Who are your HEROES? I often begin and end my Ethnic Studies classes with those questions to my SF State Students. One of my heroes - Ms. Yvonne Scarlett Golden passed away on Tuesday of cancer in Daytona Beach Florida where she was Mayor. Ms. Golden was a longtime teacher, principal and African American social justice leader in San Francisco. I met her some 20 years ago when I was working with KPOO 89.5 fm [poor people's radio in the Filmore District] as we fought together against Apartheid in South Africa and in American schools as well. More on her amazing life: Rep. Barbara Lee. Nanette Asimov's Obit from the SF Chronicle.
Portland teacher and Rethinking Schools editor Linda Christensen talks about EVERYDAY HEROES in her insightful article in the recent Rethinking Schools about the Katrina aftermath in New Orleans and the struggle for educational justice, the right to return and self-determination for the African American and other communities of color there.
In his article "Unsung Heroes," Howard Zinn discusses the need for us to find alternative heroes.
Should we not replace the portraits of our presidents, which too often take up all the space on our classroom walls, with the likenesses of grassroots heroes like Fannie Lou Hamer, the Mississippi sharecropper? Mrs. Hamer was evicted from her farm and tortured in prison after she joined the Civil Rights Movement, but she became an eloquent voice for freedom. Or with Ella Baker, whose wise counsel and support guided the young black people in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the militant edge of the civil rights movement in the Deep South?... Our country is full of heroic people who are not presidents or military leaders or Wall Street wizards, but who are doing something to keep alive the spirit of resistance to injustice and war.
Christensen shifts the dialogue in her classrooms from dominant mainstream 'heroes' to everyday heroes like her mother, her students' own 'abuelitas', folks from New Orleans - everyday ordinary people, who in times of intense crisis, tend to do extraordinary and courageous things. Linda and Bill Bigelow and the Rethinking Schools crew were out here in SF for our Teaching for Social Justice Conference in October. They and other ordinary teachers doing extraordinary things are also unsung heroes in my book.
Some of these photos are heroes of mine as well -
Allan Cheung and the Asian Student Union, PACE and LFS at SF State; Asian American Movement organizations and individuals represented in the Pilipino Mural on the North Side of the SF State Student Union; and
my 'abuelita', my 'paw-paw' - Ms. Cum York Owyang Lee - she turns 103 years old tomorrow, and my 6 and 2/3 year old kid Jade and I will be driving to Sacramento where she still lives for a visit to sing her happy birthday in English and Cantonese. As the mural below says - we stand on their shoulders!