Hero’s name: Maria Elena Ramos
Home city: San Francisco
Organization affiliation: Coleman Advocates for Children & Youth
How does the person’s work advance social justice? What is the person’s vision for an equitable world?
“Maria Elena has been a member of Parents Making a Change (PMAC), which is Coleman’s parent organizing project for seven years. She immigrated to the U.S. from El Salvador in 2009 and has faced countless challenges in her quest for a better life for her family.
When Maria Elena enrolled her son in elementary school in San Francisco, she quickly learned that while many students were receiving a quality education, many others – primarily Black and Latino students – were being failed by a two-tiered educational system.
One of Maria Elena’s first leadership experiences was helping to lead a PMAC campaign to win a computer lab at her son’s elementary school.
When she learned that there were no computers at the school, she was disappointed and suspicious.
In the 21st century, how could a school not have any computers, especially in a city with so much wealth and technology?
She investigated and found that other schools had computer labs but they were not in low-income immigrant Latino neighborhoods, like her son’s school. She worked with PMAC to survey parents and educate them about their rights.
She met with the principal who told her the school didn’t have money for computers and tried to intimidate her into silence. Maria Elena didn’t back down.
She recruited, mentored and inspired many parents to get involved. When Maria Elena became very ill and had to step away from the work temporarily, the parents she recruited continued the fight.
After two years, the parents won the resources for a computer lab and staff. One day, her son came home from school and said ‘Mama, I thought about you all day today! We had our first class in the computer lab!’
Since then, Maria Elena has played numerous leadership roles in PMAC and the local education equity and economic justice movements.
She is helping to lead a campaign to win a district-level ‘Family Academy’ to train parents to be able to more effectively support their children academically and act as advocates for their right to high-quality education and supportive environments in their schools.
Maria Elena is especially known for her dedicated commitment to building unity between Black and Latino communities, particularly when it comes to common challenges, hopes and dreams related to public education.
She is constantly pushing other parents to challenge their acceptance of the status quo.”
Honored by: Yaya Ruiz of Coleman Advocates for Children & Youth
Note: This profile is part of Equal Voice News’ special Cesar Chavez Day Community Heroes edition. These submissions were edited for clarity.