Passing on

It’s sad to have blogs with names of people I’ve loved or admired who have passed on. But I must recognize some important people in my life who’ve recently died. First is Los Angeles teacher Sal Castro, who passed on April 15 after a bout with cancer. He was 79.

Sal was a leader in the 1968 East Los Angeles “Blowouts” – one of the largest protests for education in the United States at the time. Schools in L.A.’s vast eastside – such as Lincoln, Garfield, Roosevelt, and middle schools like Hollenbeck, among others – had walkouts to protest discrimination and low education resources for Chicano students. Numbers ranged from 10,000 to 30,000 people involved, students, parents, teachers, and community members alike.

The 2006 HBO movie “Walkout” dramatized the incident, directed by Edward James Olmos and produced by Moctezuma Esparza, a student leader of the protests in 1968. Actor Michael Pena played Castro in the film (and other actors played other leaders and friends of mine such as Bobby Verdugo, Carlos Montes, Harry Gamboa, and the amazing Paula Crisostomo – the movie was based on her story… she was a mentor of mine in high school).

I was 13 in 1968 and walked out of my San Gabriel Valley middle school known as Garvey Intermediate School in the Richard Garvey School District, the district adjacent to the East Los Angeles schools. Although I was a troubled kid, in a gang, using drugs, and not doing well in school, when I heard about the protest this fired up my imagination – it took a while, but this opened a door to social justice and change that became a life-long avocation.

Although only five of us walked out of Garvey School – and promptly suspended – I did later participate in a Chicano Leadership Conference that Sal Castro helped organize to train the next generation of leaders. Sal probably wouldn’t have recognized me from among the many Chicano students listening to his talks and those of other leaders (although usually in cholo attire, I was relatively shy and withdrawn at the time). But I soon took part in study groups, collective actions, and by age 20 left entirely all gang and drug involvement to pursue a revolutionary life.

Sal was part of this transformation, planting a seed that has stayed with me all these years.

I also want to remember Johnny Godinez, “El Huero” from the Arizona Maravilla barrio (one of a dozen barrios in the Maravilla district of East Los Angeles). For years he was a leader in gang intervention in Los Angeles, employed by SEA (Soledad Enrichment Action). He also worked with me and forty other peace warriors, advocates and researchers in the “Effective Community-Based Gang Intervention Model” approved by L.A.’s city council in 2008 and used in cities across the U.S. (I also introduced this model to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico; El Salvador; Guatemala; Argentina; and England). Johnny and I have sat on many peace panels, circles and coalitions over the past ten years. He died of a heart attack and will be sorely missed.

And today I read that Richie Havens died on April 22, 2013 – the African American folk singer and guitarist played a large musical role in the civil rights and anti-war struggles of the 1960s. He combined a unique singing and playing style with the powerful folk music tradition. He became famous after opening for the 1969 Woodstock Festival. I did not know him well, but I had the privilege of reading poetry with Richie Havens playing in the background at the Nurorican Café in New York City in the early 1980s. With me were poets like Kimiko Hahn and Miguel Algarin. He was gracious and kind to us poets as we admired the poetry he brought to his lyrics, his singing and guitar.

Que en paz descansen.



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