VALLEY FORGE, PA (ABNS 1/12/21)—The Rev. Luis A. Cortés Jr., an American Baptist Home Mission Societies (ABHMS) home missionary, has made regional news as the first Hispanic to receive the prestigious Philadelphia Award.
Administered by a board of trustees, the Philadelphia Award was created in 1921 by philanthropist Edward William Bok. An immigrant to the United States from the Netherlands, Bok entered publishing and rose to head The Ladies’ Home Journal. According to the award’s website, “The award is given each year to a citizen of the Philadelphia region who, during the preceding year, acted and served on behalf of the best interests of the community.”
President and CEO of Esperanza—a Hispanic faith-based network—Cortés was inspired by Matthew 25:40 to found the organization in 1986, with support from the Hispanic Clergy of Philadelphia, of which he is a co-founder.
Under his leadership, Esperanza has grown from a small, 20-person operation to 500 employees and a $55 million annual operating budget, according to Jenifer Kohlhas, Esperanza’s vice president of administration and executive assistant to the CEO.
The organization seeks to strengthen Hispanic communities through programs and services that, Cortés says, include advocating for immigrants; providing financial assistance for first-time homebuyers; cleaning the urban environment (planting trees and cleaning city lots); building low-income housing for the poor; providing a jobs program; offering community schools (including Esperanza College of Eastern University); and offering education advocacy for inner cities.
Immigration work has “been much, much more difficult under the current [presidential] administration,” Cortés says. “But we think we may have some possibilities as we move forward under the new administration to get more people on the road to citizenship. A lot of applications were frozen in place for long periods of time, although it’s clear under the general rules that they qualify [for citizenship]. We still have hundreds of clients.”
Since 2001, Esperanza has hosted the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast and Conference in Washington, D.C. In 2005, Cortés was counted among Time magazine’s 50 “Most Influential Evangelicals” and spoke at the National Prayer Service. He presented the invocation prayer at Barack Obama’s 2013 inauguration luncheon. At the White House’s request, Cortés led a 2014 delegation of faith leaders to Central America to dialogue regarding the influx of unaccompanied minors to the United States. Cortés has been chosen as a partner and Esperanza as a model for the U.S. Partnership on Mobility from Poverty.
Regarding the Philadelphia Award, Cortés says, “It was an honor to be recognized for the work that we’ve [Esperanza has] done.”
American Baptist Home Mission Societies partners with American Baptists to promote Christian faith, cultivate Christ-centered leaders and disciples, and bring healing and transformation to communities across the United States and Puerto Rico.
American Baptist Churches USA is one of the most diverse Christian denominations today, with approximately 5,000 congregations comprised of 1.3 million members, across the United States and Puerto Rico, all engaged in God’s mission around the world.