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    Thursday, April 18, 2024

    Hispanic Alliance Scholarship recipient Danni Cruz shows age is just a number

    New London Board of Education member Danni Cruz Friday, September 9, 2022 at New London High School. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    New London ― Danni Cruz was 13 years old when he was introduced to the world of politics.

    Cruz said he remembers attending a state representative debate between two Democrats: Chris Soto and then incumbent Ernest Hewett.

    He soon after volunteered in Soto’s campaign.

    Now at 19, Cruz is a member of the city’s Board of Education, President of Young Democrats in New London County and campaign manager for state Rep. Anthony Nolan.

    A sophomore at Mitchell College, Cruz transferred from UConn Avery Point and is working towards a degree in education. Last year, Cruz was among 16 recipients to be awarded a $2,000 scholarship from the Hispanic Alliance.

    “Danni Cruz is an engaged and participatory community member and is already contributing to our community in multiple ways,” Tracee Reiser said, the chair of the Hispanic Alliance Scholarship committee.

    The Hispanic Alliance Scholarship Fund has awarded more than 300 scholarships since the flagship program started in 2000. Some of the recipients have gone on to become physicians, educators and scientists. Cruz was introduced to the scholarship through Higher Edge, a program that aims to empower low-income, first-generation students to enter, succeed in and graduate from college.

    Cruz said he aligns with the Hispanic Alliance and what they do for the community. He said he is glad to be a recipient of the scholarship, which allows him to still be in school. Graduating in 2025, Cruz said he hopes to become a teacher and one day work on educational policy and law, working in the state Department of Education or running for office.

    “I want to advocate for communities like New London and make sure they are heard,” Cruz said.

    In July 2021, Cruz was appointed to fill a vacancy on the Board of Education and then he ran for the general election, winning a seat in November. He is up for re-election next year.

    “The educational system has changed over the last three years and we’re doing a lot in the district, putting students at the forefront of decisions,” Cruz said. He said his big focus is advocating for bilingual students and their issues.

    Last November, Cruz also organized others to form a Young Democrats group in the region to stimulate young people politically.

    Nolan informed him a while ago that he was running for reelection and asked Cruz to be his campaign manager. After volunteering for Soto when he was 13, Cruz worked on City Council campaigns, Martha Marx’s campaign for state Senate and a field organizer for Nolan when he was 17.

    Cruz said he is the youngest Hispanic to run an election campaign in New London.

    “Age is not a restriction,” he said. “When I was running for the Board (of Education), I got in the mindset of ’I’m not going to take down veteran politicans’... But I felt I needed to get to the finish line with my community behind me.”

    Cruz has a lot on his plate, also working as an assistant manager at Fiddleheads Food Co-op, but he said it is not overwhelming. In fact, he likes to keep busy.

    “I love working,” Cruz said. “I think it’s very important to have other young people of color being at the table and making decisions.”

    Cruz said he looks up to many local officials when it comes to inspirations: Elaine Maynard-Adams, who is the president of the Board of Education; Efraín Dominguez, who was his teacher in school and a family friend; Nolan, who took him under his arm and has become a mentor to him.

    “Nolan has always said to me, ’I’m preparing the way for you,’” Cruz said.

    In terms of national politics, his inspiration is Barack Obama, he said. Cruz remembers writing a letter to Obama when he was in seventh grade in 2016 at the Dual Language Arts Magnet School in Waterford, asking him to visit and telling him he needed to advocate for immigration laws.

    That was around the time Donald Trump was campaigning with his slogan “Build a Wall.” Cruz said that was creating a divide and hate towards immigrants.

    “Immigrants are the foundation of the country,” Cruz said, adding he has family members and friends that are immigrants and were hurt by the message.

    Obama never visited, but he did call him. Cruz remembers being called up to the school’s main office and having a 20-minute conversation with the president.

    “He told me people like me is what this country needs. And here I am running for office five years later,” Cruz said, referring to when he ran for the Board of Education.

    j.vazquez@theday.com

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