From Coloradoan.com, “Holiday marks efforts to help those in need” by Tony Frank, 27 Mar 2011.
[Colorado]–March 31 is Cesar Chavez Day, a Colorado holiday honoring the memory of a great American leader and role model.
Chavez was a crusader, a civil rights leader and a humanitarian – a religious and spiritual mentor, a community organizer and a visionary. He led a nonviolent movement that transformed the lives of some of our nation’s poorest and hardest working citizens. And his life itself was a model of the American Dream.
Chavez spent his childhood as a migrant farm worker after his family lost its home and farm in the Depression. He volunteered to serve his country in the U.S. Navy, defending rights and freedoms that he believed in with a passion – even though they were often denied to him and his fellow farm workers.
And when he returned from the service, he became a champion of those rights, rising to become an inspiration to people worldwide. He was a leader who was unfailingly humble, humane and untiring in his service to our nation’s most disenfranchised citizens. In 1994, he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, our nation’s highest civilian honor.
Chavez once said, “The fight is never about grapes or lettuce. It is always about people.” And so, the holiday we celebrate in his honor ought also to be a time to ask what we can do for the people of our community. How can we open doors and create opportunity? How, together, can we assist those in our community who are struggling in the face of poverty, hardship and lack of education?
The people for whom Chavez advocated weren’t asking for a hand-out – they worked hard and simply wanted to be treated with fairness and respect.
Today, there are still many hard-working people in our own community who are struggling to survive and care for their families as they work toward a better, more stable future. The “social safety nets” we have established – the Food Bank of Larimer County, Salud Family Health Centers and the many programs offered through the United Way – all provide essential support to these families in need. The public educational programs we offer as a community – through Poudre School District, the public library system, Colorado State University and Front Range Community College – provide access to opportunity.
Chavez understood that our future will be a shared one, and the more people who are educated and engaged as members of our society, the more we all benefit. The Cesar Chavez holiday is an opportunity to demonstrate our support for those people and organizations within our community who carry on this vision. Through donations of time and resources, we can keep these organizations strong as they continue to assist all members of our community in working toward a better quality of life.
As Chavez said: “You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore.”
Let us learn from his example to help make real a future where all people are respected and valued and given the tools they need to participate fully in the life of this great country.
Tony Frank is president of Colorado State University. Doug Hutchinson is mayor of the city of Fort Collins.