Giving Young Seekers of Peace and Justice their Due – Mission Bay High, MEChA

by on April 26, 2011 · 8 comments

in Education, From the Soul, Peace Movement

Posing in a picture on the desktop of my iMac are some of the most brilliant people I’ve ever known, members of MEChA, a Chicano student organization at Mission Bay High led by Luis Villanueva, a remarkable educator who constantly seeks ways to create learning experiences that are relevant to their lives. Each of them is a budding community leader and exemplary American citizen.

Ah, they look so proud with warm smiles adorning their beautiful brown faces and they have every right to such a feeling considering that they had assumed their positions in a CTA (California Teachers Association) conference room at a fancy hotel in downtown L.A. where they spoke and received a Youth Activism Award that reads:

Paul Mann
Peace and Justice
For Outstanding Commitment
to Peace, Social Justice and
the Empowerment of Youth
Peace and Justice
Mission Bay High
School MEChA

To call them friends and to have worked with them and felt their passion in daring to care enough about their world to want to turn it around – well, I consider it one of the honors of my life.

They are so refreshing and inspiring and understanding and they’ve been Johnny on the Spot in the peace movement in San Diego, bringing balance to a situation that’s prevalent in so many schools across our nation: military recruiters all polished and shined showing up and lingering on campuses weaving tall tales about all the wonderful opportunities awaiting students in the armed forces, if they just sign – while, in the background, teenagers, barely older than they are, are waging ill advised illegal wars in the Middle East, dying and being maimed in the process – with no end in sight.

But they watched closely and analyzed what was going on in the schools in their city, especially as it relates to the overwhelming push by the Pentagon to enlist black and brown students, and took active roles in seeking solutions to the problem.

Due to their research and meeting with school board members and mobilizing support at board meetings, San Diego City Schools now has a ground-breaking policy that restricts military recruiters to no more than the same access to high schools that is given to college recruiters. This gives our young people a chance to weigh the pros and cons of making such a serious decision as joining the Few and the Proud and the like free of the added pressure of having Uncle Sam in their faces, seemingly at every turn, in the lunch arbor.

What’s even more special about these young people’s contributions to making their school system more student friendly is that in the years I’ve been working with students from their school there’s been a noticeable lack of support from educators, in general. They, too often, were left to fend for themselves with help only from their MEChA advisor and from community activists like me, a retired school principal, but that wasn’t the case in this situation. SDEA (San Diego Teachers Association) paid their train fare to the conference.

In addition, the president of the association, Bill Freeman, in an email to me, said: “It is so nice to meet kids that have a purpose in life at such a young age. I realize they are just kids, but they were all so respectful. You should be proud of them. They are worth the battles we fight everyday on their behalf.”

Well, I am extremely proud of them and so thankful that an organization in which I have a life membership has linked itself to them and their struggles. Mr. Freeman’s sentiments speak volumes against the notion that teachers are only interested in their own welfare and don’t care about the children, the students. This says, I hope, that my fellow educators are giving credence to the idea that the reason for teaching students the 3 R’s is so they not only know how to read and write and compute but so they also learn firsthand how to carry themselves as American citizens.

These young friends of mine have absorbed such lessons of academics and citizenship well, giving us a hint that the creation of a better world is possible as they prove what I’ve found to be true throughout my career of facilitating learning experiences for young people: good things happen when the voices of students are heard, when they’re allowed to shine. In this case they’ve modeled how those of us who live in a free society must look around, with critical eyes, for what needs to be done and then do it if our way of life is to survive, if hope is to be kept alive.

Following their lead as a society would be wise.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Terrie Leigh Relf April 26, 2011 at 3:36 pm

It’s so awesome to read about something like this. . .Congratulations to these students. . .who we all know will make a difference. Why? Because they already have!



Ernie McCray April 26, 2011 at 4:30 pm

Yes they have, indeed.


Shane Finneran April 27, 2011 at 10:30 am

When I get discouraged about DC and Sacramento and all the other places where crazy adults make life more difficult than it should be, I really appreciate articles like this. Reminds me that young people generally “get it.” By some natural law, younger folks are almost always smarter, more compassionate, more in tune to justice than us bean-counting, tax-dodging, grudge-nursing grown-ups.

Thanks for this article, Ernie. I’d love to see a little less of the same-old sorry news about Adultworld and see a little more of this good stuff — more about what young people are doing. This is where the future is, after all.


Andy Cohen April 27, 2011 at 9:38 pm

I’m sorry, Ernie, but my experience with MEChA at San Diego State has soured me on the organization forever. I have never come across a more overtly racist organization in anything I’ve done before or since. It was a very weird time in SDSU student government, and MEChA was the leader of the effort to foment division within the student body. Think modern Republican politics, except by Latinos, where every organization that wasn’t specifically Latino affiliated was a racist and exclusionary group as far as they were concerned, facts be damned (as I stood next to my El Salvadoran fraternity brother as they announced the results of the AS elections…….a fraternity brother who to this day speaks with a heavy Spanish accent, and who was one of my best friends in the house. But we were the racists?)

As far as I’m concerned, MEChA is bad news and always will be.


Gary Ghirardi May 1, 2011 at 3:06 pm

“The liberal class has busied itself with the toothless pursuits of inclusiveness, multiculturalism, identity politics and tolerance—a word Martin Luther King never used—and forgotten about justice .” – Chris Hedges


Ernie McCray April 28, 2011 at 2:09 pm

Hey, these students I’ve been working with don’t fit any of what you’ve described here or I wouldn’t be involved without engaging in a whole lot of “teaching”. That being said there’s going to be anger involved where organizations of people of color are concerned in that they have to deal with society’s anger all the time. So one has to listen beyond the angerand pain to understand. But these kids are some of the most loving people on this planet.


Gary Ghirardi May 1, 2011 at 11:40 am

The OB Rag article got posted, Ernie, to the National Network Opposing the Militarization of YouthWebsite by the Chicago office of the American Friends Service Committee coordinator who handles the network’s Social Media Sites. The feature is in the Facebook box on the homepage of the site. This was a surprise to me but makes sense. San Diego is one of the most advanced cities in the Nation of youth organizing against the militarization of their schools.


Ernie McCray May 1, 2011 at 3:45 pm

Hey, way cool as they say.


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