North Ward Council Candidate
Katilia Vélez was raised in Newark’s North Ward, attending St. Michael’s School. She was a young leader in St. Michael’s Church, and was raised in a house that was community minded and service oriented. Her father, Amilkar Vélez-López, is a community activist, social justice leader, and retired Judge of the Newark Municipal Court. Her mother, Ada Myrna Quiñones, is a retired Newark Public Schools teacher and was a volunteer administrator and leader at St. Michael’s Church. Katilia’s foundation is based in service, and many of her childhood weekends were spent engaging in community projects and fellowship with her neighbors.
Today she is a freelance consultant for non-profit and small businesses. She has a professional background in administration, development, fundraising, project planning, advocacy and activism. Prior to consulting, she was the development director for Ironbound Community Corporation, a community development and planning organization in Newark.
Katilia has volunteered her time and skills as a trustee for various agencies including Friends of the Hispanic Research and Information Center (housed within the Newark Public Library), Latinas United for Political Empowerment- Political Action Committee, North Newark Move, and Tainas Unidas, among others. She also regularly serves on ad-hoc committees as the community will presents itself to meet a goal, or a see an initiative come to reality.
In 2009, she received national recognition and was the recipient of The Comite Noviembre Award for Puerto Rican Heritage, for her activism in leading a campaign to remove a racist episode of MTV’s True Life series that was particularly offensive to Puerto Ricans. The campaign was able to secure a $10,000 award for the National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights, be contributors to MTV’s Census 2010 Latino outreach efforts, and most importantly, the offending episode was wiped from the network.
In 2010, she was a leader with Latinos United for Haiti, a group that came together in the North Ward to respond to the earthquake in Haiti. Together they raised over $14,000 in a very economically depressed area, as neighbors and friends banded together in solidarity to respond to the need..
Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012, and Katilia formed part of a volunteer group that would become North Newark Move, Inc. (NNM) They fed close to 600 people twice a day for two weeks, focusing on the forgotten areas in the North Ward, that were neglected due to the level of devastation of the storm. Starting at Casa Mia on Summer Ave., Katilia and her fellow volunteers were of the first on scene, working closely with NPD to ensure seniors were safe and fed in the weeks that they endured without heat and power. They would then go to senior buildings on Mt. Prospect Ave., No. 6th St., and boarding homes in the area. They were also simultaneously responding to victims of fires brought on by power surges as the power came on. Today, NNM is a fund designed for short term drives for people who are victims of disaster and need a fiscal sponsor.
Katilia has a long history of activism and engagement within the Puerto Rican social justice space, and has been involved in many movements both on the island and in the diaspora to uplift and empower Puerto Ricans. She has been a steadfast advocate for Latinos of all backgrounds. In 2016, she stood in solidarity with Ecuador as they recovered from a devastating earthquake, and served as emcee for a rally of hundreds on the steps in front of Newark City Hall: the community banded together in support of TPS Relief. She has volunteered as a Spanish/English translator for the Newark community, so that all residents can participate and understand each other. She consciously works towards bringing African American and Latin American communities together in meaningful ways.
Katilia has been a vocal supporter and participant in the Black Lives Matter movement, and much of her view with public safety and community policing is informed by her experience as the sister of Law Enforcement Officers. Her brother is a retired lieutenant of the Newark Police Department and her sister is a former Border Patrol Agent. Katilia’s work and experiences compel her to step forward and work towards finding resources and ensuring that our Finest have the tools to succeed.
In 2017, Katilia banded together with a group of women in the North Ward and responded to Hurricane Maria which hit Puerto Rico. The group became Tainas Unidas, Inc.(TU) sending and directly distributing over 200,000 pounds of relief to the island. TU was able to transport supplies by airplanes that they were able to acquire independent of government resources and were one of the first organizations on the ground. They provide ongoing rebuilding support on the island, and are welcoming new Puerto Ricans to Newark who are displaced due to the hurricane and supporting them to get adjusted to their new home.
Aside from her professional and civic responsibilities, Katilia regularly engages directly with community members who are in crisis. She has directly prevented homelessness for residents, and counseled those who are without permanent housing as well. She firmly believes that Newark’s economic boom should uplift and not uproot the average Newarker.
Katilia is a connector and resource for her community, and mentors youth regularly. She unofficially “adopts” young adults and provides moral and technical support in their academic, professional and personal development.
She regularly serves as a public speaker, engaging different communities to become active in their neighborhoods; fostering a sense of pride and ownership. She is a consummate advocate, working with long-standing institutions and encouraging new movements and groups to grow, while keeping focus on the individuals that they serve. She is unwavering in her commitment to connect institutions, movements and people to each other, bringing forth a culture of access and opportunity to all.
Katilia uniquely blends her professional, civic, and personal life to leverage gains for those within her community. She lives her family motto as set forth by her grandfather, Miguel Salvador Vélez, “El que perservera, triunfa”, in English “Who perseveres, triumphs”.
Her husband, Juan Pablo Cardona, immigrated to the United States from Colombia at a young age, and is a veteran of the US Coast Guard. He is a Social Studies teacher, and grew up in Queens, NY. Together they are proud homeowners in the North Ward. They work towards a community that is healthy for all, whether you are on Ballantine or Broadway.
Katilia is a fan of the Arts; especially art which speaks to her focus on highlighting, empowering, and improving the quality of life of her community. She has received recognition for her service, including commendations from the Newark Municipal Council, the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders, the NJ State Legislature, the Hispanic Foundation of New Jersey and Comité Noviembre. She has a B.A. Magna Cum Laude, in Sociology from Inter-American University, and has completed post-graduate level coursework at New York University. She is a graduate of Emerge NJ 2017 and Elección Latina, a program of LUPE Fund, Inc. and the Center for American Women in Politics.