José Gonzalez

Local: UFT
José Gonzalez - COVID19 Memorial
José Gonzalez, Paraprofessional from UFT
* Retired Paraprofessional
* Teachers Preparatory School, Brooklyn

José Gonzalez, who retired in 2018 after a 30-year career as a paraprofessional, used his gifts as an artist and musician to enrich the lives of children.

José was a fixture at the UFT’s annual Thanksgiving luncheons for homeless children. Each year he brought his own supplies and drew Captain America and other superheroes for the children who attended. The kids loved him.

José worked most of his career at IS 275 and Teachers Preparatory HS, both in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn. He died on March 24 at age 68.
José’s talent for art and music found expression in his work as a paraprofessional.

Although José had no formal instruction in illustration, word quickly spread at IS 275 about his skills. Teachers would ask him to assist with bulletin boards and school art projects.

José encouraged students who aspire to be artists to draw all the time as he did as a child. “When I was little, I wouldn’t just watch cartoons,” he said in 2016. “I would watch them with a pen in my hand. A kid might not know that he has that ability until you put the pen in his hands.”

José started an enrichment art class before the morning bell to encourage students to come to school on time. He brought special art paper and sharpies for every student.

“Through art, he always managed to get students to calm down or open up about things that were bothering them,” said UFT Member Representative Adriana O’Hagan. “Through his art, he sent messages of hope and encouraged students to advocate for themselves and others.”

José connected to the positive within every single child he encountered. He intuitively understood how to intervene when tensions ran high and children began to act out. He engaged in de-escalation techniques long before the current focus on social-emotional learning.

José secured funding to buy 20 guitars for Teachers Prep students. He spent his lunch hours offering guitar lessons to students. At the end of the program, many students got to keep their cherished instruments.

José’s reputation for supporting new teachers was well known, and they sought him out for guidance and support.

José drew inspiration from the union movement — literally. He volunteered his time and talent to create countless rally signs and event posters for the UFT over the years. His parents, both union activists in Puerto Rico, instilled in him the importance of belonging to a union.

The UFT presented José with a special “Making a Difference” award at its Teacher Union Day ceremony in 2016.

An accomplished guitarist, José performed live in many clubs across New York City. His band, One Eyed Cat, recorded and played his original compositions. But his favorite songs were the Beatles’ “In My Life” and Javier Solis’ “En Mi Viejo San Juan,” which would bring tears to his eyes.

José is survived by his daughter Lara and his siblings Ivan, Ricky and Diana.
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