ATLANTA — Isabel Gonzalez Whitaker founded Atlanta's Sara J. González Memorial Park, the first park named for a Latinx individual in the State of Georgia, to honor her mother, prominent immigrant and Latino rights advocate Sara J. Gonzalez.
The memorial park debuted in October 2018 and is located across the street from the Gonzalez-Whitaker family's old-Cuban sandwich shop, which the family was forced to close down. Gonzalez-Whitaker explained how the failure of the family business pushed her mother to help other Latino business owners.
"It was through that failure that ultimately propelled her to a career of advocacy for others, especially through the lens of business and entrepreneurship," Gonzalez-Whitaker said.
Gonzalez served Atlanta's Latinx community for decades after closing her restaurant, Sarita. As listed on the Sara J. González Memorial Park website, she started as the receptionist at the Latin American Association before being recruited by the International Olympics Committee to be the Director of Hispanic Community Relations in 1996.
As Director of Hispanic Community Relations, Gonzalez worked toward ensuring the inclusion of Atlanta's Latinx community in the planning and execution of the Summer Games.
Afterward, the Latino rights advocate took on her final role as President and CEO of the Georgia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. For 12 years, she advocated for Hispanic business leaders, entrepreneurs and employees.
"It was quite pioneering and it helped drive millions of dollars not only for those companies but for the economy of Georgia," Gonzalez-Whitaker said.
Gonzalez's leadership during her time as President and CEO established the GHCC as the largest Hispanic Chamber in the Southeast. GHCC's Annual Gala is the most significant event connecting Latinx entrepreneurs in Georgia.
The Hispanic Caucus at the Georgia State Capitol and Hispanic Day at the Capitol were both accomplishments made during Gonzalez's tenure.
Before her death in 2008, González was a recipient of the prestigious Purpose Prize, an award given to civic leaders and entrepreneurs over the age of 60 who combine their passion and experience for social good.