When U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez’s parents came to the United States to escape the rule of Cuban dictator General Fulgencio Batista, their actions would set in motion a move toward a better life for their family. Menendez was born in 1954, two years after his parents immigrated to the United States. Life was not easy for the family but Menendez’s mother, Evangelina, taught him the importance of education, hard work and perseverance. She passed away in 2009.
As a tribute to her legacy, Menendez created the Evangelina Menendez Trailblazer Award to recognize New Jersey women who promote equal rights for all and champion the rights of women, families and children.
“Last year was truly the Year of the Woman,” said Menendez. “A record number of women were elected to Congress and local office, shaping our legislature to look more and more like the people it represents. We have the most women ever to serve in the Senate at one time. The fight for women’s rights is far from over, but I am proud to fight alongside these women every step of the way.”
NJEA President Marie Blistan, was recognized along with New Jersey State Teacher of the Year Jennifer Skomial, Jolt USA Founder Catherine Brienza, President and CEO of Metropolitan Family Health Network Joan Dublin, MomsRising Maternal Justice Campaign Director S. Nadia Hussain, Blue Wave President Marcia Marley, and Women’s March on New Jersey Founder Elizabeth Meyer.
“As we honor your mother, an amazing and trailblazing woman from Cuba who came to our great state and thrived, I feel such rejuvenation,” said Blistan, upon accepting her award. “Sen. Menendez, as I have heard you say many times before, it was your mother who instilled in you the values of education, and I am honored to be here today receiving this award in the name of educators everywhere. My mother taught me that we stand up for what is right because it is right, and that foundation of compassion allows me to stand up and advocate for what’s best for New Jersey’s children.”
Blistan went on to say that “in this role, our NJEA members have empowered me to contribute to our profession, the profession that made me who I am, and to teach students—to truly teach children—that together, we can make and will make the world a better place.”