Norma Hernandez

GOLD Series speaker Norma Hernandez encourages leadership

Sep 3, 2020
Kathryne Davis

Norma Hernandez, president of the Northeast Georgia Latino Chamber of Commerce, spoke Tuesday, Sept. 1, to the Brenau University community and guests via Zoom about her career after coming to America and overcoming the challenges she faced.

Hernandez was the latest guest in the second year of The Women’s College of Brenau University’s GOLD Speaker Series, featuring highly accomplished and trailblazing women.

The dynamic series is an ongoing component of The Women’s College’s GOLD Program, which in its current “O” year is focusing on ownership of personal responsibility and challenges students to participate in the democratic process. This follows the first “G” year dedicated to gender awareness, and the ensuing “L” and “D” years will focus on leadership and diversity.

After starting out working in a tortilla factory, Hernandez worked her way up to her current position that she has held since 2017. As president of the Northeast Georgia Latino Chamber of Commerce, Hernandez manages the strategic, fiscal and programmatic goals for the chamber. In addition, she chairs the Hall County COVID Task Force and is very involved in the community. Hernandez has served on many boards and with civic organizations in Gainesville, Georgia, including the United Way, March of Dimes, Salvation Army and Gateway House.

“I think my proudest accomplishment is when I started to see my hard work paying off and when I started to see my community becoming one,” Hernandez said, who holds a bachelor’s in accounting from the Institute Debe Y Haber of Accountants in her native Honduras. “People started understanding the importance of giving and participation. I feel very proud that I’m the voice that started that.”

One of her other numerous accomplishments is forming and serving as the president of the Northeast Georgia Hispanic Alliance, the first Latino advocacy organization in Gainesville. Through the alliance, Hernandez, who became a United States citizen in 1989, helped more than 350 others on their path to citizenship.

“I realized that the Latino community didn’t have an organization,” Hernandez said. “We didn’t have our own voice. We needed a voice that would bring the cultures together to help us to better understand each other.”

After sharing her story with the participants, Hernandez emphasized how important it is to be a leader, which is what helped her get to where she is today.

“Wake up that leader in you,” she said. “Make a difference. It is incredibly rewarding, I promise you. I live it everyday.”

Some of Hernandez’s other positions include serving for more than seven years as the first Latino community service officer for the City of Gainesville Police Department and becoming court clerk for the Gainesville Municipal Court. She went on to become the assistant director for the Victim Assistance Program of the District Attorney’s Office, serving Hall and Dawson counties. In 1993, Hernandez received the Liberty Bell Award which recognized her outstanding community service and promotion of better understanding and respect for the law.

Calla Busby, a student in Brenau’s Executive Women’s MBA program, was inspired by what Hernandez said.

“I had a really good time listening to how one carved their way through in America and owned their voice while traveling on their journey,” Busby said. “Hernandez has such a wonderful story to tell, and it’s a lesson all at the same time. It’s a beautiful lesson that we can all learn from. I really liked that she said, ‘Stand up. Speak out. And don’t be afraid.’ I actually wrote that down. Those three sentences are simplistic in theory but so powerful.”

Debra Dobkins, dean of The Women’s College, urged everyone to keep Hernandez in mind when they get discouraged.

“When you think that you can’t make a difference in your world, I want you to think about Norma Hernandez,” Dobkins said. “When you think that you are facing obstacles you cannot overcome, I want you to think about Norma Hernandez and what she’s accomplished. When you think that one person can’t truly change her community, I want you to think about Norma Hernandez. We ask you all to carry with you in your hearts and in your actions the “O” year theme, ‘Own Your Voice, Create Your Community.’ Make the world better for everybody.”

The next GOLD Speaker Series event will feature former Georgia Supreme Court Justice Leah Ward Sears at 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 16. For registration and profiles of this year’s speakers, visit brenau.edu/gold-speaker. For more information, contact Lacey Wilcoxson at lcarpenter1@brenau.edu.

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