RECAP: PBHA’s 12th Annual Robert Coles “Call of Service” Lecture & Award

On Friday, October 26, 2018,  PBHA honored Carmen Yulín Cruz, Mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, at the 12th Annual Robert Coles “Call of Service” Lecture & Award. Mayor Cruz, who has served in elected office for Puerto Rico since 1992, was honored for her longtime advocacy on behalf of women’s, immigrant, LGBTQ, Deaf and labor rights, and Puerto Rican self-determination, in addition to her courageous advocacy for bringing much needed help and dignified care to the people of Puerto Rico following the devastation of Hurricane Maria.

The Mayor’s visit to Cambridge began on Wednesday evening with a visit to PBHA’s Harvard Square Homeless Shelter, which marked its 35th anniversary last weekend. There, she engaged in a deep reflection about the source of the “call of service” with students and staff over Pinocchio’s Pizza. Thursday’s events began with a special breakfast at El Oriental de Cuba in Jamaica Plain with civic leaders of Boston’s Puerto Rican community. The rest of the day included a tour of Fenway Park and a visit to Boston University, where Mayor Cruz received a bachelor’s degree in 1984 and an honorary degree at this year’s commencement.

On Friday, Mayor Cruz visited the Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School (IOP) for “Pizza and Politics”. To a roomful of students, she emotionally recalled the political choices she had to make in an effort to save lives in the wake of last year’s hurricanes. The Mayor, along with her staff, PBHA President Anwar Omeish ’19, Vice President Jesper Ke ’19, Public Relations Officer Felipe Espitia ’19, Class of 1955 Executive Director Maria Dominguez Gray, and Nonprofit Management Fellow Michael Leonard ’17, traveled to Wadsworth House in Harvard Yard for a special welcome from Interim University Marshal Margot Gill. The afternoon concluded with an intimate conversation between the Mayor and youth leaders from Harvard and PBHA partners in greater Boston.


Prior to the lecture, PBHA partners, Puerto Rican community leaders, Harvard faculty and staff, Boston and Cambridge officials, and PBHA officers and staff gathered in the Parlor Room of the Phillips Brooks House in honor of Mayor Cruz. During this time, the Mayor met Dr. Robert Coles, the former PBHA volunteer, Board Member, child psychiatrist, civil rights worker, longtime Harvard Professor, and Pulitzer Prize Winning author for whom the lecture and award are named. Attendees heard remarks from Danoff Dean of Harvard College Rakesh Khurana, Dr. Coles, Massachusetts Representative Marjorie C. Decker, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh, and Mayor Cruz herself before heading to Memorial Church.


The evening lecture and award ceremony began with a welcome and reflection from PBHA President Anwar Omeish ’19 and Pusey Minister Jonathan L. Walton on behalf of the Memorial Church at Harvard University. Cambridge Mayor Marc McGovern then issued an official proclamation to mark the occasion and presented Mayor Cruz with a key to the city. Vanessa Calderón-Rosado, CEO of Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción (IBA), and Harvard sophomore Yasenimary Velazquez Carrasquillo ’21 helped introduce Mayor Cruz and urged the crowd to take continued action in support of Puerto Rico. Class of 1955 Executive Director Maria Dominguez Gray presented Mayor Cruz with the 2018 Robert Coles “Call of Service” Award as Dr. Coles looked on from the front row. Mayor Cruz then delivered a powerful lecture, speaking to her personal background in service, reflecting on the regret of being unable to save more lives, condemning the deadly neglect of Puerto Ricans by the federal government, and urging the crowd of over 500 to answer the call of service.


“But I guarantee one thing: You will have to answer that call of service question. The question is: What are we prepared to do to change the world we live in?”

The evening closed with remarks from WBUR radio host José Massó, questions from members of the audience, and performances from local artists Ernesto “Eroc” Arroyo-Montano and Eli “Lady” Pabón, as well as PBHA alum José Olivarez ’10. PBHA’s Alumni & History Coordinator Connie Cai ’21 helped PBHA-A President Danielle Goatley ’14 close the event and officially kick off PBHA’s Alumni Weekend.