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Juan Calderon talks health board, career, activist work
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times

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Among his many accomplishments, community leader Juan Calderon was recently named by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to the newly vacated seat on the Chicago Board of Health. The city council approved his appointment this past September.

"This appointment means a great deal to me," said Calderon. "I am the first openly Puerto Rican/Latinx gay man to serve on the Chicago Board of Health ... To fully leverage this position, I want to be a voice that helps intersect the community and its development to public health, including encouraging Chicagoans to lead overall healthier lives. As a gay man, it is important to me to promote changes and improvements in the overall health of the LGBTQ community.

"We need to live healthier lives and eradicate the obstacles that block us from receiving life-saving resources and education. I want to be the voice for the Latinx community and other people of color as well as LGBTQ people, including fighting poverty and giving people the resources they need to create a healthier community."

"As an activist and community leader, Calderon has dedicated his career to leveraging community and government support to address disparities in education and access to resources for some of Chicago's most vulnerable residents," said Emanuel. "His breadth of experience and commitment to this city makes him highly qualified for this role on the Chicago Board of Health."

"With his extensive experience, Juan will be an excellent addition to the Board and we welcome this appointment," said Chicago Board of Health President Dr. Carolyn C. Lopez. "Juan's dedication to the Latino community of Chicago has been proven through his work at the Puerto Rican Cultural Center ( PRCC ), and he will continue to be a great advocate for not only this community, but for all Chicago residents in need of quality healthcare."

Calderon is PRCC's COO; he directs all the center's programs, including ones serving the LGBTQ community. He leads the management team that oversees PRCC's health, culture, art, housing and education components.

Prior to his role as COO, Calderon was PRCC's Vida/SIDA director focused on providing HIV/AIDS education and preventative services in Humboldt Park.

"In order to do the role justice, I needed to become an unwavering advocate for the resources needed to provide these services," said Calderon. "I became acquainted with elected officials, city and state department heads and other community organizers, and cried out for the equitable distribution of resources. I was not going to allow our communities of color to receive trickle down resources; we demanded to receive them directly. I led efforts that called for government agencies and elected officials to recognize our agency. To respect our unique vantage point to know what our communities required and how best to deliver the life-saving resources we all deserve. Another goal was to ensure sustainability—providing the community and city a vibrant and expanding base where there has been a lack of resources from public and private sector foundations."

CalderÃï"n has a unique perspective due to his combined Puerto Rican/Mexican heritage. His father is from Puerto Rico and migrated to Chicago as a young adult while his mother is Mexican and emigrated to the states as a young woman.

"I was raised in my mother's home, which was deeply rooted in Mexican culture—food, music, dialect, religious practices, etc.," said CalderÃï"n. "Nonetheless, I grew up in the Puerto Rican Humboldt Park neighborhood, and eventually became involved with the community including exploring what it means to be Puerto Rican. Now I feel an intense connection to that heritage."

Calderon describes his childhood as culturally rigorous and rooted in Mexican traditions that his mother instilled in him. He attended Yates Elementary School, Steinmetz as an honor roll student and later graduated from Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos High School—part of the Alternative Schools Network. CalderÃï"n went to the City Colleges of Chicago for two years and transferred to Northeastern Illinois University where he earned his B.A. in Sociology. Currently, he is enrolled in the University of Illinois-Chicago School of Public Health Master of Public Health program and expects to receive his master's degree sometime in 2018.

In addition to his new role at the Chicago Board of Health, Calderon is the chair of Trans Chicago advocacy organization that promotes safe and welcoming communities for Latinx and Black trans people and a board member of the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture. CalderÃï"n is also an education advocate including his role as a Yates Local School Council board member.

Among his many accomplishments, Calderon organized and led a Chicago and New York delegation to Cuba this past May where he partnered with Cuban National Center for Sex Education ( CENESEX ) Director Mariela Castro ( Cuban President Raul Castro's daughter ). CENESEX's mission is the eradication of transphobia and homophobic in Cuba.

"We introduced public health information focusing on transgender people and other members of the LGBTQ community from Cuba, Puerto Rico and other Puerto Rican diaspora locations," said CalderÃï"n.

CalderÃï"n has been recognized by La Voz del Paseo Boricua's "Top 10 Under 30," this publication's "30 under 30" annual list of movers and shakers in the LGBTQ community, DIFFA Chicago and the IVI-IPO Gay & Lesbian Caucus.

When Calderon is not working he likes to plan culturally relevant programming for the PRCC, traveling to Puerto Rico, Cuba and the diasporic Puerto Rican community advancing pan latino public health initiatives. He enjoys attending cultural events in and around Chicago and more recently, working out at the gym. Additionally, he has served as a volunteer for Rep. Luis Gutierrez, state Rep. Cynthia Soto, state Sen. Omar Aquino, state Sen. Iris Martinez and Alderman Roberto Maldonado's political campaigns.

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