Rey Gonzalez was born and raised on the south side of Chicago. His mother was a Mexican American from the south side and his father was raised by migrant farm workers in San Antonio.
Growing up in the shadow of U.S. Steel, he swore he would never work there. Instead, he put his efforts toward school.
One of five kids, his parents stressed education. They also emphasized getting a good job and working hard; he'd worked at their grocery store while in school.
But the importance of education was always in the back of his mind.
Gonzalez studied at a Catholic high school and did well. He was on the high honor roll. Motivated to pursue a college degree, he went to his high school counselor to ask for advice on how to apply to Notre Dame.
That's when a bitter reality hit him. Notre Dame, his counselor told him, was not for people like him.
Gonzalez said, "he wouldn't help me."
Instead, the counselor told him, "come see me when you graduate, and I'll get you a job at the steel mill."
This was in 1969, during the Vietnam War. It didn't seem fair to have worked so hard to be told his dreams were impossible because of who he was.
To avoid working at the steel mill, he graduated from high school and applied for a job at a meatpacking house. Married at 19, and a father at 20, it was time to buckle down and get to work.
"I thought my life was over," he said.
But the meatpacking house was even worse, so Gonzalez reluctantly started an apprenticeship at the steel mill. Slowly, he began to build a life for himself. The young father went to night class at St. Joseph's, a small Catholic college in Indiana, and, after seven years, earned a Bachelor of Science.
Gonzalez graduated and joined the Urban League (an African American organization), frustrated by how unequal the playing field could be and determined to do something about it. He recruited Latinos to help in the trades and developed tutoring programs to help his recruits pass the tests, to resounding success, placing more than 4,000 women and minorities in skilled and high-paying jobs. Throughout his career, his goal was always to provide a path for others like him who had previously been told that these jobs were not for people like them. He worked as Regional Director of the Midwest office for the National Council of La Raza, was named Vice President of Diversity for McDonalds, then Vice President of Diversity at Exelon, and eventually worked his way up to Vice President for Legislative and Community...