Remembering Rafael E. Estevez

Remembering Rafael Estévez

Story, photos and video by Francis Rodríguez

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The downpour this past Fri., Jun. 7th did little to dampen the spirits of those gathered at the Juan Pablo Duarte School in the early evening.

Residents, advocates, and elected officials joined to honor the memory of community leader and activist Rafael Agustín Estévez, on the occasion of the one-year anniversary of his passing at age 72.

The setting was a fitting one, as the school bears the name of one of the founders of the Dominican Republic, thanks in part to the efforts of Estévez.

Estévez served as president of the school’s parents’ association; his daughters, son and even a couple of his grandsons are alumni of P.S. 132.

“He was a genuine activist, a pioneer, a special human being focused on the progress of the Dominicans in this country,” said State Senator Adriano Espaillat. “I had the pleasure to meet him, follow his work. Needless to say, I couldn’t miss this event because I wanted to pay tribute to his hard work and perseverance.”

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The gathering was hosted by journalist and broadcaster Zunilda Fondeur, who was also one of Estévez’s closest friends.

She noted that the school with which Estévez was so closely identified was facing difficult times, as it had recently been threatened with closure and was slated to share the campus with another school this fall.

Carmen Rojas, president of Parents Advocating for Their Children (“Padres Abogando Por Sus Hijos”) echoed the concern.

“We can’t allow this situation,” she said. “We can’t lose the triumph that the name of this school signifies. We need to fight and stand together for our rights.”
Rojas also announced a protest she said would be musical in nature, on Fri., Jun. 21st at the school.

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“I invite you all to support this protest, because this is also a cause that Estévez would have supported, the same way he supported many others battles for this school,” she said.

Among others present to honor Estévez were Xiomara Nova, the school’s principal; Cesar Romero, President of the Instituto Duartiano; and Rafael Darío Jiménez, author of the bookPatria Dominicana: 300 Lideres Dominicanos en Nueva York, which features a profile on Estévez.

Estévez’s daughters Grace and Vimarie Estévez stood with his widow Maria Estévez, and together they recalled his profound ties to his family, community and cultural heritage.


“I will never forget how keen he was about the Dominican flag,” affirmed Sen. Espaillat, “and about his roots.”

Recordando a Rafael Estévez












In 2001, Zunilda Foundeur was presented with a Magister Honoris Causa from the Interamerican University at a ceremony in the United Nations.    

“It has been said that anyone who has done anything of importance among Dominicans in New York has been interviewed by Fondeur for Realidades. The program is so influential that just about anyone from the Dominican Republic seeking to be known among Dominicans in New York has sought to be interviewed by Fondeur.”

The last show featured a GDS Alumna, Nairobi Then, an amazing young woman who graduated from GDS’ programs and Camp Excel. Nairobi grew up in Washington Heights and participated in GDS from 2000-2005. She is one of many examples of GDS’ youth that continues to Reach her Potential! Nairobi is a resilient young person who grew up in the tough neighborhood of Washington Heights. She knows firsthand the needs of inner-city youth and how an individual can Reach their Potential. Nairobi lives in Florida now with her family and has become an Activist for GDS services.

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Nairobi is now giving back the program that helped her. She is helping advocate for GDS and other supportive services to help youth in the community. Nairobi is excelling in her current life in many ways. She clearly following in her grandfathers, Rafael E. Estevez foosteps. Thank you Nairobi for your dedication to your community and GDS. Dr. Gary Altheim

Ms. Theonyl Cuevas, Clinical Social Worker and Director of Programs for Growth and Development Services (GDS) will provide information about GDS current programs and ways the Community can help assure that most needed educational, therapeutic, and afterschool and wellness programs continue at GDS and in Washington Heights.

Zunilda Fondeur Collection

Founder, Producer, and Host, Realidades Television Program


Zunilda Fondeur was born in Santiago de los Caballeros, Dominican Republic in 1950. She arrived in the United States in 1980 and began to pursue her university education. She graduated from Hostos Community College with an Associates Degree in Liberal Arts and received a bachelor’s degree in journalism and communications from the U.S. extension of Spain’s Universidad Hispanica de America. In 2001, she was presented with a Magister Honoris Causa from the Interamerican University at a ceremony in the United Nations. Fondeur also studied at the International Career Institute, and at the Pan American Travel School.

Fondeur is the founder, producer, and host of Realidades, a cable television news program with a loyal following of hundreds of thousands of viewers in the New York metropolitan area. It has been said that anyone who has done anything of importance among Dominicans in New York has been interviewed by Fondeur for Realidades. The program is so influential that just about anyone from the Dominican Republic seeking to be known among Dominicans in New York has sought to be interviewed by Fondeur.

Fondeur began her career in journalism in her native Dominican Republic, first as a radio announcer, and quickly thereafter as a television and newspaper reporter. She has worked for some of that country’s most influential media outlets, including the respected Dominican newspaper Listin Diario.

Seeking new professional opportunities, and anxious to expand her knowledge of the industry, she emigrated to the United States in 1980 and began working in New York for radio station WBNX. She also became a correspondent for the Dominican Republic’s newspapers Listin Diario and El Sol, the Miami paper El Pais, and various other newspapers throughout the United States.

In 1990, she joined the staff of the weekly Listin USA, the New York affiliate of Listin Diario. A year later, with the help of a small group of well-established professionals in the communications field, and using her own equipment, she began the television program Realidades. The program quickly became a vital source of news and other information for Dominicans in the United States.

Highly regarded and respected among her peers, Fondeur was called to leadership in the profession at various stages of her career, in the Dominican Republic and in the United States. In 1970, while still in the Dominican Republic, she founded the Dominican Association of Women Radio Announcers. In 1989, she became the first president of the Radio Announcers Club of New York. She has served as president of the Association of Journalists. Currently, she is director of the College of Dominican Journalists and of the Association of Reporters Covering the Arts, known by its Spanish acronym ACROARTE. In addition, Fondeur has distinguished herself through public service, contributing her talents and time to various organizations, including the Committee for the Dominican Parade, and the Juan Pablo Duarte Elementary School (P.S. 132), both in New York.

Fondeur is the recipient of numerous awards in the United States and in the Dominican Republic. She was named one of the most influential women by the respected magazine Temas, and was named one of the most distinguished Dominicans by Vista, the magazine of the New York Daily News. In Miami, she was awarded the Independence Award by an organization of Dominicans living abroad; in the Dominican Republic she received two Gold Microphones from the the College of Dominican Journalists. Beloved among New York Dominicans, she was honored by Alianza Dominicana with the Minerva Mirabal Award, and received proclamations in her honor from New York City Councilmen Guillermo Linares and Miguel Martinez, as well as New York State Assemblyman Adriano Espaillat.


The Zunilda Fondeur Collection comprises photographs, proclamations, magazines, invitations, flyers, newspapers, certificates of appreciation, calendars, newspaper clippings, as well as approximately 5,000 videotapes, covering a span of more than 16 years of Realidades, an iconic television program with hundreds of thousands of New York viewers. The videotaped programs consist of Fondeur’s interviews of prominent Dominican personalities, political figures, and civic and community leaders, as well as her reporting on cultural events, political campaigns, parades, and other news and public events of interest to the Dominican community. Among those interviewed are towering Dominican political figures, such as Juan Bosch and José Francisco Peña Gómez, and extraordinarily accomplished Dominicans such as New York City Commissioner of Immigrant Affairs Guillermo Linares (the first Dominican elected to the New York City Council); New York State Supreme Court Justice Rolando T. Acosta; Dominican Hall of Famer Juan Marichal; baseball superstar Sammy Sosa; distinguished journalist Reginaldo Atanay; New York City Councilman Miguel Martinez, and many others. The interviews were filmed in New York, or at events in the Dominican Republic. Fundeur also interviewed many of today’s leaders of the Dominican people during their early years of community activism, including the current Dominican President Leonel Fernández Reyna, who was raised in New York, and Assemblyman Adriano Espaillat, the first Dominican elected to the New York State Assembly.

Inclusive Dates: 1980s-present
Size of Collection: 240 cubic feet


 Zunilda Foundeur,  Founder, Producer, and host Realidades

Community leaders with Theonyl Cuevas LCSW, Zunilda Foundeur and Dr. Gary Altheim on


“Unity is strength… when there is teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can be achieved” Mattie Stepanek.

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