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Caroline Cruz, Chief of Staff for the City of Philadelphia’s Office of Children and Families. Photo: AL DÍA Archives. 
Caroline Cruz, Chief of Staff for the City of Philadelphia’s Office of Children and Families. Photo: AL DÍA Archives. 

Caroline Cruz, promoting strong families and supporting communities

As Chief of Staff at Philly’s Office of Children and Families, Cruz adds to her track record of being a valued proponent for the most vulnerable and…

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Caroline Cruz was very young when she and her mother arrived in the United States from El Salvador. 

In fact, one of her earliest memories was the flight from the Central American country to New York.

“I have a very clear recollection of being on the Pan Am flight,” said Cruz during an interview with AL DÍA. 

“I remember looking at the white clouds, like I was in Heaven... it was a fun, nice recollection,” she continued.

Her mother, Ann Marie Colon, whom Cruz described as, “the bravest woman I know,” left El Salvador with her due to some of the political unrest taking place in the country. 

Growing up in Queens, Brooklyn, it was always just the two of them. 

The young Cruz was often fascinated by the diversity in the schools and neighborhoods surrounding her. She enjoyed being in that environment, learning about different cultures, communities and languages. 

“I lived in a lot of different communities, also new immigrant communities from all over the world,” Cruz said. 

“These boroughs continue to be some of the most diverse neighborhoods in the world,” she added. 

However, Cruz could often feel the heartache her mother felt, missing her family back home. 

At the same time, she also saw the level of resilience her mother displayed in the midst of that heartache.

The dynamics that led to her mother’s journey to the United States stuck with her. She admired her mother’s resourcefulness and resilience in a foreign country. 

“I think some of my fervent love for democratic institutions and supporting journalism as a bedrock of democratic society all connects back to having been uprooted when there’s been a breakdown in civil society,” said Cruz.

To some degree, that early childhood experience is what prompted the career path Cruz eventually wound up taking.

A Lawyer By Training

Cruz has always had a love and talent for visual art.

With the help of an art teacher in primary school, Cruz developed a portfolio that eventually helped her get into a magnet arts high school in Newark, New Jersey.  

She then went on to attend Wellesley College, a liberal arts college in Massachusetts and consistently one of the best-ranked women’s colleges in the nation.

While the passion for art was there, Cruz had interest elsewhere.

“Even then, I was interested in law,” she said.

“I think it has something to do with the fact that I sometimes lived in communities that were undocumented and lived with a lot of fear of the legal system,” she continued. 

Cruz wanted to know how to unpack what exactly prompted that level of fear that so many families endured.

As a result, she decided to enroll at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, which is what ultimately brought her to Philadelphia. 

Her goal, she said, has been to be “at the nexus of what this city is producing for its most vulnerable.”

A Valuable Advocate for the Most Vulnerable 

Cruz’s knowledge and understanding of the legal system has been paramount to the work she has done in her career to help the most vulnerable. 

“Legal training gives you a tremendous analytical framework for looking at how policy is developed, how law takes shape, how private interests shape the development of law in society and how to create an evidence-based analysis of the communities that need public service so that it is responsive to their needs,” she said. 

Currently the Chief of Staff for the City of Philadelphia’s Office of Children and Families (OCF), Cruz is a key cog in providing the most critical resources and services to children and families most in need. 

With her legal background, she has also been a valuable proponent in creating policies and solutions to ensure those needs are met.

The OFC’s three main priorities are: making sure children are safe, creating strong families, and supporting schools and communities. 

“It is no real surprise that I chose my legal degree to personally be involved in improving resource availability and outcomes for Black and Brown communities in the city of Philadelphia,” said Cruz. 

She added that it’s always been important for her to be involved in efforts to create a more just civil society.

“As an attorney, I’ve been in every school in the city of Philadelphia… into every community in the city of Philadelphia,” said Cruz.

“I took the bus, I took the train and walked to get to every one of these schools, and it is really almost impossible to convey the real life level of poverty that exists in certain parts of the city… unless you’ve lived it,” she continued. 

Beyond the work to address this issue, Cruz has been steadfast in making a concerted effort in elevating the voices of those marginalized communities and combating the structural conditions that have long caused them.  

She credits her upbringing in an international city and appreciation of diverse people and viewpoints, as well as her love of traveling, as “a source of life-long learning and joy.”

Media As the Fourth Estate

When it comes to the media, it is Cruz’s belief that the industry is paramount to a civil society. 

The media is responsible for providing factual, credible information to its audience, and should be a reflection of that same audience. 

“I have been thinking a lot about how the pandemic has highlighted the importance of local media to be a credible messenger in getting accurate life-saving information to its community,” said Cruz. 

It’s one of the main reasons she took the opportunity to join the AL DÍA Foundation board years ago. 

The voices of the Latino and Black communities are needed more than ever before, and Cruz is hopeful about the prospects of those voices being included more in the media. 

“I am hopeful about recent developments in Philadelphia media,” she said, noting the value of authenticity in media coverage of communities.

“I am happy to see that the Latino experience and voices and journalists are starting to find more spaces beyond traditional Latino media. They’re starting to find opportunities in other spaces in the Philadelphia journalism community.” 

When it comes to the media, it is Cruz’s belief that the industry is paramount to a civil society. 

The media is responsible for providing factual, credible information to its audience, and should be a reflection of that same audience. 

“I have been thinking a lot about how the pandemic has highlighted the importance of local media to be a credible messenger in getting accurate life-saving information to its community,” said Cruz. 

It’s one of the main reasons she took the opportunity to join the AL DÍA Foundation board years ago. 

The voices of the Latino and Black communities are needed more than ever before, and Cruz is hopeful about the prospects of those voices being included more in the media. 

“I am hopeful about recent developments in Philadelphia media,” she said, noting the value of authenticity in media coverage of communities.

“I am happy to see that the Latino experience and voices and journalists are starting to find more spaces beyond traditional Latino media. They’re starting to find opportunities in other spaces in the Philadelphia journalism community.” 

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