activism, Children, Take Action

Reluctant Hero

Mendez Piano
Courtesy of the Mendez Family

Sylvia Mendez was nine years old when she became the center of the landmark court case, Mendez v. Westminster. Parents and neighbors joined together in a fight to desegregate education for children of Mexican descent in southern California. The 1947 court decision banned segregation in California public schools and paved the way for the national ban on school segregation in Brown v. Board of Education seven years later.

On her first day at school after winning the case, Sylvia recalls a white boy coming up to her and telling her she didn’t belong. She says, “I was crying and crying, and told my mother, ‘I don’t want to go to the white school!’ My mother said, ‘Sylvia, you were in court every day. Don’t you know what we were fighting? We weren’t fighting so you could go to that beautiful white school. We were fighting because you’re equal to that white boy.” (LA Times)

Mendez Book
 Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Méndez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh (2014, Abrams Books)

It’s easy to hold up these historic figures as superhuman. It seems they are made of sturdier stuff than us average folk. But Sylvia Mendez was herself a reluctant hero. Her name was on that important decision, but she didn’t feel brave and fierce.

Maybe her connections to her family and her community mattered to her more than the abstract idea of equality. And maybe it was from the strength of those connections that Sylvia drew her sense of purpose.

Sylvia went on to a successful career as a pediatric nurse. For decades, Sylvia didn’t think much about Mendez v. Westminster. Then her father died and her mother became very ill. In a conversation about the case, her mother told her, “It’s history of the United States, history of California. Sylvia, you have to go out and talk about it!” Hesitant at first but guided by her mother’s conviction, Sylvia began vising schools to tell the story of her family’s fight for civil rights.

Since her retirement from nursing, Mendez’ work has grown into a nationwide effort to help students succeed. She sees the de facto segregation that still exists in American education today, particularly in the scarce resources of schools in poor communities and communities of color. She wants all students have the opportunity that she did, and she has dedicated herself to advocating for educational equity.

Mendez Medal
In 2011 Sylvia Mendez received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama

Behind most hero myths lurks a story of uncertainty, hesitancy, and detours. Something propels (or drags) the protagonist to the path they are meant to walk. Mendez’ connections to her family called her back to courage.

For each of us, such a force exists. Maybe hidden, maybe silent, likely disquieting, most certainly mighty.

In what voice does it call us back?

Do we let it?


Mendez vs. segregation: 70 years later, famed case ‘isn’t just about Mexicans. It’s about everybody coming together’.  Caitlin Yoshiko Kandil, LA Times, April 17, 2016

The Mendez Family Fought School Segregation 8 Years Before Brown v. Board of Ed. Dave Roos, History.com, September 18, 2019

Who Is Sylvia Mendez? Separate is Never Equal, Sylvia Mendez School

 

 

activism, Children, Learning, Writing

freedom as we have yet to know it

Urvashi Vaid

Progressivism is a spectrum; it’s not an ideology following one leader saying one thing. It’s many people who have very wildly diverging opinions about many things. But, as progressives, if we could commit to a general frame of reference that we are about improving the quality of life for a lot more people, we’re about helping working and middle-class people, and we’re about taking care of poor people, we could really make some inroads in political power in this country. But, if we choose to be purists, if we choose to be arguing for a consensus we will never reach, for agreement on every point, it’s never going to happen.
My son is drawing on a portion of this quote for a 7th grade English project. He is parked at his laptop, wrestling with his thesis statement. The current iteration goes something like this: Urvashi Vaid is dedicated to expanding LGBTQ activism to improve equity and justice for all marginalized groups, and this dedication is evident through her speeches, writing, and activism.

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activism, Brain, Change, Choices, Mindfulness, Take Action

Global Dissonance

tunis-muralfist

Maladapation or simply adaptation?

When experiencing cognitive dissonance, a person has two options. Three really, if remaining in a state of crazymaking incongruity counts as an approach. Assuming that easing the dissonance is the goal, however, you can go through one of two doors.

Door A is adjusting your beliefs, thoughts, attitudes, and values to fit the situation.

Door B is changing the situation.

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activism, prayer, spirit

The First Principle of All Existence is Utter Dependence

Santiago Mauro Mora

The discipline of gratitude reminds us how utterly dependent we are on the people and world around us for everything that matters. From this flows an ethic of gratitude that obligates us to create a future that justifies an increasing sense of gratitude from the human family as a whole. The ethic of gratitude demands that we nurture the world that nurtures us in return. It is our duty to foster the kind of environment that we want to take in, and therefore become.

– Galen Guengerich, “The Heart of Our Faith”

May gratitude carry us over the rocky places. May we remember to say thanks for the smallest gestures. For the simplest nourishment. For the hand. The comfort. The roof. The healthy parts.

Thanks to the fighters. The ones who take on the dangerous work. Who excavate the hidden graves. Conduct research on hunger, violence, trauma. Share their findings, speak the names, guide our practices. The eco-warriors. The anarchists. The witnesses holding vigil at the pipeline, at the refugee camp, at the courthouse. The cash bail activists, the public defenders, the protestors, the disruptors.

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activism, memory, prayer, race, Take Action

Pilgrimage: Montgomery, Alabama

20191226_110119.jpg
The National Memorial for Peace and Justice

Montgomery, Alabama. An unexpected pilgrimage.

When the US Congress outlawed the importation of slaves in 1808, domestic trafficking of humans exploded. Montgomery’s railroad and river trade quickly became a grim, teeming market for enslaved people. Traders paraded chained humans up Commerce Street to the center of town, and auctions took place in the direct line of site of the state capitol at the top of Dexter Avenue. By the 1850’s, Alabama’s capital was only the 75th largest city in the country but it had the second largest population of slaves.

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activism, prayer, Purpose, race, Take Action

The Spirit Calls Us to Liberation

20171214_101710
Vigil for Safe & Sane Gun Laws at the NRA in Fairfax Virginia on the 5-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting

Maybe you, like me, are trying to figure out what “spiritual practice” is all about. My Unitarian Universalist congregation and faith strive to be homes for spiritual sustenance; yet I’m often at a loss for how to nourish the spirit outside of Sunday services. I show up to the Women’s Ritual Council full moon circles when I can, light a candle before bed, write gratitudes in my journal. These seem worshipful. So too do yoga, meditation, singing, gardening. But not every stretch or song turns the heart toward Beloved Community.

What makes an activity a form of prayer? And when is it simply self-care?

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activism, Featured, gender, Poetry

9pm Curfew

dare-karina-llergo-salto

“What would you do if all men had a 9pm curfew?” She asks the world.
The world responds.

I would walk at night with music in my ears.
I would shop for groceries after my kids are in bed.
I would stay late in the lab.
Lay on the grass and see all the stars.
Lay across the warm hood of my car.
Sleep in my front yard all summer long.

I would not carry my keys like claws.
I would pitch a tent beside my favorite waterfall.
Run on the trail until my legs give out.
Sleep where I land.
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activism, Children, Poetry, race, Take Action

Body Partial

Haimer World of Ghosts

Tiny glassed domes rising from pores
spill into trails
salting the lips,
blinding.
Slick and breathless under
a screen flickering
every angle of the terrible cleaving.
The panopticon
inversion, a litter of bodies
in the desert. Children jostled,
fenced camps, a flashback
between camera cuts.
We pretend to miss
the similarities.

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activism, Children, community, race, Take Action

Whose Life Matters: Privilege, Policing, and the Distribution of Trauma

cop holding baby 2

One block from home after a Black Lives Matter event, blue strobes flash in the rearview mirror. The irony does not escape me. I bend to pull my wallet from under the seat. Beyond irony, a stunning privilege. I feel around the floor. My hand closes around leather. I pry it out and set it on the passenger seat.

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