The idea of combining service and leadership is one that defined the life of Cesar Chavez. He dedicated his life to bringing attention to the poverty of migrant farmworkers and other segments of the population that were marginalized or overlooked. Chavez also showed us that, no matter how humble our beginnings, we can all accomplish great things.
With firsthand knowledge of the life of migrant farmworkers, Chavez wanted to ensure that those working in the fields were treated fairly, and were able to strive for better lives for themselves and their children despite their circumstances. Chavez’s leadership helped families secure a safe place to live, get fair wages for their work, and have the opportunity to obtain an education.
As leaders of national service and civic participation across America, we value the themes from Chavez’s life story that inspire the work many of national service family members every day.
During Cesar Chavez Day on March 31, the White House will recognize a group of Americans who are building on his legacy of service as Champions of Change. Two members of our national service family are among those being honored.
AmeriCorps alum Germain Castellanos took lessons he learned with the Illinois’ Youth Conservation Corps to leave behind a past that was caught up in gang-related violence and drug use to become a mentor to youth headed down a similar path. He now leads the SHINE program in his community to guide at-risk students from high school to college, and received a governor’s award for his work in 2008.
Xavier Muñoz, an AmeriCorps member serving with the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia, teaches English to immigrant families in his community, opening doors to citizenship and improved opportunities. Muñoz, the son of naturalized parents, has a B.A. in Biology from Stanford University and his work with AmeriCorps has inspired him to continue to teach and work toward his Master’s degree.
These are just two of the many examples of how our national service members and programs are fulfilling Chavez’s legacy, as well as the promise of President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative, by making sure that all Americans have opportunity chance to succeed and benefit from all this nation has to offer. Chavez Day truly offers an opportunity to honor that legacy as a national moment of service and volunteering.
It is a mission that we believe Chavez would endorse. He once said, "We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community ... Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.”
AmeriCorps members like Germain and Xavier are living up to these ideals.
Wendy Spencer is CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service and co-chair of the Task Force on Expanding National Service. Jonathan Greenblatt is Special Assistant to the President and Director of the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation in the Domestic Policy Council.
The White House Cesar E. Chavez Champions of Change event will be moderated by Lisa Garcia Quiroz, CNCS Board Chair and Chief Diversity Officer & Senior Vice President of Corporate Responsibility at Time Warner Inc., and will be live streamed at obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/live at 10AM ET on March 31.