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Activist’s legacy lives on in Osceola officials

Posted on Friday, December 6, 2013 at 1:55 pm

By Tiffanie Reynolds

Staff writer

Even though they now hold a seat in the Florida Senate and in Osceola County circuit court, both Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, and Clerk of the Circuit Court Armando Ramirez owe their start to Elias “Rico” Piccard.

An outspoken community activist in Central Florida for 17 years, Piccard died from pancreatic cancer on Nov. 27 at the age of 67. Born in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico, Piccard retired to Orlando in 1994 after working with prisoners as a social worker at Rikers Island in New York. But, his quiet retirement didn’t last long. In 1996, he organized a demonstration against the Orlando Sentinel about articles that him, and others, saw as casting Puerto Ricans in a negative light. It was also when Ramirez first met Piccard.

“He was a dedicated person. He loved the community. He was concerned with the voting rights, civil rights of the community. And, of course, he was not afraid to speak the truth,” Ramirez said.

Although his focus was on the civil and voting rights of Latinos in Orange County, he extended his advocacy to the civil rights of the community at large. He helped to draw attention to racial fights in East River High School, Orlando, in 2011, Soto said, as well as assist in settling the situation. He also was a part of demonstrations in other Central Florida counties, such as the redistricting of Osceola County voting districts in 2001. Soto, who was part of the community group that led the push against the decision, first met Piccard during these demonstrations, and it wouldn’t be the last.

When Soto decided to begin running for office, Piccard was his biggest supporter. He gave Soto some of his first press coverage and later volunteered in his campaigns, often walking with Soto door to door.  He also became a mentor to Soto, inspiring him to make civil rights one of the items of his political platform. Actions such as introducing the Dream Act Driver’s License bill, giving American-born children of illegal immigrant parents the right to receive a driver’s license, was because of Piccard.

“Being a lawyer and being someone who sees people’s rights litigated every day, when I see certain things that I don’t agree with, I get involved. But, he helped encourage that, and that helped me focus that (civil rights) to be one of the platform items that I continue to this day to push for,” Soto said.

His passion for civil rights is also what pushed Piccard to start United Front 436 in Orange County. The group actively monitors decisions considered in local and state government, calling attention to any issue or action that would reduce the civil rights of any person or group in any way.

For both Ramirez and Soto, it will be Piccard’s persistent voice within the community that they will always remember, and his saying, “Arriba los de abajo,” or, “Raise up those who are down,” that they want to carry with them.