Monday, Feb. 07, 2005

Luis Cortes

Bringing Latinos To the Table
In the summer of 2000, a fleet of dark, unmarked vehicles pulled up to the North Philadelphia office of the Rev. Luis Cortes Jr. As neighbors watched in amazement, armed men hustled a mysterious visitor inside. What happened next launched the remarkable ascent of a Hispanic Baptist minister until then little known outside Philadelphia. The visitor was G.O.P. presidential candidate George W. Bush, on a low-profile visit to woo Cortes and other Hispanic leaders. Over the next few hours, Cortes and Bush formed a bond that has vaulted the minister to the top tier of the fast-growing Hispanic Protestant community. With grants from Bush's Faith-Based Initiative and the cachet that comes from his Bush connection, Cortes, now 47, has expanded his two-decade-old organization, Nueva Esperanza (New Hope) nationwide, building houses in poor communities, offering start-up loans to Hispanic businesses and launching an aids-awareness program. In 2002 Cortes established the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast, addressed annually by Bush and attended by a bipartisan slate of political heavyweights. "Part of integrating is understanding power," says Cortes. "Our people have power, but they have never used it." Now he's showing them how.