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A real-life lesson in civil rights
March 02, 2013, 05:00 AM By Carly Bertolozzi

The Alameda County Office of Education partnered up with Carlmont High School to bring three speakers to the community who shared the personal stories of civil rights activists Minnijean Brown Trickey, Cesar E. Chavez and Fred T. Korematsu.

"It is imperative that we foster courage and conviction in our students so they may have the strength to stand up for their own rights and the rights of others," Alameda County Associate Superintendent Karen Monroe said in a prepared statement.

Minnijean Brown Trickey; Anthony Chavez, the grandson of Cesar E. Chavez; and Karen Korematsu, the daughter of Fred T. Korematsu; spoke at Carlmont High School in Belmont Thursday, Feb. 28. William Gray, a government and economics teacher at Carlmont has been organizing the event since September. He has personal relationships with all three speakers and has worked with them in the past as he organized similar events at South San Francisco High School, where he previously taught.

"I hope that the students at Carlmont High School are able to see that these are truly ordinary people that stepped up and did some extraordinary things," Gray said. "It's a unique opportunity because you have three different historical time periods, you have three different geographic locations and you have three different cases of injustice being addressed, and being addressed by young people who are doing the right thing because it was the right thing to do."

Brown Trickey was one of the Little Rock Nine, a group of nine black high school students who desegregated Little Rock Central High School in 1957. Their efforts played a major role in the civil rights movement, but it is their courage I find most inspiring. To this day, Brown Trickey cannot receive applause from a crowd because it makes her relive traumatic incidents she underwent during her time at Little Rock Central High School. Brown Trickey is most often recognized for her efforts to desegregate the high school, however she should also be applauded for the selfless sacrifice she gave for the benefit of her community.

Cesar E. Chavez, labor leader and founder of the United Farm Workers, grew up in a generous family. Even during times of minimal funds, his mother sent Chavez and his sister out to find hungry and homeless men so she could provide a meal for them. His grandmother, Mama Tella, taught him to have a strong religious belief and the importance of religion. Chavez grew to be known as a religious figure who worked endlessly for the rights of others, particularly farm workers because he himself grew up working in the fields.

Disregarding Executive Order 9066, signed on Feb. 19, 1942, which forced Americans of Japanese descent into American prison camps after Pearl Harbor, Fred Korematsu chose to courageously carry on his life as an American citizen and even underwent minor plastic surgery to alter his Japanese features to avoid imprisonment. He was eventually arrested but, after his arrest, Korematsu decided to appeal his case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The justices ruled against him in a 3-2 vote, however in November 1983 the court's decision was overturned.

All of these leaders were average people, but they had courage and perseverance and fought for a cause they believed in. Gray spent hours organizing this event to inspire students to take the same initiative and stand up for what they believe in. His efforts are worthy of praise, and I personally find it encouraging to know our teachers will go to such lengths to encourage and enlighten us.

I thank Gray for taking the time to give the community access to personal accounts of three instrumental people in the civil rights movement, because it truly is important for each individual to develop courage and conviction, as they are the cornerstones to change.

Carly Bertolozzi is a senior at Carlmont High School. Student News appears in the weekend edition. You can email Student News at



Tags: school, three, rights, chavez, trickey, brown,

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