A Black History Month Tribute to Miguel Medina
Miguel A. Medina (1957-1988) was a young, gifted and black Puerto Rican who came to Buffalo in 1978 after turning his life around as a New York City gang leader at the age of 13. He died on Saturday, February 8, in an Albany, New York hospital from pneumonia. The news of his death shocked many in the Puerto Rican community in Buffalo where he had honed his skills as a community leader.
Nicknamed “Slick,” in New York City, Medina found a job as a janitor through the Youth Mobilization program later a case worker for the defunct New York State Division for Youth. He transferred to Buffalo in 1978 eventually left it to become involved in the Puerto Rican community.
Three years later in 1981, at the young age of 24, Medina became the director of the Puerto Rican Chicano Committee today Hispanics United of Buffalo when three former community organizations had merged in the mid 1980s. He had founded the defunct Vida Crisis Intervention Center, chairman of the Neighborhood Advisory Council and member of the statewide Hispanic Political Caucus.
A Republican, Medina had challenged the popular incumbent James W. Pitts for the Ellicott District Council seat in 1979 though lost the race. In 1981 he served as the coordinator for the Erie Country Republican Party.
His political involvement in the Republican Party landed him a patronage job as an equal employment opportunity specialist in Erie County Personnel Department from 1982-1985. Later, he accepted a post as the director of affirmative action in Albany under the former comptroller Edward V. Regan.
Miguel was tall for a Puerto Rican nearly 6ft towered over many of us but always respectful and had an infectious smile imbued with a humble spirit though maintained the tough disposition he learned as a gangster when he challenged the powers to be about the injustices he experienced in the Puerto Rican community.
He had won the love and admiration of the leaders in the community from Ana Cotton, a founder of Los Tainos, Mike Rivera, former chairperson of the Puerto Rican Chicano Committee , Alberto Cappas, his political mentor and former founder and publisher of the Latin Journal newspaper to Stanley Fernandez, an employee of the City of Buffalo today, who credited Medina for helping him land his first job.
I remember Medina as a very respectful young man and a good listener. Back then, several community programs and organizations emerged some a bit earlier such as the Puerto Rican American Association (PRACA), Estudia, Los Tainos, Buffalo Hispanic Association, La Alternativa, the Puerto Chicano Committee (formerly Alianza), a theater and puppet company.
I met Medina after I returned to Buffalo in 1978, when I moved to the Lower West Side after a study-abroad program in Puerto Rico at the famed Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña in Old San Juan through the Puerto Rican Studies Department at the University of Buffalo. I lived upstairs in a store front apartment on Virginia Street where Cappas published the Latin Journal in 1978. I had published my first column in this newspaper.
While an undergraduate student at SUNY College at Buffalo and President of Adelante Estudiantes Latinos, I later moved into an apartment on Grant Street in 1978. During this period, I thought about the idea of organizing the Puerto Rican women in Buffalo. I remember vividly the white telephone on my kitchen wall where I made the first telephone call one evening in 1978 that led to a group of women meeting in their homes developing into the Hispanic Women’s League founded in 1979 in my Grant Street apartment.
At one of these meetings in 1979, I heard a knock at the door when I opened it a young woman with her infant son swaddled in a blanket asked if this was the place the women were meeting. Her name was Lillian Orsini-Fuentes and she was elected its first president in 1979 in this apartment.
Miguel Medina moved to Buffalo in 1978 left to Albany in 1985 and died three years later on February 8, 1988. Although only seven years in the City of Buffalo from 1978 to 1985, he sprinted through opportunities opened to him here as a Puerto Rican Republican until tapped for a position in Albany.
Here Medina assumed a leadership role not as a gangster, his earlier life at age 13, but as a young Puerto Rican leader, making his mark in the political arena. And along the way helped many others to succeed never forgot about his humble roots, using his newly found connections to channel resources to the Latino community.