A reflection on violence, walkouts and protests, from Providence

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by Taliq Tillman

March 21, 2018

 

I was laying on my couch when I watched the recap of live footage from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. I watched helplessly and shed a tear knowing that that community lived through that experience. I took time to pray for them and then felt overwhelmingly helpless. I was a witness to something that had, at this point, become all too familiar, and there I was just sending my thoughts and prayers yet again. Again and again, our schools become crime scenes and hunting grounds. Again and again, students are subjected to terrorism while our nation bears witness and sends thoughts and prayers through glass screens, retreating to the complacent and comfortable silence.

The walkout on March 14th was more than a demonstration. It was a step towards change. My peers and I are letting everyone know that the silence is tiring, draining, and infuriating. We are letting our nation know that ‘silence’ is just another word for ‘acceptance’. We are letting our nation know that we will do everything in our power to prevent our school grounds from becoming crime scenes. This prevention begins with having the courage, tenacity and empathy to unite and use our voices. There is nothing more debilitating than simply being a witness and sitting idly by, while the faults of your nation cause tragedy. I speak for myself and my generation when I say that enough is enough.

We’re taught in school to look for patterns. In my computer science class we’re talking about examining patterns in order to work towards solutions. Gun violence, mass shootings and domestic terrorism in our country have yielded patterns that we are ready to analyze. We must begin to examine existing legislation and circumstances that have the capacity and tendency to curate mass shootings. We’re making a small step by starting with fighting for a ban on assault weapons as a measure of prevention. There should be no debate when it comes to banning these military style assault weapons, as they are designed to kill instantly, in numerous amounts, and have been used again and again in devastating mass school shootings, including the Parkland Massacre. This is a step in a longer journey of reducing gun violence that includes other measures such as banning bump stocks, calling for more comprehensive background checks and raising the age in which people can purchase firearms.

If our nation is so adamant about protecting our second amendment rights, we better be even more set on protecting our children and communities. I speak for my city and youth here when I say we have to be certain to deliver an intersectional message in our efforts to reduce gun violence. A message that includes all perspectives and supports the voices who have been fighting long before today. As we continue our battle we must put forth policy strategies that prevent gun violence, promote reform, safety, and accountability in policing. There are students who are scared to go to school. There are students who walk through their hallways making sure to take every step with caution, as to not fall victim to gun violence. There are too many adults who remain silent. Remain witnesses

The Providence Walkout to End Gun Violence on March 14th was the start of a longer journey towards transformation in moments of tragedy. We are aware that we must interact with our politicians and become civically engaged if we truly want to see sustainable change on a political level. The walkout served as the first time many Providence students actually went into their statehouse, which is a small step in fostering a relationship with our local politicians. The walkout meant more than missing school. It meant standing together, in solidarity, to discourage violence and promote safe schools, communities, and a safer country. Many of my peers echoed words that I will hold in my heart in our efforts. All of them spoke out to break the stagnation and silence that makes up our current government. We are doing everything in our power to shape the policies and world we want to see for ourselves and for our own children.

I am tired of watching. There is no debate or question when lives are taken over and over and over again. I care and know too much to be silent. There will be no more silence. I believe in myself, I believe in my peers and in the youth, to shape national narratives. To mold the future of our schools and our country. We’re doing this for our communities. We’re doing this for one another and We’re doing this because we have to.

 

Our power is our people: Eve Ewing

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Eve Ewing is a poet, sociologist, artist, changemaker, bibliophile, among many other wonderful roles, capacities, and values. She was one of the several generous cultural workers who donated work for our annual fundraiser. Ten lucky donors received copies of her book of poetry, Electric Arches, and we’re sure they are much better for it being in their lives. She took some time to tell us more about her and her work

 

1. Who are you, where do you work, and why do you do what you do as an organizer for education activism?
My name is Eve, and I am a writer and sociologist from Chicago. I work at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration, although I think it would be more accurate to say I work in whatever spaces and places where people are having conversations about art, black liberation, feminism, joy, afrofuturism, and Chicago.
I do a lot of different things depending on the day, but one mode in which I am trying to pursue educational transformation is as a writer. I wrote a book coming out this year about school closures and racism, called Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closings on Chicago’s South Side. The book represents my attempt to provide a cohesive framework for us to have a conversation about school closings and the impact they have on communities, a conversation that bridges the interests of policymakers, educators, organizers, and concerned citizens. I also write for public outlets and on social media about education policy issues and, more broadly, issues in Chicago that indirectly shape our students’ lives and experiences (like housing and gentrification(.
I also consider my artistic practices to be part of an educational project. I wrote a book of poetry called Electric Arches which is intended to invite people into a space of dreaming or imagining alternate realities for the city. I also co-wrote a play called No Blue Memories: The Life of Gwendolyn Brooks which is intended to be a community-accessible way of talking about artists as educators and active community members. That is a recurring theme in my work– the idea that a poet is, to quote Sesame Street, a person in your neighborhood! I co-organize an event called the Chicago Poetry Block Party which is pretty much what it sounds like. It’s a big block party that is designed to bring poetry into a neighborhood setting where people of all ages and backgrounds can enjoy it. I see cultural organizing as an important part of education organizing because it’s one way we can manifest our principles about what learning communities can and should look like: accessible, intergenerational, connected to lived experiences, joyful.
2. What five books have been essential to your formation as an education activist?
I actually don’t identify as an activist so much as an organizer, although I don’t feel strongly about what people call me since I know everyone has their own definitions. But I love talking about books so let’s get to that part.
So Much Reform, So Little Change, by Charles Payne. This book made me  understand early on that the over-simplified silver bullet solutions people come up with for education “reform” will always be woefully inadequate as long as they ignore the context in which the struggle is taking place.
 
To Teach: A Journey in Comics, by Bill Ayers. I just love this little book because when I started out teaching, it was the best representation (to me) of how I felt about the practice, and it made me feel really seen. It’s an accessible and celebratory book by a very kind mentor of mine.
 
Teaching to Transgress, by bell hooks. This was the first book I read that brought together an understanding of radical education with black feminism, and it basically blew up my whole world for that reason. It has so many fundamental truths about education in it and also introduces some important historical points about the history of black education in this country.
 
Sister Outsider, by Audre Lorde. This book is not specifically about education but it helped to shape a lot of my worldview and sense of the possible and my general ethical stance.
 
The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. I return to this book over and over because of the passage where Douglass describes his experience of learning to read and write. I keep it in my heart at all times to remind me how radical black education is at its very heart, to remind me that reading and writing are insurgent acts, and to remind me of how my ancestors struggled and how my work is a continuation of that struggle.
3. What are three things you love about what you do?
I love reading so much. I can’t believe it’s my job to read. It’s a dream come true.
I love going around to different communities and just seeing kids and teachers in action. I love children so much. I love watching them learn, I love heir humor and their insights and their levity, and I love the thousand moments of innovation and understanding that make up a regular day in a a child’s life.
I love my city and how many people are determined to make it better. I love my comrades and how hard their work. I love that even when it all seems impossible, I am not alone.

Black Lives Matter Week of Action

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There’s much happening across Turtle Island this week, led, designed, and made into reality by teachers who are fighting for equity by teaching about Black Lives Matter.

Here is a list of resources and collectives’ links as they do the essential work of teaching about anti-black racism, Blackness as joy, spirit, and at the forefront of freedom. Follow the twitter handle @BLMAtSchool for more info throughout the week and the hashtag: #BlackLivesMatterAtSchool

With a deep bow, a kneel, and maybe even a raised fist for all the conscious teachers who engage in this necessary praxis. Our society is made better by an informed populace.

BLM at Schools 2018, curated by Chris Rogers @justmaybechris

From DC Area Educators:   

Facebook page for updates

NYC Educators for Black Lives Matter Calendar

Here’s a place to send youth-created work and updates

And you can still order one of those t-shirts features above here

Revisiting the Mexican American Studies court victory

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On August 22, 2017, Federal Judge Wallace Tashima ruled that the Arizona law banning Mexican American Studies was unconstitutional. Although delivered on a single day, this decision marked a watershed moment in a battle for ethnic studies that had been raging since the 2010 laws were enacted in reaction to the Mexican American Studies program in the Tucson Unified School District. The struggle to reinstate this program has been championed by students who enrolled in the courses, teachers who designed and taught the curriculum, and community members. It’s been some months, and the central figures in the legal battles gathered recently to reflect on the struggle, the victories it wrought, as well as some of the damage sustained through struggle.

 

Below is an abridged version of that conversation with teachers Curtis Acosta and Rene Martinez, program director Sean Arce, and lead attorney Richard Martinez.

 

What is the significance of the court’s ruling?

Sean Arce:     I think it’s really further legitimized ethnic studies, Chicano studies. And then with Richard Martinez, his communication to California Latino School Board Association last night that this ethnic studies and Chicano studies can move forward. There are actions moving forward, they’re setting a policy and creating departments like these that are protected by the first and fourteenth amendment.

Richard Martinez:     There are a number of legal significance issues. One is we took away the impediments to Mexican-American studies and cleared the path for ethnic studies to grow across the country. And these court decisions will be an important precedent in stopping the inevitable movement to end ethnic studies, which will surface in other places but under the same kind of arguments. And I think that the other that happens as the resurgence occurs, they will continue to use code words. Judge Tashima’s ruling on the way that we used code words as evidence of racial bias. The judge saying I came to that conclusion on my own and then goes on to no end, that was further affirmed by all the work of Dr. Pitti. So I think that there’s significant importance in the use of code words, because we all know that means that’s a bias statement, a racially charged bias statement that the courts have been looking to embrace and here you have a decision that embraces it.

And then the third thing that I think that’s critical is that absent a legitimate pedagogical reason then it clearly implies the racial bias, both in the context of denying equal protection and in the context of the first amendment, the right to receive. So, it’s critical the school boards adopt these curriculums, they understand what they’re adopting, why they’re adopting it and then grow it. Mexican American Studies in TUSD you had 10 to 12 years to grow it.

One thing the court cases do, both the ninth circuit and Judge Tashima’s ultimate decision, is that it reverses that whole stream of losses that we had regarding bilingual education. And those decisions that looked at those propositions or those initiatives and said no that’s not the product of racial bias. That those were somehow political decisions outside of the racial context, I think everybody knew that wasn’t true.

 

 

What did you learn in the process of fighting this in the legal system, in the media, and in communities?

Curtis Acosta:     I think Richard hit on a real important point about needing to be diligent, needing to be exhaustive in what these actors, these racist actors are doing. And our collective was definitely on top of it, from you and the legal arm all the way to us in the classroom and making sure we knew what they were saying about us. And to be honest that’s not a fun part of the job, is to look at what they’re saying about you in the media, social media, and how they’re building their case, they’re narrative. You talked about the importance of us getting the narrative back last night during our talk. But that’s all part of it, understanding what the narrative is against you as well as the narrative that you know is in your heart and what you’re trying to do.

 

What does this mean for academic freedom?

Richard Martinez:    Not only being inclusive, but always being open ended, and evolving, and contemporary. So I think that even though there was attached a negative view about how you used to occupy America, or if you wrote a poem, if you used hip-hop, whatever. It came back to if you contextualize the state has no ability to take away the efficacy, the educational efficacy of what you are doing. Legally, that’s how you defend that because they have to be able to then deconstruct you, your program, your curriculum, your curriculum units. And in the absence of that, whether it was Kathy Hrabluk (Associate Superintendent at the Arizona Department of Education) or anyone else, they don’t have your expertise, they don’t know how to deconstruct Mexican-American studies or ethnic studies. They don’t even know what it is, all they know is they don’t like it.

 

 

What are the implications of this decision for what teachers can do? What should they be careful of?

Richard Martinez:    I think that many teachers agree with it, but in terms of making it a mandate on the school district it’s at the local level. They must develop a curriculum in this manner. Where I disagree or think the mistake is to assume one class anyway comes close to what was occurring in Mexican-American Studies. Much more comprehensive.

Sean Arce:        That’s not systemic. You’ve got classes here and there it’s not systemic.

Richard Martinez:     The other thing is I think it’s a mistake to make the classes compulsory. I think they should be voluntary, those who want to take them fine, those who don’t. Because to the extent you make them compulsory and thus those individuals are students and those parents and those families that don’t want their child, their student in that class, they become your enemy. And that’s I think a problem. You’re building in an enemy that’s going to attack that school board, that superintendent, that site administrator, that teacher.

Curtis Acosta:      Yeah there’s antagonism already built in.

Sean Arce:     But yeah, we have to be cautious. We have to be, what’s the word that I used Friday? We have to be strategic on how we do this shit. Alright, we’re going to make it mandatory, where are the teachers at? Where’s the teacher training?

Rene Martinez:     And then what do you do when the pushback happens? Do you change the curriculum or do you just like, you know?

Rene Martinez:     But I think we’re only beginning to feel what the implications are.

Curtis Acosta:      Yeah, I feel like, I felt this sense of end in the micro. Cause if we can’t escape the macro of where we’re at as a nation. What we did in the classroom is what we do everyday now. And we just do it in different ways. So it’s not like anything ended in that sense but this particular story has a beginning, a beautiful beginning. Has a beautiful growth period of us all growing together as maestros, and maestras, as friends, as compañeros. I mean we went from strangers to beyond any relationships that many people will ever understand because we were, for lack of a better word, we were in the fox hole together for a long, long time. And you just don’t give up on each other. And when you don’t give up on each other you create a different kind of bond, but it’s forever.

Sean Arce:     That’s why we do it, and we do it for our own personal children. On personal level, but the meaning behind it is for our entire community cause we know the history of our community. We know that anti-Mexican, anti-Raza, anti-Black, anti-different color in this country is real, man, and we engage in that. We stood up to that. And the reason why we did that is for our own children, but for all the children in our community.

 

Our people is our power: Cait Vaughan

 

 

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  1. Who are you, where do you work, and why do you do what you do as an organizer for education activism?

I live and organize in Maine, where my fatherwas born & raised, though I grew up primarily in New Hampshire. I’m a white, cis, queer woman from a working poor family, survivor of childhood sexual & domestic violence, and the ‘one who got away’ and earned a degree. Importantly, I organize and engage in political education because of what Black mentors here in the Deep North taught me when I escaped to university. Particularly, I am referring to Black women cultural workers of NH, JerriAnne Boggis and Valerie Cunningham, who have worked tirelessly to tell the story of Black New England, to write themselves and their people into the public narrative, and wrest their stories away from white authorship, aggressive cultural amnesia, and distortion of public memory. The histories they amplified upended every story I’d ever been told about my own place in the world, what it means to ‘belong’ and who decides. They also hipped me to the inherently radical act of oppressed peoples declaring, We are here and we speak for ourselves. Their work blends public history and preservation efforts with education and activism that has literally changed the landscape of one of the whitest states in this country. They are shifting us towards a collective, multiracial reckoning with who New Englanders really were, are, and want to be. This type of education is public humanities, and it is also political as all get-out. JerriAnne and Valerie have shown me (and so many others) a blueprint of how to lead a life dedicated to liberation by doing the work where you live, and beginning by telling (often painful) truths in very public ways. Everything I do in the world is in some way fueled by the investment they made in their own dreams, and in my development directly; it is an honor to be in their debt.

With roots in the humanities, my daily organizing work focuses primarily on health care justice. I am a staff organizer for an indie abortion care provider that is constantly innovating to expand real access to poor people statewide. I work to connect ordinary folks (including young people) to opportunities to: support the clinics staying open; protect and advance their rights and access; engage in education initiatives about sex, sexual health, abortion & the reproductive justice movement; as well as learn from/with our communities about how we can be more a more relevant, accessible, and radical resource in this largely rural state. In my non-paid organizing life, I am also a member-leader of Maine’s Health Care is a Human Right campaign with the Southern Maine Workers’ Center. I am honored to serve with Survivor Speak USA, a survivor-led organization working to end sexual exploitation and sex trafficking in our state by addressing root causes of systemic racism and poverty. For the past 9 years, I’ve been lucky enough to do support work for JerriAnne Boggis in organizing the Annual Black New England Conference. The BNEC is a gathering for academics, artists, cultural workers, public intellectuals, organizers, educators, and students to learn about and honor the rich history and present of Black life in New England. I engage in other types of activism and organizing labor as local situations demand. At the moment, I’m working with statewide Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) chapters to organize several canvasses in neighborhoods targeted by the KKK with recruitment propaganda. We have been called to support folks in these neighborhoods in organizing and community defense efforts to oust the Klan and move in solidarity with People of Color in Maine.  There is no shortage of work to be done here. There is a need for us all to be flexible, hold multi-faceted roles, and labor through ‘politically impure’ structures to keep the work going and growing.

  1. What five books have been essential to your formation as an education activist?

I’m going to cheat and specifically also name some essays and poems that profoundly shaped my thinking and action, and to which I relate as companions for life, returning to them over and over.

  • Poetry Is Not A Luxury // Poetry Makes Something Happen, Audre Lorde (different iterations exist across multiple publications with slightly different titles, including I Am Your Sister: Collected & Unpublished Writings of Audre Lorde, 2009)
  • Power, Audre Lorde (poem published in The Black Unicorn, 1978)
  • The Difficult Miracle of Black Poetry in America; Something Like A Sonnet for Phillis Wheatley, June Jordan (poem essay published in On Call: Political Essays, 1985)
  • Playing in the Dark: Whiteness & the Literary Imagination, Toni Morrison (Vintage Books, 1992)
  • The Erotic Life of Racism, Sharon P. Holland (Duke University Press, 2012)
  1. What are three things you love about what you do?
  2. What keeps you up at night or worries you (we hope everyone gets healthy sleep, of course)?

Learning for liberation is often painful. White people ought not to set the bar at what “feels good” but instead ask ourselves: Did we come here to genuinely move & be moved? Did this process show us something about how we got here, and how to go forward differently? I don’t think rounded edges do much in service of liberation; I’d love less certainty and more seeking. I worry that (my) white people are simultaneously too fragile and too destructive to do the work consistently and effectively, despite an embarrassment of riches when it comes to POC leadership. I am not hopeful, but I am resolute.

  1. What misconception about education would you like to correct?

While my parents and family were not schooled, they were very learned in the ways of supremacy. The workings of domination are pervasive, oppression is SMART, and we learn it via daily living. I knew very young that I wanted another way to be, and yet for the longest time, I had no models for finding or creating this within the world I knew. This is why the educational uses of lived experience must not be confined to the merely performative or illustrative (story telling) or as raw material for creating “real knowledge.” We can examine the rituals, rhythms and practices of our daily lives and explore how we came to know what we think is true, or to question it. How the mundane structures and institutions of our days instruct us to feel and move, and how we push against it or comply. We learn from what happens when we ‘break a rule’ no one explicitly outlined; and we cannot be the same after. I want us to honor the kitchen table talk of family life and survival as one of the deepest sources of education any of us receives. This is not anti-intellectual; it is asking for a recognition of all the thinking and seeing (or refusals to see) that we accomplish each day. It acknowledging that the structures we (re)create, inhabit, come into conflict with on a daily basis cumulatively result in a frightfully formal education. We are forever receiving instruction in the machinations and pathways of power—whether or not we learn is a question of collective, principled reckoning and relentless imagination.

Lastly, I want us to assume that poetry *is* a natural language, medium, and site of learning for poor and dispossessed people. I struggle sometimes to reconcile that I believe so deeply in learning through lived experience AND it is reading/poetry that led me to frame that experience in relation to things bigger than myself. If someone had not put a volume of poetry in my hands that included Audre Lorde’s “Who Said It Was Simple” when I was 16, how long might it have taken me to understand the violence of white feminism? Poor kids can read, write, and learn from poems—and we can come to see our own lives as poems we author, even/especially against great odds. We need the poetry of young people’s every day resistance. And I believe young people need to know that someone has been before where they are now, and wrote to them across time and space to say: You continue a beautiful struggle; write your name with what you do to be free in spite of all attempts to stop you.

Legal victory for Ethnic Studies!

The core focus, mission, and practice of the education for liberation network is that through education, we can liberate ourselves from knowledge systems that erase and suppress for the purpose of domination.

As many know, the fight for ethnic studies has been a crucial expression of education for liberation. With its start in the 1960s on college campuses, ethnic studies is now a well-developed and integrated curricular and pedagogical endeavor in dozens of districts and states.

Predictably, though, this work to reconnect learning to the cultures of marginalized students brought backlash from the dominant culture. For the past six years, former and current students and teachers of Ethnic studies in Arizona have been battling in court systems and continuing the work of ethnic studies without the sanction of schools or district offices.

So, it is with tremendous joy that we share the wonderful news that a federal judge has preliminarily ruled that an Arizona law banning the teaching of ethnic studies violates students’ constitutional rights. The full decision and consequence for the ruling is still to be announced, but the ruling fully describes the racial animus behind and explicit in the Arizona law.

As network member Carla Shalaby wrote,

“This legal victory for ethnic studies in Tucson is a victory for all who believe young people deserve the teaching of their ancestors in our schools, the hearing and telling of their own stories, and the recognition of their particular place in our history and in our future.

It is also a reminder of the power of youth and educator activism, and I’m grateful to the teachers in Tucson who made their way to the courtroom after losing their classrooms in the unconstitutional ban of their courses.”

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Carla also shared a link for the full decision – check it out.

Here’s the NPR story on the ruling and a previous story that details the racist legislation in Arizona.

And, following Carla’s lead, we’d also like tribute artist and cultural worker  Julio Salgado for the artwork that so clearly depicts the stakes.

Battling white supremacy requires many strategies. We are thrilled to join thousands in celebration of this important victory. And then we get right back to work.

In Lak Ech

 

Celebrating the Life of Antonio Nieves Martinez

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The Education for Liberation community joins many siblings across Turtle Island in grieving the loss of our beloved Antonio Nieves Martinez. Ed4Lib family member Patrick “Cam” Camangian wrote the loving tribute below.

 

Dear People’s Community, friends, colleagues, and allies,

In case you do not already know, it saddens me to share news about the untimely death of our good brother, committed comrade, loving community member, and dear friend in Antonio Nieves Martinez last Tuesday, July 11, 2017.  The People’s Education Movement was first conceptualized at a coffee shop meeting between Antonio, Carolina Valdez, and myself in Koreatown, Los Angeles in January 2013.  Through Carolina, his wife and exceptional educator, Jerica, and Antonio’s organizing efforts with other founding members in LA, People’s was established during a summer retreat in July 2013.  During this summer retreat, I was encouraged to organize People’s Education Movement, Bay Area with other like-minded educator-organizers.

 

Here is the Facebook announcement for the bay area celebration and memorial of Antonio’s life: https://www.facebook.com/events/619000538296678/?active_tab=about.  And here is the information for a gathering in NYC on July 26th.

 

Donations can be made here: https://www.mealtrain.com/trains/wod57w/donate/.

 

Antonio has long been involved in multiple community projects and coalition of educators, activists, community members, and researchers working towards liberatory education:  He was also a former council member of the Association of Raza Educators and board member of the Education for Liberation Network (EdLib).  Antonio’s commitments with both People’s and EdLib led him to take on leadership and committee roles for the Free Minds Free People (FMFP) national conferences held in Chicago in July 2013 and Oakland in July 2015. Before moving back to the SF Bay Area, Antonio and Jerica were engaged in establishing equitable, restorative educational spaces in the Holyoke community of Western Massachusetts.

 

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As a scholar, Antonio studied the importance of teachers collectivizing to transform larger systemic issues undermining the humanity of people in culturally wealthy communities of color.  Through this work, Antonio helped further establish the importance of developing popular education programs to challenge some of the more colonial, deficit, and neoliberal narratives and practices reproduced in society.  Antonio argued why and showed how the concerns of students, families, community members, and critically conscious teachers should inform the type of education needed to transform dehumanizing social conditions. Antonio also took on leadership roles within the Critical Educators for Social Justice (CESJ), Special Interest Group for the American Educational Research Association. A colleague who worked closely with Antonio in this capacity said, “He was fiercely dedicated to social justice and supported CESJ however he could. In fact, much of the growth and more communal nature of the grad forum can be attributed to Antonio.”

 

Attached is a research article titled, “Solidarity with the People,” which he co-wrote with Carolina Valdez and another People’s founding member, Stephanie Cariaga.  Solidarity EEE

 

Thank you for your positive thoughts and prayers for Jerica, their wonderful daughter Huitzin, and Antonio’s family at this time of unimaginable loss.

In sincere community solidarity,

Patrick “Cam” Camangian