O’Connor Scholar Maricela Aquilar. Each year the Fund selects a grantee who exemplifies the lifelong commitment to peace and justice modeled by Jessie Lloyd O’Connor, a labor journalist, organizer and an early member of our Board. Our Jessie Lloyd O’Connor Scholar this year is Maricela Aquilar. Concerned about her undocumented status and how it would impact college admission, Marciela contacted Voces de la Fronteras and became involved with their youth program, Youth Empowered in the Struggle (Y.E.S.). There she learned to organize actions and mobilize students to attend rallies, lobby and work for instate tuition in Wisconsin, which they won in 2009. Through Voces, she became involved in the Wisconsin protests last spring, organizing buses daily to go to Madison for the protests – people from labor and the immigrant community, teachers and students marching together. When the new budget was announced Maricela coordinated a 260-student walk out, marching to the University chanting, taking over the concourse and sitting down, while she led a teach-in on the budget. She said that was the most inspiring moment of her organizing career so far and gives her hope that teachers and students together can create the future of Wisconsin. She currently organizes with United We DREAM as a member of the national coordinating committee and has co-developed a College Organizers Program with Voces while serving on their board. She is studying Political Science and English at Marquette University with a goal to create and help sustain a strong foundation for immigrant youth movements.
Ryah Aqel became politically active on the University of Michigan campus, organizing letter writing and education sessions against the Military Commissions Act of 2006 and joining Students Allied for Freedom and Equality (SAFE), a Palestinian solidarity group. As a leader in SAFE, she organized rallies, demonstrations, educational forums films and the first Palestine Conference at University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. She was a founding member of the Ann Arbor Palestine Film Festival, which now in its 3rd year has touched thousands of people, raising awareness and educating. She helped plan the UM Social Justice Conference which provided a space for coalition building between movements on campus and as a part of the national Arab-American activist network, played a key role in organizing workshops for the US Social Forum. She plans to continue this work for social change within progressive movements while completing a master’s program in Near Eastern Studies at NYU.
Ashraf Ashqar grew up in an occupied village in Palestine, and his passion for social change was sparked through involvement with the Popular Resistance Committee Against the Wall and Settlements in Palestine. He started The Green Resistance which ran a successful campaign to boycott the use of Israeli products on campus and then worked as a media and training coordinator for the International Solidarity Movement, recruiting and supporting volunteers from around the world. Most recently he has worked with the coalition, EWASH on water rights and sanitation issues and has produced four short documentaries on water crisis for advocacy and education purposes. Since coming to the US, he has become involved with the Vermont Workers Center Healthcare campaign and after completing a Leadership degree at the School for International Training, plans to stay in here to build movements for justice in Palestine through strategic non-violence, conflict resolution and policy advocacy.
Mariana Bruno co-founded two youth collectives, Un Mundo En Resistencia and Siempre Aprendiendo Pintar Obedenciendo which focused on self-determination. She became involved with Cop Watch and the South Central Farm struggle in South LA, working to bring affordable, organic produce to South Central and Watts while enhancing her own community organizing skills. She helped co-found the South Central Farm Community Center which has hosted events such as Xip Xop Oaxaca and Revolutionary Womyn of Color and is working to create an independent media project with a youth focus. After completing a degree in History and Chican@ Studies at UCLA, she plans to return home to Santa Ana to continue community organizing and to develop an activist art collective.
Martine Caverl began her activism working with a reproductive justice/feminist organization. She worked against the prison industrial complex with the Prison Moratorium Project and later with an intergenerational grassroots group working against school to prison pipeline and restorative justice youth programs, while developing curriculum and organizing counter military recruitment efforts. She organized injured workers with UFCW, followed by a 6 month stay in Venezuela studying social movements, after which she became focused on international solidarity. She co-founded the Black Diaspora Project ñ now called Rising in Solidarity with Ayiti, a grassroots group raising support for Haiti, holding teach-ins about Haiti’s struggle for sovereignty while raising funds and holding mainstream organizations accountable for money raised but not yet spent for relief efforts. She is attending Johns Hopkins School of Nursing and hopes to create models for public health which contribute to healing justice and combating the trauma and violence of oppression.
Sonja Diaz grew up protesting alongside her father with the UFW against anti-immigrant and anti-affirmative action propositions in California. She attended UC Santa Cruz and as one of the few minority students on campus, became active in campaigns for workers rights and educational equity. She led efforts to protect retention programs and stood in solidarity with striking AFSCME workers. At UCLA, she studied public policy and co-founded 3 campus organizations while there, focusing on coordinating walkouts and sit-ins protesting budget cuts that would seek to re-segregate the school and oppress campus workers. She coordinated efforts to replace the graduate student government with a progressive slate, the UCLA Public Education Party. Now, as a law student at UC Berkeley, she is a member of the National Lawyers Guild and continues her commitment to educational equity in California, organizing the Berkeley Law Walkout Delegation last year and regularly protesting general assembly and regents meetings. Her goal is to use her legal scholarship to gain the competency necessary to be an effective advocate for racial justice.
Shereen D’Souza became passionate about grassroots food and environmental justice organizing following a trip to Costa Rica observing the connections between agriculture, the environment and poverty. Witnessing how farming communities were resisting and standing up to US policies, she joined in support of land reform and water access campaigns. Returning to California, she became immersed in food access and urban agriculture movements in the Bay area, developed food justice programs, green jobs training, food sovereignty and environmental sustainability and worked as the program director for Oakland Urban Gardens, co-director of Sustaining Ourselves Locally and after seeing the need to connect local grassroots efforts to national policy issues, became the director of California Food and Justice Coalition. She hopes to use a Masters of Environmental Science Degree from Yale to address national food justice policy.
Brooke Eliazar-Macke began her activism with the Civic Media Center, a non-profit library and progressive meeting space in Gainesville, FL, organizing with the local NOW chapter, to defeat a Charter Amendment that would’ve kept Gainesville from passing non-discrimination protections. She worked with Redstockings Activist Archives Project and was part of the steering committee that created a chapter of National Women’s Liberation in Gainesville, and it’s Morning After Pill Coalition. She organized call in days, civil disobedience actions and co-wrote petitions seeking to make the drug available over the counter. As a leader in the Gainesville Chapter of the Labor Party, she has advocated for national healthcare and now at CUNY School of Law, is part of the Correctional Association of New York Women in Prison project and is involved with CUNY’s NLG chapter, training as a legal observer and working to establish a legal clinic.
Remieke Forbes developed an analysis of socioeconomic and racial inequality and encouraged interest in activism as the co-editor of his high school magazine on race. While at Harvard, he became involved with the Student Labor Action Movement (SLAM) both as an organizer and as a graphic designer for action flyers and posters and the organization’s website he built leadership for contract fights and focused on the huge cuts in service worker pay and jobs. He co-founded the Harvard Anti-War Coalition, became involved with the Urban Program, introducing new students to social justice struggles in nearby neighborhoods and joined the Student Immigration Movement, working on passage of the DREAM Act. He continues creating posters for use by local organizations and has designed a social media tool allowing workers to communicate without fear of retaliation. He is studying graphic design at the Rhode Island Institute of Art and plans to use his art to organize, educate and empower low-wage service workers.
Melissa Gilbarg became involved in the Coalition Against Poverty (CAP) through her own experience with the welfare system. She did door to door work and spoke at rallies to increase funding for child care vouchers ñ they won and she was hooked on fighting for social and economic justice. She organized in public housing communities for increases in minimum wage, against demolition of public housing units, for needed social services and for voter empowerment. Two years later she was hired as a paid organizer with CAP and ultimately became its director. She continues her work organizing for equal education for all young people challenging disparities based on race and economic level. Most recently she organized efforts to reform the Criminal Offender Registry Information (CORI) system and which was finally signed into law in 2010. She is completing an MSW at Boston University, attending on a part time basis, and plans to continue organizing others to be involved in systemic change.
Christina Heatherton has been involved with housing rights and struggles for 10 years, primarily with Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN), organizing with Skid Row residents for tenancy and civil rights and against police brutality, displacement and gentrification. With LA CAN and the Southern California Library, she edited a reader, Downtown Blues: A Skid Row Reader, featuring the voices and experiences of residents alongside prominent scholars of race, power and culture; exploring why public funds can be used to create a police state in Skid Row, but not to provide services, housing, education and health care. This work has heavily influenced her dissertation research focused on the emergence of radical oppositional cultures, during the Mexican Revolution. She is planning a second reader on public housing and social wage while working toward a PhD in American Studies and Ethnicity at University of Southern California.
Rodolfo Hernandez Corchado worked with Asociación Tepeyec of New York, a grassroots immigrant’s rights organization and on two radio collectives, Lenguna Suelta for WBAI Pacifica in NYC and Rock en Rebelión for KPFA Pacifica in Berkeley, both bilingual community radio shows on Latin American politics. He was a lead organizer with Construction Workers United, working for labor rights of Latino day laborers in NYC and joined Colectivo Reaktor, which promotes solidarity and autonomous education among undocumented migrant workers. He has been an independent journalist with MX Sin Fronteras, directs the blog, http://www.huellasmexicanas.org and is a collective member of Coalición por los Derechos Politicos de los Mexicanos en el Extranjero, a bi-national organization advocating for the rights of Mexicans living abroad. He is writing an oral history on class formation and Mexican contemporary immigration to the US toward completion of a PhD in Anthropology at CUNY and hopes to continue creating accessible media which supports Mexican migrants in their pursuit of economic and political transformation.
Adrian Lowe has worked for 20 years in movements for LGBTQ civil rights, economic justice, prison abolition and public health, focusing early on with Queer Nation, ACT UP! and HIV/AIDS. He became a street medic during the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle and continued on as a trainer with the North Eastern Action Medical Association and after moving to Philadelphia, co-founded Philly-Pissed, a grassroots restorative justice project. He worked with ACT UP! on a successful campaign allowing condoms in Philadelphia jails and saw firsthand the disparities in services and resources available for trans/gender variant people as a case worker for the Trans-health Information Project. He continues to be involved with Hearts on a Wire, a transgender/gender variant prisoner advocacy organization which he co-founded in 2007, and hopes to work in civil rights and criminal law focusing on the needs of underserved trans people in the Philadelphia area after completing law school at Temple.
Rickke Mananzala has spent the last decade building organizations and coalitions to advance public policy in the LGBTQ, racial and economic justice movements and has contributed to these movements on a national level as an activist, trainer and scholar of political theory and social movements. After being rejected by his family because of his sexual orientation and then experiencing racism and homophobia on his college campus, Rickke lacked the family and community support to continue his degree and left school. In 2003, he found FIERCE, an LGBTQ youth organization, became a youth organizer and later their executive director. During his tenure at FIERCE he has strengthened the organization not only serving queer youth of color, but providing a context for building power in marginalized communities and building unity between disparate issues and movements. He is returning to school to complete a BA/MA in Political Science and Public Policy at Columbia University with plans to work with grassroots organizations struggling with strategic decisions around multi-issue work and organizing.
Felipe Matos came to the US from Brazil to escape poverty and after beginning college at Miami Dade, became a leader in Students Working for Equal Rights (SWER) organizing to stop student deportations, fight off ICE raids, work for college access and immigration reforms. Felipe was a key organizer the 1500 mile “Trail of Dreams ” walk from Miami to DC, a non-violent campaign for the liberation of unauthorized immigrants, with stops in communities throughout the southeast, civil disobedience actions, community listenings, rallies and a joint stand against the Klan with the NAACP. He has worked in the Southeast with United We DREAM, organizing against AZ SB 1070 copycat bills and organizing grassroots efforts in five states as the DREAM Act vote approached and currently works nationally to end deportations and to push back local law enforcement programs such as 287g and Secure Communities. He will complete a BA this year at St. Thomas University.
David Morales developed the Education Not Arms Coalition as a high school junior, after his principal eliminated AP classes, began a campaign to discipline the largely low-income and of color student body and instituted a Jr ROTC and marksmanship training program. Within two years the coalition was able to restrict the Jr ROTC program and eliminated the marksmanship training in the entire San Diego Unified School District. They also pushed for and won a default A-G Curriculum which would keep students from being tracked into the workforce or the military and would make each student eligible to apply to a four year college. He continues counter recruitment work through Project YANO (Youth and Non-Military Opportunities) and has become active in anti-racist and student access movements at UC San Diego. He is a leader in Colectivo Zapatista, a community collective, organizing parent unions, planning protests and forums and is in his second year in the Latin American Studies program at UC San Diego.
Ezinne Nwankwo became interested in public health after living in Bayview Hunters Point, an area of San Francisco that is considered one of the most toxic sites in the nation. She began working with Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice to learn more about how social factors impact health status and focused on the youth of the neighborhood, educating and mobilizing them to create Youth in Action. The group organized community meetings, workshops and hearings and mobilized community efforts against a proposed building project that would construct homes on top of a radioactive, contaminated site – the proposal was ultimately rejected. After completing a master’s in Public Health at University of Michigan ñ Ann Arbor, Ezinne plans to continue working with young people and communities impacted by environmental racism and injustice through health education and action – making necessary systemic societal changes that impact the root causes of illness in marginalized communities.
Luke Patterson began organizing at his high school against police brutality at the age of 16. He joined the Youth Justice Network of the October 22nd Coalition to Stop Police Brutality and organized protests and political arts events for which he was featured in an ABC documentary, “Teens”. He has been active in the struggle for Affirmative Action and helped coordinate a National Day of Art to Free Mumia with Refuse and Resist, joined Not in Our name, an anti-war group and co-created a documentary about youth anti-war activists. After graduating, he worked in gang intervention, creating a monthly open mic event, “Fightin’ Words”, which has become a center for LA Organizers of the October 22nd Coalition and has been a spokesperson for the LA Coalition for Oscar Grant. Now at Columbia University, working toward an MSSW, he has co-founded Social Workers for Anti-Oppression and Equality and believes his ultimate goal of liberation can be achieved through creating spaces for young people to learn and speak out.
Christian Peruyero began his political work as a college sophomore learning basics of organizing with the Students for a Democratic Society before. He became involved with the National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights, working against police brutality and discrimination in the local community and for self determination for Puerto Ricans on the island and was a leader in a campaign protesting negative portrayals of PR youth in MTV’s “True Life: I’m a Nuyorican”. He helped rebuild the Black Legacy student group and founded the Puerto Rican Club, focusing on accomplishing his vision of CUNY as “liberated space for oppressed nationalities”. Organizing walkouts of students and faculty, he led protests of budget cuts and tuition hikes and was one of the plaintiffs who sued the CUNY system for illegal tuition hikes. He continues PR solidarity work, organizing protests in support of PR striking students and will complete a BA in Puerto Rican Studies at Lehman College CUNY this year.
Carlos Roa was brought to the US by his parents seeking a better life and a good education. Although his grandfather was a naturalized citizen, and his sister and mother gained their citizenship, twenty years later, he and his father remain undocumented. In 2007, he lost a job in construction, returned to school and joined Students Working for Equal Rights and the Florida Immigrant Coalition, which he says revolutionized his life. He has organized support to stop deportations of students and was one of four students who walked from Miami to Washington, DC on the “Trail of Dreams”. He worked with United We Dream on passage of the DREAM Act and currently works with Presente.org maintaining its social media organizing. He says he wants to design neighborhoods that bring beauty to oppressed and marginalized people without gentrifying communities and is seeking an Associate’s Degree in Architecture at Miami Dade College to that end.
Matt Smucker grew up in a rural, all white, conservative area and believes one of his strengths as an activist for progressive causes is that he is not a “usual suspect” and therefore does not settle for organizing and mobilizing only other progressives. He began learning about activism through the American Indian Movement in high school and has worked for MoveOn.org, War Resisters League and School of the Americas Watch. He has written tactical guides for training at these and other organizations such as the Ruckus Society and Iraq Veterans Against the War. He is a blogger on his own site, BeyondtheChoir.org as well as other national left blogs, works with the Bradley Manning Network and is leading a narrative strategy workshop for No More Deaths, an Arizona based human rights and border action campaign. He is writing his first book, Beyond the Choir: A Practical Guide for Progressives, and will complete a BA in Social Movement Theory at Goddard College this year.
Tania Unzueta came to the US with her family when she was 10 years old with promises from her father’s employer for help with the immigration process. As visas expired, she found herself in junior high, undocumented and without the same access to jobs and scholarships as her classmates, an experience that moved her to tell her own story and begin working for the DREAM Act and immigration rights. She has worked on education reform with Organized Students of Chicago, against police abuse with the October 22 Coalition, the Southwest Youth Collaborative and at Radio Arte, a youth community radio training program, believing strongly in the power of promoting social justice through a “first-voice perspective”. She co-founded the Immigrant Youth Justice League after working to stop the deportation of young student and created the “Undocumented and Unafraid” campaign, organizing in Arizona and in Washington DC and continues building the immigrant rights movement in Chicago where she is working on an MA in Latin American & Latino Studies at the University of Illinois.