Our Board of Directors
Omar Jorge Peña
Omar G. Jorge Peña is a partner and General Counsel of Compare Foods Supermarkets. Prior to moving to Charlotte, Omar operated a law firm in Garden City, NY focusing on immigration, commercial real estate, mergers and acquisitions, labor and employment, trademark, franchise, and other business law matters. He is a graduate of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law - Yeshiva University and earned his BA from St. John's University in Government & Politics. Omar has worked as a legislative aide in the New York State Assembly and was the first Latino and youngest ever appointee to the Nassau County Planning Commission. He is the past Chairman of Fundacion Hispanoamericana and served as an adviser on community outreach and Latino issues for Bethpage Federal Credit Union and South Nassau Communities Hospital. He currently serves Community Advisory Committee for Fifth Third Bank and on the boards of the Carolinas Food Industry Council and North Carolina Retail Merchants Association.
Wendy Lavelle is a Senior Project Manager within the Chief Financial Officer Group at Bank of America, where she manages end-to-end cross-functional projects across multiple lines of business and enterprise technology teams. She has over 15 years of experience as a Senior IT Project Manager. Wendy has also served as a senior leader within the Diversity and Inclusion Group (HOLA) for Bank of America since 2006, organizing multiple community volunteer events to support nonprofits in Charlotte as well as Mexico. In this role, she developed Community Mentoring Programs for the YMCA and LAWA that pair Latino students with corporate mentors before and during their transition to the corporate world. Her volunteer efforts won her the President's Volunteer Service Award in 2015. With her strong background in community engagement, Wendy is committed to LAC's mission. Wendy was born and raised in Guayaquil, Ecuador and has a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science from Escuela Superior Politécnica del Litoral (ESPOL).
Lieutenant Christian Wagner is a 17-year member of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department (CMPD). Christian’s mom, a native of Panama, met Christian’s dad when he was stationed in the Canal Zone in the U.S. Army. His parents relocated to New Jersey after getting married, where he grew up, but he still has a large family in Panama. Christian has been an advocate for Latino residents of the area as a member of the police department, where he has been assigned as an officer and traffic coordinator in the B-1/Providence Division; officer in the Research and Planning Division; Sergeant, Response Area Commander; Staff Sergeant and Lieutenant in the Eastway Division; he currently serves as CMPD´s Community Wellness Lieutenant. He has a BA in Sociology from North Carolina State University and an MPA from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
Ben Nunnally is a retired finance professor. He taught in the Belk College of Business at UNC Charlotte for thirty years. In addition, he has consulted with many small businesses in the local area and elsewhere concerning business valuation, strategic planning and other matters related to financial management. During his more than six years as a volunteer at the Coalition, Ben has been involved in the Taller de Trabajo, small business workshops and other activities directly related to the goals and ambitions of our clients. Ben holds a doctorate in business administration from the University of Virginia.
Esteban Echeverria, Esq.
Born in the state of Guerrero, Mexico, Esteban Echeverria moved to North Carolina with his family in 1979 as migrant and seasonal farmworkers. He worked during the summers picking cucumbers and cropping tobacco in Eastern North Carolina for eight years until he was 16. Echeverria received a degree in Anthropology and Latin American Studies at Appalachian State University. He was selected to be a Ford Fellow with the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials and assisted Congressman Jose Serrano’s office. Echeverria was also selected to be Public Policy Fellow with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute and served his fellowship with the National Council of La Raza. Echeverria received his Juris Doctorate from North Carolina Central University (NCCU) School of Law in Durham, NC in 2006. While at NCCU, Echeverria was elected to serve as President of the Student Bar Association -- the first Latino in the school’s history to serve in this capacity.
James Bazán traces his family roots in New Mexico to 1598, and yet both of his parents learned English as a second language. This lifelong awareness of being an “outsider in plain sight” led to an interest in sociology, social movements, and the stories people tell to and about themselves. His academic studies include the migration patterns from Latin America to the United States, social identity, and religious pilgrimage in New Mexico, as well as white nationalist and white supremacist movements. Since 1996, James has taught sociology at Central Piedmont Community College, where he served as Director of Behavioral and Social Sciences for seven years. In 2009, one of his students confided that her brother was excluded from school because he was undocumented. James then began to devote more of his work to immigration issues to support all members of the community. He is especially interested in supporting youth-led groups, and in working to improve access to education for all. James was named CPCC Teacher of the Year in 2002 and is co-author of the text, College Student Success.
Cat Bao Le
Cat Bao Le has worked in immigrant rights and advocacy for a decade. Cat's parents are refugees from Vietnam, and were resettled in Tottenham, London where she was born. Upon moving to the U.S. in 1990, Cat grew up in Sacramento with significant Latino and Southeast Asian populations living side-by-side. She has always felt a strong linkage between these immigrant experiences, linkages that remain important to her. Cat has also worked in Monterrey, México for the indigenous Tarahumara population, and has conducted field research in México City through the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México on color, race and underground industries. She has worked in civil rights organizations and with the United Farm Workers. Cat is fluent in Vietnamese and Spanish and is a graduate of Ethnic Studies from U.C. Berkeley. She works at the Southeast Asian Coalition. Cat has three sisters and one brother, and she enjoys jogging around town.
Juliana Cabrales is Mid-Atlantic Director of Civic Engagement with the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund. In this capacity, Juliana promotes the organization’s civic engagement campaigns in the Mid-Atlantic region and North Carolina while providing programmatic support to national civic engagement efforts. She was born and raised in Barranquilla, Colombia and since arriving in the United States has lived mostly in the Southeast. Since joining the non-profit sector, Juliana has worked with the Latino community in different capacities. Prior to joining NALEO Educational Fund, Juliana served as Latino Outreach Coordinator with the NC Victim Assistance Network. Juliana holds a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from Wesleyan College in Macon, GA and an Associate in Applied Science from Parsons The New School of Design in New York, NY.
Raphael J.D. Sebastian
Raphael Juan Diego Sebastian is a business consultant who has worked with many top companies. His most recent role was as Sr. Business Partner for Coca-Cola Consolidated, the largest bottler in the Coca-Cola system. Sebastian is the former Vice President and co-founder for WorkplaceDiversity.com, Director of Urban Marketing Initiatives for the Cherenson Group, and a Vice President/Director for Citigroup. A champion in the community, Sebastian has served on numerous boards including the Urban League of Central Carolinas and former Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx's Hispanic Advisory Committee. He has received numerous community service awards including being honored by the NBA's NY Knicks and NJ Nets, as an Outstanding Hispanic American Professional for his significant achievements in business and his tireless efforts and impact in the community. Raphael earned his undergraduate degree Cornell University where he was both a successful student and athlete.
Born in Guerrero, Mexico, Oliver Merino moved to rural North Carolina at the age of ten with his family. A graduate of Central Piedmont Community College and Johnson C. Smith University, where he studied African American history, Oliver has worked with and advocated for immigrant communities across the country. As Latino New South Coordinator at Levine Museum of the New South, he works on developing collaboration with the Latino community and designing programming to reach diverse audiences.