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A Classroom Visit From The Mayor
The class, "Discovering America: 1945-Present," is taught by University President Walter Harrison and Professor of Educational Leadership Donn Weinholtz. The course explores the last six decades of U.S. history by studying Hartford as a microcosm of the nation. Class activities include field trips throughout the city and a number of guest speakers.
Perez, who is serving his second term as Hartford's mayor, was born in Puerto Rico and moved to Hartford as a child with his mother and eight siblings. His family struggled financially and lived in some of the city's toughest neighborhoods, experiences that led Perez to a lifetime of fighting for social justice.
During nearly three decades of public service, Perez worked as an advocate for public housing tenants, a neighborhood organizer, and director of a welfare-to-work program. Later, as a vice president at Trinity College and executive director of the Southside Institutions Neighborhood Alliance, he was instrumental in the development of the Learning Corridor, a massive education and neighborhood revitalization project in South Hartford.
"I've always been very aware that my role in those positions was to empower others," Perez told the class of about 25 students. "When you're in public life, you really get to make a difference."
Sitting on a desk in the front of Auerbach 421, the soft-spoken mayor said that race continues to be a significant factor in economic, educational, and social disparities. Perez said that he has been a victim of "racial profiling" many times in his life, both before and after his election as mayor. But, he added, he has never allowed race to be a major issue in his life.
Perez said he never aspired to run for office. But he was intrigued by the opportunity to revise the city charter to create a "strong mayor" form of government, elevating the office from a ceremonial one to one in which he has the power to affect positive change. He succeeded in gaining voter approval of the charter revision, and now, as the city's first "strong mayor" in recent history, he is making steady progress toward revitalizing Hartford.
"I'm just enjoying every day and trying to make a difference every day."