Urban Legend: Alberto Cappas

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Alberto Cappas has devoted his life to encouraging young Latinos to follow their dreams. This spring, he plans to package that message in the form of a cookie, and market it behind the mask of his own superhero.

A city bureaucrat by day, published poet and community activist by night, Cappas is getting ready to launch Don Pedro Cookies. Named for a superhero he dreamed up, the cookie company aims to hire Latino teens from the South Bronx in its packaging and distribution departments.

“Institutions have a way of conditioning us to become consumers,” Cappas says. “We are never educated or given insights that we can be the entrepreneurs. I hope Don Pedro will help change that.”

Once the enterprise starts turning a profit, he says, the company will send its proceeds to local schools and scholarship funds. He plans to start stocking supermarket shelves in the Bronx in March or April.

While he expects his cookies to mark his toughest endeavor, it is only one in a long list of projects that Cappas has taken on over the last few decades. Born in Puerto Rico in 1946, Cappas grew up on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. He began his activism career as a sociology and African American and Puerto Rican studies student at SUNY Buffalo, where he pushed the university to recruit more Latino students. After graduation, he worked as the university’s assistant director of minority affairs.

“I was very fortunate,” Cappas says. “Being Puerto Rican at that time, being from a place people would call a ghetto, I kept my spiritual foresight.”

And he has tried to inspire young Latinos to do the same. He helped found a minority speakers’ bureau that now represents 150 community leaders, including Jesse Jackson. And Cappas’ third published book of poetry, Do–a Julia, speaks to Puerto Rican immigrants’ struggle for the American Dream.

To pay his bills, he works as director of Community Affairs for the city’s Human Resources Administration.

Now Cappas hopes his efforts live up to the Don Pedro name. The superhero’s story: While vacationing on Earth from his home planet, Nuevo Mundo, Don Pedro saw Latino children with little self-esteem or interest in their education. Upon his return home, he visited earthling Alberto Cappas in a dream. When Cappas awoke, he knew what he had to do.

His message to young people: “Prepare yourselves to be the very best. Always grow and develop. Turn your hobbies and talents into a job.”