Dr. Antonia Pantoja
Dr. Antonia Pantoja was a leader with a vision. She was the
founder of and the inspiration for numerous organizations
that addressed the social needs and educational aspirations
of the Puerto Rican community and Latino youth. She was a
leader, an activist, an educator, an author, and a social
worker. Dr. Pantoja led by example and her legacy includes
inspiring others to overcome life’s hurdles and become
successful leaders in their own right. She overcame obstacles
through determination, discipline, and creativity. An energetic
woman with a wonderful sense of humor Dr. Pantoja was also
indomitable. Her work was recognized and appreciated by individuals,
community leaders, and Presidents.
Born in San Juan, Puerto Rico in 1922. After receiving a
teaching certificate from the University of Puerto Rico she
worked as a schoolteacher for two years in Puerto Rico where
she cultivated a profound interest in education and addressing
the needs of disadvantaged children. She arrived in New York
City in November 1944 where she got a job as a welder in a
factory. During these years she was awakened to the harsh
experience of racism and discrimination against Puerto Ricans
in the United States. She saw education as the means to liberate
herself and young Puerto Ricans from the constraints placed
Dr. Pantoja attended Hunter College of the city of New York
from where she received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1952.
With financial assistance from the Antoinette Cannon and John
Hay Whitney Foundations she went on to the Columbia University
School of Social Work from which she received a Master’s
degree in 1954. She received a Ph.D. from the Union Graduate
School in 1973.
As a graduate student at Columbia University Dr. Pantoja
joined with others to create the Hispanic Youth Adult Association
which later became the Puerto Rican Association for Community
Affairs (PRACA). In 1961 as a member of the Puerto Rican Forum,
Inc., a group of young professionals, she founded ASPIRA.
ASPIRA, under Dr. Pantoja’s leadership, has become one
of the most effective organizations concerned about the high
dropout rate of Hispanic students and the socio-economic conditions
faced by the families of these students. The organization
continues today as a leading national organization dedicated
to education and leadership development of Latino youth.
In 1970 Antonia Pantoja developed the proposal and secured
funds to establish the Universidad Boricua and the Puerto
Rican Research and Resource Center. In 1978 as an Associate
Professor at the School of Social Work, San Diego State University
in collaboration with others she founded the Graduate School
for Community Development in San Diego. In 1985 she organized
PRODUCIR, a community organization in Puerto Rico that has
helped a rural community create its own cottage industries
to generate employment and other services.
She was involved in numerous other community and professional
organizations throughout her life, all working towards the
goals of building stronger communities and supporting her
focus on Puerto Rican and minority communities. These organizations
included the Ford Foundation, the National Urban Coalition,
the National Association of Social Workers and the Council
on Social Work Education.
Dr. Pantoja was the recipient of numerous awards perhaps
the most notable of which is the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
This medal awarded to her by President Clinton in 1997, is
the highest honor the nation bestows on a civilian.
Her last book Memoir of a Visionary was a story about her
life. At the time of her death she was working on a documentary
about the history of the Puerto Rican community in New York
For further information, contact Alice Ricks at firstname.lastname@example.org