When I sat down with newcomer Board Member Michael Narvaez, I asked him what personal qualities a successful board member should possess, he replied, “A strong sense of family.” His answer intrigued me and as our conversation unfurled his history added much more dimension to the response he gave. Michael was born and raised in the South Bronx, the only child of two teenage parents. He came from a large family but many of them lost their lives to drugs and different addictions. Michael said, “I buried 6 or 7 of my uncles and grandpas by the time I was 16 or 17. Even my dad faded away to his own addictions but we remained close until he passed. I always had to figure things out on how to be a better man on my own and with my mom.”
Attending Cardinal Hayes High School, Michael was able to form a new sense of family in a brotherhood of peers that influenced a transitional moment in his life. He described the school as, “…a place where there were no excuses. They kind of nurtured a brotherhood and an environment where if you had something missing at home they were able to provide that even in the form of tough love or discipline. They taught you all about raising your own expectations and the friends that I made there are the best friends I have now,”.
Michael followed this upward trajectory through university and attended the College of the Holy Cross as one of an extremely small percentage of Latino students along with 3 or 4 of his classmates. “It helped us in tremendous ways because we saw what the rest of the world and country looked like. We were not just in our bubble of the Bronx or the city. Our self awareness of being Latinos and being involved in socially aware causes shaped our participation in campus and our future endeavors,” said Michael. Growing intellectually alongside this family of brothers led to great success in each of their individual career paths.
Today, Michael is the VP at the New York Branch of Santander Bank and a father to 3 incredible children. There is 24-year-old Alexandra who will soon be working as a teaching assistant, 16-year-old Sofia who is a creative, a performer, and a social activist with a clear sense of morality, and finally 5-year-old Aedan who runs the whole show. Michael is happily married to his wife Claudia with whom he runs ANS Entertainment LLC, a boutique DJ and entertainment company where they include DJing, event planning, choreography, MCing and more for special occasions of all sorts. Michael is kept very busy, but after having to redefine the notion of family for himself throughout many stages of his life, to form a loving family of his own has been an incomparable fulfillment.
Family was also the reason why Michael became involved with the Cristian Rivera Foundation in the first place. His young cousin Santiago Buther was diagnosed with DIPG in 2018. Michael described that, “Santiago was the brightest light in the room. Full of energy. I would joke because around Santiago’s 6th birthday, my own son was born. The kids looked identical but 7 years apart. I felt connected with him in that way and to see his family’s lives get turned apart tore me apart.” Santiago passed away on January 17, 2020.
Michael had known of our founder John “Gungie” Rivera because growing up in the same area, their circles were very close. When Michael realized that the Cristian Rivera Foundation focuses on the brain tumor that Santiago suffered from, he felt compelled to learn more and understand how he could make a difference. After meeting together with John, Michael became a board member in 2020 and said, “I’m a part of this organization because I would never want to deal with this as a parent. I hope to be on this board when we have the opportunity to say that our job is done. Success to me is when we have consistency come out of a trial that’s able to affect a high percentage of kids. We have a shred of hope currently, but I want to give them a 40% chance or a 50% chance because of the work we did. To be from us that would be true success.”
The tenets that Michael builds his life around hold true to so many values that our foundation stands for. Remembering from where you came and having a strong sense of family directly informs the passion behind our efforts. Remembering the path others created for you so that you can widen that path for those who come after you enlightens how we should serve our families and communities. In our case as a foundation, this message reminds us how our researchers, board members, DIPG families, and especially our angels create a wider path for those who will be affected by this terrible disease in the future. Every step taken counts for something and we will always continue walking until a cure is found.
By Sarde Gumalo