The gala was hosted on April 20 at the Ritz-Carlton in Washington, DC. CHLI is a non-partisan non-profit organization that hosts briefings on Capitol Hill, an annual Trade and International Affairs Symposium, and a fellowship program which allow college-aged Hispanic men and women to intern in a congressional office and a corporate office over the course of a 15-week semester.
“CHLI’s been wonderful for young people who go through the fellowship program. 200 young people have graduated from the program and have found careers afterwards. It’s amazing seeing how many lives have been impacted by CHLI and it’s been an exceptional honor to watch people grow,” said Lincoln Díaz-Balart, CHLI’s chairman and founder and former Congressman from Florida.
The gala opened up with a cocktail hour before the dinner and awards ceremony. Members of Congress, corporate executives, government employees, and members of partnering non-profits gathered together for a time of networking and fellowship.
“The gala is a great event! Everyone is enjoying themselves and there a lot of important and influential people here,” said Dehigar Ramirez, a former CHLI fellow and current employee at the Federal Aviation Administration.
“The CHLI gala is a special night because it not only brings community but family. CHLI helps people seek leadership and areas of growth. It brings together a community people in business, government, and non-profits,” said Ray Dempsey, the Vice President and Head of External Affairs at BP America and CHLI’s Treasurer.
After dinner, CHLI awarded two public service awards, one to a Republican Congressman and the other to a Democrat Congressman, and an international leadership award. Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA) and Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL) received the public service awards and current Venezuelan political prisoner Leopoldo Lopez received the international leadership award. Due to his imprisonment, Lopez’s wife Lilian Tintori received the award on his behalf.
“This is truly a bipartisan and inclusive event and special place. Two legislators, one Republican and one Democrat demonstrated what leadership is all about—finding a common ground,” said Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart (R-FL), one of CHLI’s Vice-Chairmen. “A political prisoner of two years in solitary confinement because of his pursuit of freedom is receiving an award and it’s such an honor to be here.”
“It’s a big honor to receive this award,” said Denham. “I’ve had the chance to work with young Latino leaders and empower education and employment perspectives in both California and the rest of the country with jobs and upward mobility.” Denham currently represents California’s 10th congressional district and serves on the Agriculture, Natural Resources and Transportation and Infrastructure committees and is the rail subcommittee chairman on the Transportation and Infrastructure committee.
“It’s a big honor to receive this award, especially since I was sworn in between votes. It was like being transferred in high school during senior year and I didn’t even know who the cool kids were yet,” said Quigley. “I had the chance to travel to Poland with the Díaz-Balarts and traveling with them, they teach you how to have fun but also how to be a freedom fighter. Young people go to school and hear nothing but negativity about politics. Public service is a job that teaches you where you can learn from.” Quigley represents Illinois’ 5th congressional district and was former commissioner for Cook County, Illinois and is passionate about public service.
After the two Congressmen received the public service awards, Tintori came up on stage and spoke on her husband’s behalf. She pulled out her phone and started livestreaming the award ceremony.
In 2014, Leopoldo Lopez was arrested and sentenced for a 14-year-long prison term for leading an opposition movement against Venezulan president Nicolas Maduro.
After Tintori received her award, the CHLI chairman rallied the crowd to cry out for the freedom of Venezuela and Cuba, another country with countless political prisoners also fighting for the love and freedom of their country.
“This gala sets the stage for a historic moment where the honoree is a Venezuelan sitting in jail while he receives his award,” said Manuel Rosales, Secretary of the Latino Coalition.
“I’m very honored to be in the presence of Leopoldo Lopez’s wife because he is the embodiment of how heroes are. He speaks out against injustices for people who don’t have freedom. People in the U.S. take freedom for granted and forget how good freedom is and he fights for something that we have,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), one of CHLI’s congressional board members.
“Tonight brought in different folks with different ideas and we saw an award presentation of a of an award to the wife of a political activist. I’m hoping many people will learn to do what those people do,” said Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX), one of CHLI's Vice-Chairmen.