Six exemplary educators, along with a CTA Service Center Council, are this year’s recipients of CTA Human Rights Awards. They have been recognized for their outstanding dedication to social justice, and for promoting and protecting human and civil rights.
“These awards honor our tireless social justice warriors who do community work beyond their classrooms,” said CTA President E. Toby Boyd. “Their activism is an inspiration to all educators.”
The 2020 CTA Human Rights Awards were presented Feb. 29 at the CTA Equity and Human Rights Conference in Irvine. Watch videos of each winner talking about their work at tinyurl.com/CTAHumanRights2020.
Cesar Chavez “Sí Se Puede” Human Rights Award
Carmina Ramirez, Associated Calexico Teachers
“I think of the children across the border as our children, because eventually they become our children in our school system. By understanding what’s happening on both sides of the border, we can be advocates for them.”
Teacher librarian Carmina Ramirez regularly visits migrant shelters in Mexicali to work with children and adults, reading to them and conducting lessons to enhance their literacy and bilingual abilities. She provides curriculum and materials for children waiting to be processed into the United States, so they will have a head start.
Ramirez has organized charitable drives to collect clothing, toys and food for migrant families. And she has hosted migrants coming out of detention facilities as they transition into the U.S.
A CTA State Council member-at-large, Ramirez offers trainings and events that promote equity among educators, students and community. She is a vigorous advocate for women’s rights and leads her county equity team, providing workshops on domestic violence prevention. As her school district’s only teacher librarian, she trains students, teachers and parents in the use of libraries for acquisition of information and literacy.
CTA Member Human Rights Award
Jayson Chang, East Side Teachers Association
“Education is not just academics. My taking part in activities such as clothing and voter registration drives and creating these opportunities for students is a way for them to learn what it means to be a part of their community.”
Jayson Chang’s involvement in multiple extracurricular activities — both on campus and through CTA — promotes human and civil rights in his classroom, local association and community. As a high school social studies teacher, Chang focuses on racial and social justice through his curriculum, which he makes available for free to other educators on his website, changtheworld.com.
In addition, Chang serves as an adviser to multiple student clubs (some of which he helped to create). These include the Future Business Leaders of America and Social Justice Society.
Chang is an early career educator, having left his corporate job to become a teacher. At CTA, he participated in the Ethnic Minority Early Identification and Development leadership program, and is currently the human rights advocacy coordinator at Santa Clara County Service Center Council and an Institute for Teaching South Bay Think Tank member.
CTA Peace and Justice Human Rights Award
Guillermo Gomez, San Diego Education Association
“In ethnic studies, students develop the thinking that they are important to society, that they have a say in society. It allows for self-confidence and empowerment.”
Guillermo Gomez helped author the ethnic studies model curriculum for the California Department of Education. The curriculum, currently undergoing revisions, is in support of Assembly Bill 331, which aims to make ethnic studies a graduation requirement across state public and charter schools. Gomez also co-wrote the ethnic studies model curriculum for San Diego Unified School District, which was adopted by the school board; students who start high school this fall will be required to take a semester of ethnic studies to graduate.
Gomez teaches high school social justice and ethnic studies, and is also an adjunct professor at San Diego State University. The community activist is co-founder of “Mi Papa,” an organization that brings Latino fathers into their children’s elementary school. He is also on the advisory board of MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlán), has served as a Rotary Club delegate to Africa, and participated in an educational exchange in Oaxaca, Mexico.
Human Rights Award in Honor of Lois Tinson
Erika Jones, United Teachers Los Angeles
“As a social justice advocate, I was drawn to the classroom. I haven’t looked back since, and truly feel educators can and will change the world for the better.”
Elementary school teacher and civil rights advocate Erika Jones is serving her second term on the CTA Board of Directors. At UTLA, she served on the board and the House of Representatives, among other roles. She was a CTA State Council delegate for five years, during which she chaired the Civil Rights in Education Committee, and was an alternate to the NEA Board of Directors. Jones was also part of the workgroup that developed CTA’s long-term strategic plan around goals of organizing, advocacy, community engagement and social justice.
Jones was the only public school educator on the state superintendent of public instruction’s Charter Task Force. Her advocacy helped shape Assembly Bills 1505 and 1507, which significantly raise charter school accountability.
For school trainings, she has been instrumental in creating a Black Lives Matter curriculum, which has reached more than 3,000 educators nationwide, and even more students. In addition, she regularly lobbies elected leaders in Los Angeles, as well as Sacramento and Washington, D.C.
(Lois Tinson was CTA’s first African American and ethnic minority president.)
Human Rights Award for LGBTQ+ Advocacy in Honor of Nancy Bailey
Joel Laguna, United Teachers Los Angeles
“I look forward to the day where kids are accepted for who they are. The goal of what I and others do is so we don’t need these alliance clubs — the whole school will be an alliance club.”
Joel Laguna is dedicated to working to support youth who identify as members of the LGBTQ2+ community.* He has been a GSA adviser for 10 years and leads one of the few GSAs at the middle school level in LAUSD. At his school site, he has facilitated “ally weeks” and “day of pink antibullying campaigns” to support LGBTQ2+ children and to foster support from their peers. He has organized Trans Lives Matter protests at his school, as well as Harvey Milk days of service. Laguna threw the first LGBTQ2+ prom in East LA.
As a member of the UTLA Equity Team, he is one of two LGBTQ2+ advocacy coordinators, and organized “The Rainbow Social” on National Coming Out Day. The event brought together more than 70 teachers who identify as LGBTQ2+ or allies, to build a supportive community within the union.
(Nancy Bailey was the founder of CTA’s Gay and Lesbian Caucus.)
*The 2 in LGBTQ2+ is for “Two-Spirit,” a Native American term to describe people who fulfill a traditional alternative-gender role in their culture.
Students With Exceptional Needs Human Rights Award
Anne Alvarez, Unified Association of Conejo Teachers
“The revolution is inclusion.”
Anne Alvarez is driving positive change for the special education community at Newbury Park High School, the district and the larger community. Her work to eliminate discrimination against individuals with disabilities includes organizing Unified Sports at her school, which brings together students with and without special needs on athletic teams that compete with other schools. The effort involves the whole school, from student-designed uniforms to a combined general ed and special ed cheer squad.
Because of Unified Sports, some students with special needs are invited to be on the “regular” football, swim and wrestling teams. “Coaches see that they’re not just standing there, but they have abilities. The kids feel like they’re part of the school, and others feel like they are a part of the school,” Alvarez says.
Newbury Park High has been acclaimed as a Special Olympics Unified Champion School for promoting inclusion through sports and activities three years in a row. Alvarez has organized the Special Olympics at her school for the past seven years, and involves the entire community.
CTA Service Center Council Human Rights Award
San Diego County Service Center Council
“Our workshops and trainings cover everything from classroom management to unconscious bias, to make sure teachers can not only teach a student a lesson, but understand what the student needs for that lesson.” —Dave Szymanski, SDCSCC Chair
The San Diego County Service Center Council has partnered with other community organizations to promote human rights and to support public education, members and the community. For example, this past year, SDCSCC partners (including UC San Diego Extension) created a series of social-justice-themed, daylong professional development symposiums in which members could earn a salary schedule credit. SDCSCC community engagement has partnered with and promoted over a dozen events this year alone, increasing CTA’s visibility in the county, most notably by collecting and giving away books to children. Another event included a session on the dangers of white nationalism and how to spot and stop it in our schools.
SDCSCC has created effective teaching materials reflecting the value of diversity, and promoted human rights through its trainings and programs. It has worked to educate students, members and community about extremism and its threat to human and civil rights, to eliminate stereotyping in the curricula, and to foster inclusivity and family-school-community partnerships.