Hispanic Heritage Month: Ernest Z. Robles

Posted by on Oct 6, 2022 in Top Stories

On September 5, 2022, a 92-year-old man named Ernest Z. Robles died of heart failure in California. Robles founded California’s Hispanic Heritage Fund. His organization powerfully impacted the lives of thousands of Hispanic youths over the past 50 years. Here, btw takes a closer look at Robles’ life and legacy. 

Who was Ernest Robles? 

Robles was born in 1931 in Pirtleville, Arizona. He moved to California when he was four years old. At that time, the schools that Robles attended were still segregated, meaning that the schools were separated by race. After graduation, Robles joined the Marines and fought in the Korean War, where he earned both a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star. In 1960, Robles graduated from UCLA and then worked in public education. During his career in California public schools, he served as a counselor, an ESL (English as a Second Language) advisor, a sports coach, a teacher, and an elementary school principal.  

Robles then worked for the U.S. Department of Education. He traveled around the South, delivering the legal papers that ordered school districts to desegregate. He also worked as the assistant regional administrator for equal education opportunities for the federal government. All of this helped  strengthen Robles’ belief that the key to success for Hispanic youth was education. In 1975, he began the Hispanic Scholarship Fund out of a bedroom in his home. 

What is the Hispanic Scholarship Fund? 

In 1975, Robles took out a $30,000 mortgage on his home to begin helping Hispanic students pay for college, and the Hispanic Scholarship Fund was born. The Fund is now a nonprofit organization that has awarded almost $700 million ($33 million last year alone) to more than 65,000 Hispanic students. Corporations, celebrities, artists, and  others support the fund with donations. Well-known contributors include Amazon, the Walt Disney Company, Johnson & Johnson, Lowe’s, Coca-Cola, Honda, Ford, Target, Walmart, Nike, and dozens more. According to the Fund’s website, the goal of the program is to make education a top priority in all Hispanic households, and to provide communities with the resources they need to make the goal of higher education a reality.  

In addition to scholarships ranging in value from $500 to $5,000, the Hispanic Scholarship Fund also provides programs and resources for parents, students, and alumni. For the 10,000 students selected to receive an HSF scholarship each year, they can also take advantage of several support services such as career mentoring, leadership development, wellness training, and more.  

Interested students  

  • must be of Hispanic heritage;  
  • must be either a U.S. citizen or a permanent legal resident or a DACA recipient (DACA stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and is an immigrant status that protects some undocumented children from deportation who were brought to the United States when they were young.)   
  • must maintain a minimum GPA of 3.0; and  
  • must demonstrate financial need. 

Remembering a Legend 

Robles’ legacy lives on in the tens of thousands of Hispanic students he has helped over the years. Robles is survived by his wife of 68 years, Dora; five children; eight grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.  

Dig Deeper Create a poster or brochure for your school’s guidance office, telling students about the Hispanic Scholarship Fund. Describe what the program offers, a little bit about its history, and include a link or QR code to apply.