Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Justice, Diversity, Education Are Blanco Legacy

The stories about Ray Blanco had two main themes - passion and conviction.

In a memorial service Tuesday (Aug. 8, 2006) for the late City Council president who died unexpectedly at ago 50 on July 28, speaker after speaker recounted Ray’s love of life and his desire to see justice achieved. Among those who crowded the auditorium of the Queen City Academy Charter School were gays, straights, people of all races and status, exactly the diversity that Ray Blanco envisioned coming together to make a better world.

Blanco was an uneducated Cuban immigrant who came to America as a child, but won prestige as a film maker and activist in his adult life.

The building itself was a testimony to his fight for educational choice. At first seeming an unlikely site for a memorial service, the former Temple Sholom at Grant Avenue and Seventh Street was in fact a perfect example of the kind of effort he put forth when he was convinced of a cause.

Both new board president Julie Jerome and the Rev. LaVerne Ball of Rose of Sharon Community Church spoke of their meetings with Ray, who until recently served as board president. Ball described Ray’s intense drive to get the charter school into the church-owned building, a step up from constricted space in a downtown office building. Jerome tearfully said she took on the board presidency recently expecting to have Ray as a counselor for some time into the future.

In a special tribute, Jerome announced the establishment of the Ray Blanco Charter High School in the late councilman’s honor.

Speakers recounted how Ray escaped Cuba as a child and went to Spain with his family before coming to the United States.

In other stories, Union County Democratic Party Chairman Charlotte DeFillipo said when she met Ray, “He wanted to know everything.”

Blanco wanted to pick the brain of Union County’s political mainspring on how the process worked, and brought Cuban sandwiches to facilitate the progress.

New Jersey Attorney General Zulima Farber, also a Cuban immigrant, spoke of her long relationship with Ray and how he had no qualms about conscripting people into his films on the immigrant experience, even if the end product was just a few seconds of film time.

Another Cuban refugee, Freeholder Angel Estrada, said of Ray, “He fought dearly to ensure that people get heard.”

Estrada was among many who said the best legacy to honor Ray was to carry on his goals of justice for the voiceless.

Martin Perez, the president of the Latino Leadership Alliance of New Jersey, thundered out a call for commitment to diversity in honor of Ray.

“He was one of our best,” Perez said.

Others recalled Ray as a free spirit, an adventurer, a risk-taker and one given to escapades.

His partner of 33 years, Ken Edwards, recalled noting him early on as a “person worth knowing” after he witnessed Ray’s ability to organize independent film awards ceremonies showcasing the likes of John Cassavetes and Gena Rowland.

Ray sacrificed some personal opportunities to make way for others whose talent he felt was worth promoting, Ken said in a statement read by Ray’s old friend, Larry Munroe.

Ken recounted many “misadventures, escapades and laughs” along the way as Ray pursued his career in independent film-making and promotion.

Decades later, Ken concluded that Ray was still a “person worth knowing.”

The task now for all who knew Ray is to carry on his legacy by striving to give a voice to the voiceless, by celebrating diversity and by seeking the best education for all children, speakers said.

--Bernice Paglia


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