple settings came naturally to Rivera. He was first profiled in the Latino Policy Institute’s #LatinosInRI series.

As a person of Latine heritage, Elliot’s connection to his work and its journey is rooted in his deep core connection to all aspects of his culture. Now proudly calling Providence RI home, in his current role with YIA, he amplifies the stories and journeys of the next generation and supports them in their journeys by opening doors to experiences and opportunities he was never afforded.

“If the pandemic is literally killing Black and Latino communities at higher rates, it’s obviously affecting them in different ways, too,� Rivera said in an interview with the Brown Daily Herald about the Providence Public School District operations in March 2021. Rivera said the school district had “been working on (issues of inequality) for decades,� but he questioned the quality of the progress that had been made. The pandemic may be slowing down reforms made by the state takeover, he said, noting the pandemic’s highlighting of the inequitable access to technology throughout the district.

Rivera was recognized with the Service to Youth Award by the City of Worcester in 2019. His experience includes Community Engagement Specialist and Program Director with the City of Worcester. He’s also been the Program Coordinator with the Latino Education Institute.

Rivera is a graduate of Worcester State University and has a Master’s degree from Tufts University.

LPI and RI Latino News; partners in elevating the visibility and voices of Rhode Island’s Hispanic-Latino communities.

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