Memories of a Lifetime of Civil Rights Advocacy

November 19, 2013

Today’s guest post was written by Ann Levie, CT Health Leadership Fellow, Class of 2012.

Ann Levie (center) with her mother Edith and daughter Arsenia.

Ann Levie (center) with her mother Edith and daughter Arsenia.

This year’s American Association of Public Health Annual (APHA) Conference was held in Boston. While I was there I did what everyone else does. I went to workshops and schmoozed. I looked for cheap eats and places to charge my iPhone.

Unlike everyone else, I got to re-live my child hood and youth. My parents aren’t Doctors without Borders and they don’t work at a health department. They would call themselves “Progressives,” meaning class-conscious people who fight for peace and justice. Alvin and Edith met at a dance in 1948 New York.  The dance was to raise awareness about colonialism and militarism. They brought up “the kids (us)” in “the struggle.” That means we grew up at meetings, rallies and demonstrations. We marched and we prayed. We leafleted, picketed and knocked on doors. Civil rights, school desegregation, Vietnam, Angela Davis, Joe Ann Little, union rights for nursing home workers, El Salvador and Nicaragua. The family fighting for peace and justice, at home, in the community and for the entire world my whole life. The theme of APHA’s meeting this year was Think Global, Act Local. Familiar.

The memories start on the way to Boston. I took the Megabus. The smell of the diesel fuel triggered  memories of all the buses ridden to all the out-of-state demonstrations and rallies during my younger days. On this trip I had time to look at the APHA down-loadable app to choose workshops. I started with… “The Public Health Effects of War”, “Under Our Skin and Out of the Box, Implicit Bias, Health Inequity and Radical Reconstruction” and “Comrades in Health: US Health Internationalists, Abroad and at Home.”  Just like when I was a kid!

When I was young, we called a crowd “mixed” when it wasn’t all white people, like most union rallies and like the APHA Conference. Blacks, whites and Latinos together with a common goal, “impacting health disparities” or as we used to call it “fighting for racial justice.” My family and APHA are aware of race and the role it plays in the individual economic and social set up in the U.S.A. How it generally goes much worse for people of color in this country. No one denies racism and we believe that equality will only be achieved through unity. Just like home.

So I was with my “family” at the conference, talking about familiar topics again and learning new things. I learned how to fight the criminalization of vulnerable populations through health impact statements, and how public health ideas get embedded in popular TV shows.  I got to see “my people” for three days. At an event, a meeting, a demo or an APHA workshop, you never know all the people, but you always know they are committed to the same struggles; to end a war, to end an epidemic, to end racial and ethnic social, educational or health disparities. You can spot your people all over  You’ll see them with protest signs and tee shirts. In Boston you could spot the “Think  Global, Act Local” bag in the metro, on a subway or in a hotel lobby waiting for the shuttle. With out any other information you knew. Family.

On the way home from Boston, back on the Megabus, I met two new public health comrades from the conference, one an African American woman about my (middle) age working in behavioral health and a self-described “traveling scholar.”  Jing Jing , 23, from China specializes in childhood nutrition. We talked health disparities and Obamacare all the way back to Hartford. Just like the bus rides back from DC, a sense of shared purpose. New allies and friends, swapping phone numbers and talking about the struggle, about the future, about peace and justice. Coming home.

9 Responses to Memories of a Lifetime of Civil Rights Advocacy

  1. Lina Paredes says:

    Thank you so much, Ann! I could see your civil rights journey on my mind’s eye as I read your blog. I was right there with you on international solidarity movement work in the 1980’s with South Africa and Central America. La lucha continua!

    • Ann Levie says:

      El Pueble unido jamas sera vencido. The people united will never be defeated It’s true. Nothing happens alone. Social media makes finding out where people are coming together to protest or advocate easy. See you at the next one, Lina. I’ll bring the sign.

  2. Carol Pollack says:

    Ann,
    I truly admire your parent’s passion and how they were able to instill these same beliefs and dedication in you. The many issues you mention resonate with me but I have to admit that my beliefs have not always translated into action. Your words inspire me to change this equation. Keep up the good fight!

    • Ann Levie says:

      Thanks Carol. As you can see by the picture, my parents are still at it. Dad has COPD, so he sits in a lawn chair with his sign propped against the ground to protest when he has to. They are terrific role models for all of us.

  3. Gloria Francesca Mengual says:

    Good piece, Ann. I was right there while reading it. Your “mixed crowd” sentence made me laugh. Keep writing….

    • Ann Levie says:

      Gloria, you personify this kind of activity. Look what happened with our lawsuit and actions against the West Hartford Parks department! They recognized the beauty of diverse families even before the State of Connecticut. Why? Because of collective action.

  4. Heang Tan says:

    Ann, this makes me want to be part of your family! Thanks for sharing your story.

  5. Rob Echelson says:

    Impressed, as always, by your dedication, energy, and enthusiasm!

    Thanks for sharing this… 🙂

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