Winners of the Hispanic Heritage Essay Contest pay tribute to their heroes

Sept. 27, 2021 – A public servant who paved the way for the creation of the Acosta Bridge. 

A pulmonary care specialist who was one of the first doctors in Florida to successfully treat a COVID-19 patient.

And a grandfather, who left Puerto Rico at the age of 2, traveled the world, and went on to become the Director of the Peace Corps in Colombia and Ghana.

These are the heroes who were celebrated by the three student winners of the district’s Hispanic Heritage Essay. Sponsored by the Jaguars Foundation, the contest is meant to honor the impact Hispanic-Americans have made locally in Jacksonville.

The three winners were Grace Gonzalez of Pine Forest Elementary School; Ryleigh Harris of Landon Middle School; and Avi Patel of Stanton

Each student was recognized at a special ceremony on Sept. 24 at the Cummer Museum. There they had a chance to read their essays and publicly share how much their heroes mean to them.

Gonzalez, a fifth grader, wrote an essay titled “My Papa, My Hero” about her grandfather, Wilfredo Gonzalez, who was born in San Juan and realized through his world travels that he wanted to help people. Earning a degree in sociology, he went on to oversee Peace Corps operations in Colombia and then Ghana.

“In everything my Papa does,  he looks for ways to help others,” and  he  never does it so that he will get anything in return,” wrote Gonzalez. “He just has a very giving heart  and always wants to  help others  make their dreams  come  true.   He inspires me and encourages me to do the same things  in  my  life. When I  grow up, I want to be a  teacher  so  that I  can  help  others,  especially  kids, be the best they  can be just like my Papa  has  always  done  for others. My Papa is  my  hero.”

Harris, a sixth grader, wrote about Dr. Danny Pulido, a local physician specializing in pulmonary and critical care. His father emigrated from Cuba in 1960s and began a life in Jacksonville. Harris writes that Pulido started his medical school journey at the University of Costa Rico and completed it at the University of Florida where he studied internal medicine and pulmonology.  As a doctor who works to combat COVID-19 in the community, Pulido believes in integrity and teamwork.

“Dr. Danny thinks that the most important quality of a doctor is honesty,” wrote Harris. “He believes that you should treat every patient ‘like they are your mom or dad.’”

Avi Patel, a senior, wrote about St. Elmo William Acosta, who served as a city councilman in Jacksonville during the early twentieth century and worked to improve the condition of roads and sidewalks in the city, including the development of a paved road from Jacksonville to Jacksonville Beach. His most famous achievement, writes Patel, was the construction of the Acosta Bridge.  

“Prior to its development, the city  lacked  a  reliable  connection  between  the  North  and the  South,  ften  taking nearly  a half  an  hour  via ferry,” wrote Patel. “Yet, after 17  years  of  daily  lobbying,  toiling,  and  spending  over $6,000 out of his own  pocket,  Acosta  achieved  the  difficult  feat  of  constructing the St. Johns  River Bridge, significantly  reducing  travel  time  from  the two  banks.”

The Hispanic Heritage Essay contest is hosted annually by the district’s ESOL Department. This year, it was sponsored by the Jaguars Foundation, which provided prizes to each of the winners including tickets to this Sunday’s Jaguars vs. Cardinals game.

Click on the links below to read the winning essays: