Speaking Up for Justice

Along with honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., this week is our union's one year "strikeversary". What a perfect time to reflect and teach our students to stand up for what is right.
January 2019 was one of THE rainiest winters in years. I live in Southern California, land of perpetual sun and beautiful skies. When it even begins to turn a tad bit cold (time to wear a sweatshirt) and sprinkle a little, we avoid going outside and people forget how to drive. THAT is why the commitment and support during this strike was incredible. It was POURING rain, yet teachers, school staff, parents, students, and even the general public showed up day after day to picket and march with us. . . over 60,000 strong. There was such energy, unity, and strength in the crowd. It brought our staff closer; we're usually so busy at school, that we wave a quick hello. During the strike, we were together 6 hours a day for 6 days. I am blessed to teach with such a dedicated, passionate and fabulous staff! Our collective voices proved that we were willing to speak up for justice and do whatever it took to fight for better conditions for our students. It was fabulous for our students to see their teachers standing up to make a difference!
In the bottom left photo above, is one of my former students. She was a student in my first grade class during our 9-day strike in 1989. I fought for her and my other students and for better working conditions. She grew up, became a teacher and this time we walked the line as fellow educators! (Yes, I feel old. . .)

Picture books about real-life heroes are such an inspiration! I especially love sharing the stories of children who are not too young to make a difference!
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Martin's Big Words by Doreen Rappaport uses parts of  MLK's own speeches as the narrative for this beautiful picture book.
Did you know that children also played a role during the Civil Rights Movement? In Let the Children March by Monica Clark-Robinson tells the true story in 1963 in Birmingham, Alabama. Thousands of African American children volunteered to march for their civil rights after hearing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speak. They protested the laws that kept black people separate from white people. Facing fear, hate, and danger, these children used their voices to change the world.

I was shocked to learn of the Mendez vs. Westminster case in Separate is Never Equal by Duncan Tonatiuh, 10 years before Brown vs. Board of Education. An American citizen of Mexican and Puerto Rican heritage who spoke and wrote perfect English, Sylvia Mendez was denied enrollment to a “Whites only” school. Her parents took action by organizing the Hispanic community and filing a lawsuit in federal district court. Their success eventually brought an end to the era of segregated education in California.
Cesar Chavez played a major role in California's history in Harvesting Hope by Kathleen Krull. Chavez wasn't always a leader. As a boy, he was shy and teased at school. His family toiled as migrant field workers, with barely enough money to survive. Cesar knew things had to change, and he thought that--maybe--he could help change them. So he took charge. He spoke up. And an entire country listened.
Contrary to stereotypes of how women should behave and accept circumstances, I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy is the story of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She has spent a lifetime disagreeing: disagreeing with inequality, arguing against unfair treatment, and standing up for what’s right for people everywhere.
Swedish 16-year old activist, and Time Person of the Year, Greta Thunberg insists, "I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic…I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is."  Our House is on Fire by Jeanette Winter portrays Thunberg's passion, leading the conversation on climate change and sparking worldwide conversation on how to save our planet. She is a role model for demonstrating that you're not too young to make a big difference.
A middle school student at my K-8 school was deeply touched by Greta Thunberg and her efforts to bring awareness to climate change. She enthusiastically brought the idea of participating in the Global Climate Strike to our leadership class and all classes, grades 3-8 researched, made signs, and picketed around our school (with full administrative approval and support). Our students felt empowered to participate in an event bigger than themselves.
These role models did not whine about all that is wrong with the world; they took action. Here's to those who stand up for what is right and speak up for justice!

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  1. Kathie, your post is so timely. We need to speak up for justice not only for ourselves but for future generations. Thanks for sharing these great books too.

    1. Thanks, Deann. I agree, we need to think ahead and take a stance for what is right!

  2. This post spoke several truths. I agree with you completely.

  3. Hi Kathie (and all of the teachers who read your blog),

    My husband, two children, siblings, nieces, nephews, and I are graduates of the Los Angeles Unified School District. I was also a newly LAUSD retired teacher last year during the strike. I was so proud of our fifteen retirees who joined us during the strike. Even though they had been retired for many years, they were still fighting for "our kids."

    Your blog post brought back memories of THE RAIN. I would go to Huntington Drive Elementary School each morning of the strike by 6:30. We had teachers, parents, students, retirees, and community members picketing outside of our school in the pouring rain. After 8:30, I would leave the school and go home to change to dry clothes and then go to City Hall or the designated rally site for that day. I would then go home to change to dry clothes and be back at Huntington Drive by 2:00. This routine continued from January 14 - 22, 2019 in nonstop rain.

    The reason why I joined the LAUSD strike even though I was retired was because I believed if LAUSD teachers lost their fight, many of the other teacher unions in the United States may also lose hope. While at the same time, if UTLA was successful, it may be an example to other school districts that they should listen to their teachers and come to a compromise to avoid a strike.

    I have always said that teachers are a part of a great profession. Teachers do not go into education for "the money." Teachers receive so much more from their students. The light in their eyes when they finally understand a concept is priceless. Yet, I also believe that teachers deserve a salary that will help them make ends meet so that they do not have to take an extra job or "do without" for basic family needs.

    Thankfully the LAUSD strike lasted only nine days and the teachers in Los Angeles received many provisions which made the strike a definite success.

    Even though I am no longer teaching, I say a prayer to the teachers in Los Angeles every day. For those of you who are still teaching, hang in there...thank you for all you do for "our kids"...and may you continue to change lives in your classroom...

    Wishing everyone the very best,

    1. Awww, you are such a role model for so many, Vicky! Thank you for taking the time to respond in such a detailed and passionate manner! You definitely stood up for what is right and we won!