Honoree Headshot

Maria Matos

President and CEO
Latin American Community Center

Location: Wilmington, DE
Founded: 1969
Industry: Bilingual | Multiservice Nonprofit

Maria Matos, it seems, was destined to lead the Latin American Community Center in Delaware. For starters, she grew up in a house across the street from what is now the LACC. More importantly, her demand for justice and instinct to do the right thing fit perfectly with the LACC’s mission.

One day in the 1970s, she was parking her car at her home and saw two police officers moving two Black Puerto Rican young men off the corner. By the time Matos got out of her car, the men were face down on the ground, handcuffed and beaten by the officers. Matos, who later described feeling a jolt of energy to take action, approached the officers and demanded that they stop beating the men. Instead, the men and Matos were arrested on charges of inciting a riot.

When Matos’ father and sister came out of the house, they were arrested, too. Matos’ father was a minister and a respected man in the community. The arrests galvanized the community, and members demanded that the minister and his daughters be released. They were set free an hour and a half later.

The City of Wilmington was forced to recognize the power of Latinos as a group, and the incident marked the beginning of Matos’ work as an advocate. Ultimately, the event led to the establishment in 1978 of the Governor’s Advisory Council on Hispanic Affairs. In 1994, when the LACC needed new leadership to address the growing needs of the community, Matos was recruited to serve as executive director.

“As a long-time civil rights advocate, I plan to remain an influence for the rest of my life — or at least until I see a commitment to equity and systemic change,” Matos said. “I will always stand up for what is right and just. If I have to, I will stand alone for what is right and just. I will not hesitate to challenge the powers that be. I will always believe in human rights before self-interest.”

The LACC is a nonprofit organization committed to meeting the needs of Latinos in Delaware since 1969. It’s the largest Hispanic-serving organization in the state. For over 50 years, the LACC has served as a community anchor and a beacon for many Latinos, touching the lives of over 25,000 people annually and directly serving 7,000 individuals.

The mission of the LACC is to empower the Latino community through education, advocacy, partnerships and services. The agency provides over 30 programs organized into two divisions: Lifelong Learning and Life Empowerment. Lifelong Learning offers educational services for infants through late teens. Life Empowerment focuses on helping individuals and families achieve or re-establish self-sufficiency.

“For the past 28 years, I have had the privilege of leading the largest Hispanic-serving organization in Delaware,” Matos said. “With that leadership comes a lot of responsibility. I believe I have a job to do and it’s a job that carries some urgency because of the demographic shifts that are changing the face of America.

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Honoree fun fact

Maria's personal story is archived at the American Folklife Center in the Library of Congress! In 2021, Maria was invited to participate in a StoryCorps conversation. StoryCorps is a national nonprofit organization with a mission to preserve and share humanity's stories to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.

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