Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Dolores Huerta Inspires Students, Faculty And Staff At Ferris State University
BIG RAPIDS - From the beginning of Dolores Huerta's presentation at Ferris State University, "Without Fear: Neighbors Unite," it was clear that fire and passion for social justice still burn inside of her as intensely as ever.
Speaking to a crowd that included students, faculty, staff and community members in Ferris' G. Mennen Williams Auditorium, Huerta touched on a wide range of topics that traced back to her theme of social justice and community activism. Huerta, one of the legendary Chicano labor leaders in the United States and the first Latina inductee of the National Women's Hall of Fame in 1993, discussed a number of issues, including: racism, sexism, homophobia, the economy, militia groups, unionization, health care, education, giving back to communities and more in her hour-plus presentation that included a question-and-answer session.
"The soul of our country is education. We've got to educate people to be tolerant, we've got to educate them about the contributions of labor, contributions of women and about the contributions of people of color," said Huerta, whose presentation was a part of Women's History Month activities at Ferris. "If not, we're going to continue this division and this racism we have in our society."
Working With Cesar Chavez
Huerta discussed her work with Cesar Chavez in co-founding the United Farm Workers (originally named the National Farm Workers Association) in 1966 when few people thought it could be done because, "they're poor, they don't have any assets, they don't have any money, they don't speak English and they're not citizens." Swelling with the pride of accomplishment, however, Huerta talked about how the efforts to unite the farm workers proved ultimately to be successful. Huerta and Chavez reminded the farm workers that they had more power than they realized.
"No one was going to make the changes for them," said Huerta, recipient of Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award from President Clinton in 1999. "They had to make the changes for themselves. They had to take responsibility and if they didn't take that responsibility then nothing was going to change."
Through organization efforts, motivated individuals marched, passed leaflets, registered people to vote, got people out to vote, went on strikes and boycotts.
The Power Of The Person
Huerta, who for more than 50 years has been a champion of social justice, talked about the power of the person and what one person can do.
"It's not enough to register to vote and it's not enough to just vote. We've got to take the next step, we've got to do advocacy and we've got to take action," she said. "Because, if we're going to get our democracy back we're going to have to do a lot more work.
"We're in a situation right now that in addition to the ongoing racism that we have we such an economic disparity. We have one percent of our population in the United States owns 90 percent of the wealth. There is something wrong with that picture," Huerta added. "Our minimum wage has not kept up with the cost of living."
Near the end of her presentation, she also talked about the Dolores Huerta Foundation which was created "to inspire and motivate people to organize sustainable communities to attain social justice with an emphasis on women and youth."
Sponsors for Huerta’s lecture (a five-star campus event) include the Social Work Association, the Hispanic Student Organization, Lambda Pi Eta, the Ferris Communication Association, the Finance Division of Student Government, the Political Engagement Project, the Academic Senate Arts and Lectures Committee, the Office of Multicultural Student Services, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and the American Association of University Women.
Photos by Sandy Gholston