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Cesar Chavez - A Role Model for Service

Christina Markle, former part-time AmeriCorps Bonner Leader and a current John Gardner fellow from UC Berkeley at the Corporation for National and Community Service, talks about the inspirational life of Cesar Chavez and the legacy of service he left behind.

Editor's Note: This post was originally posted on the National Service Blog.

Cesar Chavez (1927 – 1993) was an American farm worker, labor leader, and civil rights activist. His birthday, March 31st, is a state holiday in California and a number of other states and is also celebrated by many as a day to promote service to the community in honor of his life and work.

Markita Fortune, a Bay Area Youth Agency Consortium AmeriCorps member from California, incorporated Cesar Chavez’s core values into the work she does with 5th graders at a school in Menlo Park, CA.

Most of the youth are of African American and Latino descent and often experience bullying at school. "I thought that teaching them about the Core Values of Cesar Chavez might help them realize that it is better to work together than against each other,” said Fortune.

When asked if they knew of Chavez, a few of the 5th graders raised their hands but many simply shook their heads no. After taking a quiz and learning more about Cesar Chavez, the young people began to notice a connection between themselves and his work.

“When they started going over the answers, the youth were really excited and asked lots of questions about the things that Cesar Chavez did for the community,” said Fortune. “They realized that he worked in communities that were similar to theirs.”

Fortune then introduced her students to Cesar Chavez’s core values. The group discussed how the values could be used in their after-school program and decided to focus on three values a week, beginning with Acceptance of All People, Celebrating Community, and Non-Violence. When asked why they selected those values, the youth conveyed a hope that these core values would help address the bullying problem.

“I have definitely noticed a change in the youth since we began the Cesar Chavez curriculum,” noted Fortune. “They have become kinder to one another and have been helpful around the school. I am grateful that I have this as a tool to strengthen my youth development skills.”

On January 12, 1990, shortly before the MLK Day holiday, Cesar Chavez said, “My friends, today we honor a giant among men: today we honor the reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King was a powerful figure of destiny, of courage, of sacrifice, and of vision. Few people in the long history of this nation can rival his accomplishment, his reason, or his selfless dedication to the cause of peace and social justice. Today we honor a wise teacher, an inspiring leader, and a true visionary, but to truly honor Dr. King we must do more than say words of praise. We must learn his lessons and put his views into practice, so that we may truly be free at last.”

You can serve on Cesar Chavez Day and honor Dr. King together, by making it part of the MLK 25 Challenge, an ongoing initiative to honor the 25th anniversary of the King Holiday.

Christina Markle is a former part-time AmeriCorps Bonner Leader and a current John Gardner fellow from UC Berkeley at the Corporation for National and Community Service