Winner of Eastern’s 2021 Social Justice Award
Gladys Vega is the Executive Director at La Colaborativa – an organization that empowers Latine immigrants to enhance the social and economic health of the community, and to hold institutional decision-makers accountable to the community – and has been passionately involved in Chelsea for 30 years. Gladys is afro-latina and came to the United States from Puerto Rico at the age of 9. From receptionist to current executive director, Vega has been involved with La Colaborativa from its conception.
Recognizing the unique needs within the community, Vega has dedicated herself towards empowering Chelsea and its residents. Gladys has worked as an organizer and an advocate to ensure that the Latino community has a role and a voice in determining the ways its needs and concerns are addressed, and to ensure the survival and mobility of the Latine community.
In 2007 and 2008 she was chosen by the Boston Globe and a group of Spanish newspapers as one of the 100 most Influential Leaders in Massachusetts. She served as a Democratic Delegate for the National Convention for Al Gore for President in 2000, but her passion for civics and the immigrant community did not end there. In 2007 Gladys led the locally elected city council to make Chelsea a sanctuary city, making Chelsea the third in Massachusetts. In 2011 she was chosen as Barr Foundation Fellow, which allowed her to travel to Haiti and serve the community. Gladys was a founding member of Centro Latino the only direct service agency for Latino in Chelsea and served as Board President of Centro Latino de Chelsea for 5 years. Gladys’ model leadership during the Covid-19 pandemic landed her the Bostonian of the Year award by the Boston Globe for 2020. Her activism and leadership have been spotlighted in The Atlantic, recognized by The Boston Foundation, and featured on WGBH and Latino USA. Gladys has received numerous awards and has been recognized worldwide for her advocacy, passion, and work for immigrants in Chelsea and neighboring cities.
Gladys is passionate about the immigrant community and being a catalyst for lifelong change. She has been the architect for many programs at La Colaborativa including (but not limited to) tenants' rights, immigrant rights, anti-racism campaigns, and the food pantry. La Colaborativa’s pop-up food pantry that, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, formed at the front porch of her home. To date, La Colaborativa has given over 10,000 pounds of food to community members.
Even with the obstacles that the past years have provided, Gladys Vega has led La Colaborativa into city-wide and state-wide action. The difference under her leadership continues to show and will show for years to come, and the gratitude the community has for her dedication to the Latine immigrant community will forever be felt.
Past Recipients of Social Justice Award
|2020||Robert Lewis, Jr.||The BASE|
|2019||Ronald F. Ferguson||The Basics|
|2018||Paula A. Johnson||Wellesley College|
|2017||Chau-ming Lee||Asian American Civic Association|
|2016||Marylou Sudders||Executive Office of Health & Human Services, Commonwealth of Massachusetts|
|2015||John E. Rosenthal||Meredith Management, Stop Handgun Violence|
|2014||Jeffrey C. Riley||Superintendent of Lawrence Public Schools|
|2013||Mayor Thomas Menino||City of Boston|
|2012||Rebecca Haag||AIDS Action Committee|
|2011||Suzanne Kenney||Project Place|
|2010||Eva Millona||Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition|
|2009||David Waters||Community Servings|
|2007||Dr. Jim O'Connell||Boston Healthcare for the Homeless|
|2006||Julie Marston & Dr. Cal Cohen||Community Research Initiative of N.E. ("CRI")|
|2005||Carol Rose||ACLU of Massachusetts|
|2004||Mary Bonauto||Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders|
|2003||Anne Peretz & Cheryl Vines||The Family Center|
|2002||Dr. Julia Brody||Silent Spring Institute|
|2001||Jonathan Scott||Victory Programs|
|2000||Sister Barbara Whelan||Bridge Over Troubled Waters|
|1999||Philip Mangano||MA Housing & Shelter Alliance|
|1998||Robert A. Sable||Greater Boston Legal Services|
|1997||Anna Bissonnette, Elsie Frank & Ruth Cowin||Committee to End Elder Homelessness|
|1996||Kip Tiernan||Rosie's Place|
|1995||Todd Summers||AIDS Housing Corporation|
|1994||Sister Jeannette Normandin||Ruah|
|1993||Westy Egmont||Greater Boston Food Bank|
|1992||Loretta Davis||Cambridge YWCA|
|1991||Jackie Jenkins-Scott||Dimock Community Health Center|
|1990||Lisa Chapnick||Public Facilities Department|
|1989||Richard Ring||Pine Street Inn|