April 19, 2018

Washington, D.C. - Renowned broadcast journalist Maria Elena Salinas, civil rights leader Brent A. Wilkes, and Verizon executive Emilio Gonzalez were honored Wednesday at the 2018 MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) Washington, D.C. Gala. The annual event brings together individuals, corporations, and law firms dedicated to advancing Latino causes and civil rights in the United States.

Claudia Curiel, reporter and anchor at Noticiero Telemundo 44 in Washington, served as Master of Ceremonies. U.S. Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez, who represents the 4th Congressional District of Illinois, was the keynote speaker. MALDEF President and General Counsel Thomas A. Saenz delivered remarks highlighting the civil rights challenges and opportunities Latinos face in the coming year.

“Our terrific honorees epitomize the inspiration, partnership, and support that have helped to sustain MALDEF in almost 50 years of promoting the civil rights of all Latinos living in the United States,” Saenz said. “Today, we face unique and unexpected challenges in the Latino community, and MALDEF is committed to continuing and expanding our work to overcome any barriers to Latino inclusion and success.”

Maria Elena Salinas received the Lifetime Achievement, Excellence in Community Service Award. One of the most recognized, trusted and influential figures in broadcast journalism, Salinas was featured for more than three decades as co-anchor and correspondent on Noticiero Univision, the flagship daily evening news program of Noticias Univision. She has received awards for her work throughout her career, most notably for her 2014 news and documentary special, Entre el Abandano y el Rechazo (Between Abandonment and Rejection), a prime-time investigative report on the exodus of Central American children fleeing to the United States to escape extreme poverty and violence. The special was honored with an Emmy, a Peabody Award, a Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism and a Gracie Award. Now an independent journalist and producer, she is currently host and executive producer of the newsmagazine program The Real Story with Maria Elena Salinas, which begins its second season this year on the Investigation Discovery Network.

Brent A. Wilkes also received the Lifetime Achievement, Excellence in Community Service Award at Wednesday’s gala. Wilkes advanced Latino causes over 30 years of work at the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the nation’s largest and oldest Latino organization. He worked in various capacities before being named LULAC’s Chief Executive Officer in April 1997, leading and managing the organization’s national policy, legislative advocacy, program development and resource development programs through February of this year. LULAC’s influence and advocacy grew exponentially under his stewardship, including the launch in 2004 of the LULAC Leadership Initiative, which established 58 community technology centers and 80 high school leadership programs nationwide. Long a nationally recognized voice of Latino empowerment, Wilkes continues his work to advance the inclusion of Latinos.

The Corporate Social Responsibility Award went to Emilio Gonzalez, Executive Director for Public Policy and Strategic Alliances at Verizon. In his role overseeing strategic initiatives and external affairs, Gonzalez spearheads outreach with civil rights organizations and multicultural business groups nationwide. He is an expert in telecommunications and technology policy issues with long experience in both the private and public sectors. Early in his career he served as a policy advisor for the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, and went to a Clinton Administration appointment as special assistant for technology at the U.S. Department of Commerce. He later was named a senior advisor for technology, education and internet policy to Education Secretary Richard W. Riley. Gonzalez is a member of the Cisneros Hispanic Leadership Institute at George Washington University and of the executive committee of the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute.

The annual gala attracted notable elected officials and community leaders who gathered to celebrate the honorees and MALDEF’s longstanding civil rights leadership.

Founded in 1968, MALDEF is the nation's leading Latino legal civil rights organization. Often described as the "Latino Legal Voice for Civil Rights in America" MALDEF promotes social change through advocacy, communications, community education, and litigation in the areas of education, employment, immigrant rights, and political access. For more information on MALDEF, please visit:

Copyright 2009 MALDEF — Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund