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Father's Day Edition: Doing Whatever It Takes for Families

Lawrence Ratliff – ‘Known for Pushing the Envelope’

Dad’s Name: Lawrence Ratliff
Home City: Chicago
Organization Affiliation: Kenwood Oakland Community Organization
Community Participation:  Senior citizen rights, affordable housing, equitable education
Why This Person is Being Honored: “Mr. Lawrence Ratliff has been a leader with KOCO for the past 5 years. Mr. Ratliff has provided support and leadership in virtually every aspect of the organization. Through organizing bingo events, social functions, community forums, and other activities geared towards senior citizens, Mr. Ratliff has been a master recruiter for new leadership. In fact, it was Mr. Ratliff who introduced Mr. Alphonso Jones to KOCO. Whether it’s him providing the music for a function as the DJ, marshaling a march, speaking to elected officials, or simply providing an example of leadership for the next generation, Mr. Ratliff has been there.

A retired veteran from the US Army, Navy, and Air Force, Mr. Ratliff has traveled the world. This international perspective provides KOCO’s senior work with a pragmatism and audaciousness that is unmatched. Known for pushing the envelope, daring us all to dream big, and never accepting defeat, Mr. Ratliff has led battles for quality housing, equitable education, food security, and senior rights. A mainstay of our organizing work, leaders like Mr. Ratliff encourage us all to strive for the very best in ourselves.

KOCO truly appreciates the work of Mr. Ratliff and his peers.”

Nominated by: J. Brian Malone

Alphonso Jones – ‘Baptized by Fire’

Dad’s Name: Alphonso Jones
Home City: Chicago
Organization Affiliation: Kenwood Oakland Community Organization
Community Participation:  Senior citizen rights, affordable housing, equitable education
Why This Person is Being Honored: “Mr. Alphonso Jones has spent his first year with the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO) embroiled in struggles to: pressure a slumlord to provide quality decent housing for senior citizens on a fixed income; successfully resist plans to close several schools in the north Kenwood and Oakland community; and bring attention to the efforts to gentrify low-income and working communities. Baptized by fire, Mr. Jones has been a staunch advocate for the rights of seniors, and a leader on the front lines in the fight for dignity and respect. Throughout his entire life, Mr. Jones has been involved in social justice work. Spanning the Civil Rights Era to present-day battles against gentrification and school privatization, Mr. Jones has courageously offered his time and talent to stand up for the rights of low-income and working families.

In the face of intimidating threats of eviction, Mr. Jones assisted his neighbors in navigating the bureaucracy of public housing to have their concerns heard. He co-wrote dozens of letters on behalf of residents to decision-makers at every level of government to address basic health and decency needs in the building. His leadership helped to coalesce the efforts of his peers into the “Involved Seniors for Justice” as KOCO’s senior civic engagement committee. Since its formation, Involved Seniors for Justice have held meetings with the local alderman, and forced the management company for one of the senior buildings in the area to agree to periodic monitor visits to track progress on a number of quality of life concerns.

Calm, but powerful, Mr. Jones stands as an example of what is possible when we decide to work together to develop a collective strategy to address common issues. Mr. Jones incessantly looks for ways to get more involved, and additional opportunities for training.”

Nominated by: J. Brian Malone

Brandon Mitchell – ‘Family is All You Have’ (VIDEO)

Dad’s Name: Brandon Mitchell
Home City: New Orleans
Organization Affiliation: Children’s Defense Fund Freedom School
Community Participation: Education, youth development, health and wellness
Why This Person Is Being Honored: “Brandon Mitchell was profiled in the 2010 Equal Voice documentary, ‘Raising Hope.’ A father of four, Brandon was raising three of his children as a single father in New Orleans. After Hurricane Katrina, his wife chose not to return to New Orleans and risk another hurricane. She remained in Memphis with their youngest son, and she and Brandon separated.

Brandon, a professional barber who owns his own shop in New Orleans, speaks candidly about the struggles of raising three children as a single parent. ‘I take my hat off for single mothers who are doing the right thing for their children. It’s not easy when you’re dealing with children on your own.’ Yet, he accepts the challenges as part of his role as a parent. In ‘Raising Hope,’ he plays music with his children, eats meals with them, lays out their clothes for school, prays with them and tucks them into bed for the evening. His dedication to them is clear.

‘I want to get it grounded in my children that it’s all about them with me. Family is all you have, when it comes down to it,’ he said.

Later in the movie, he speaks with passion at the Equal Voice town hall, recognizing that he is not alone in his personal challenges: ‘My struggle is connected to other people’s lives across the country. We need to come together as one, regardless of racial and ethnic backgrounds. If we haven’t learned yet to accept one another for who we are, we’re not going to be accepted by any government to make the changes we need.'”

Information From: Raising Hope

Darryl Massey – ‘Every Day is a Birthday with My Children’ (VIDEO)

Dad’s Name: Darryl Massey
Home City: Monroe, Wash.
Organization Affiliation: NA
Community Participation: Prisoner rights
Why This Person Is Being Honored: The Marguerite Casey Foundation met Darryl Massey during a 2007 town hall event at Monroe Correctional Prison in Washington State. (The Equal Voice for America’s Families campaign was launched during this event.) Massey embodies an often forgotten group of fathers — those who are behind bars and still actively engaged in parenting.

Over 1.7 million children have a parent serving a sentence in a state or federal prison, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. African-American children are nine times more likely (and Hispanic children three times more likely) than a white child to have a parent in prison, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Massey is fortunate to benefit from a provision that allows him to have regular extended visits with his children. He lives for those visits when he can reconnect with his children. “When I’m with my children, I feel elated. Every day is a birthday with my children,” he said.

Massey’s dedication to parenting is evident in the video, recorded during the 2007 town hall: “I love being a parent. I don’t give myself kudos for a lot of things, but I think I’m great at being a parent.” As he said later during the town hall meeting, his role has not changed. “I’m a prisoner, but I’m a parent,” he added.

Information From: Marguerite Casey Foundation

Jeff Chalan – ‘On This Earth to Guide My Kids’ (VIDEO)

Dad’s Name: Jeff Chalan
Home City: Cochiti Pueblo Nation (in the Southwest)
Organization Affiliation: Cochiti Pueblo Nation
Community Participation: Native American rights, poverty, environmental justice
Why This Person Is Being Honored: “Jeff Chalan, a member of the Cochiti Pueblo Nation, was profiled in the 2010 Equal Voice documentary, ‘Raising Hope.’ He and his wife have three children, and his dedication to them is clear. ‘There was a reason I was put on this Earth, and that was to guide my kids into this world, so they can succeed and be happy in life. That’s all I want for my kids is happiness,’ he said. Both parents are actively involved in their children’s schools, helping them with homework and speaking to the teachers about their progress. To Jeff, education is a critical key to success in the future. ‘It’s very important that these kids realize that they have our support to get the best education that they can get,’ he said.

Along with the importance of education, Jeff is dedicated to teaching Cochiti traditions to his children. ‘I would like to see people take their time with parenthood, take their time and install traditions in their kids’ lives. With good traditional value, with a good heart, comes a good head,’ he said.

Jeff is also active in the fight to improve the water quality on the Cochiti Pueblo Reservation. ‘We’re only 10 miles downstream from Los Alamos National Laboratories. Whatever Los Alamos dumps in those streams upstream, it’s going to come straight to Cochiti and into our drinking water. That concerns me the most,’ he said. Jeff also recognizes that he is not alone. His fight is connected to other environmental activists across the country. ‘It’s important to know those issues, not just here in Cochiti, but throughout the United States. People have it in their heads that it’s not going to make a difference, but it does make a difference. It does,’ he said.”

Information From: Raising Hope



Joseph Podlasek – Tireless Advocate for Children

Dad’s Name: Joseph Podlasek
Home City: Chicago
Organization Affiliation: American Indian Center of Chicago
Community Participation: Native Americans, education, cultural identity, wellness
Why This Person is Being Honored: “Joseph Podlasek, executive director of the American Indian Center of Chicago and Citizen of the Lac Courte Oreilles (LCO), Ojibwe Tribe, is the father of three children, Steven, Tristan and Agiina. He also serves as the president of the National Urban Indian Family Coalition and a member of President Obama’s Region Five Fatherhood Committee.

He has been a dedicated father supporting his children’s efforts and activities through school and sports, such as soccer, basketball and baseball. Joe and his son will be traveling to Ohio soon for a major baseball tournament.

He is a tireless advocate for children and has instituted the ‘Positive Paths’ program at the American Indian Center. This program is open to youth from 1st grade through 12th grade and designed to have content that is responsive to the wants and needs of the youth in our community. The vision includes a community of culturally vital youth who are knowledgeable, capable, responsible and respectful to themselves, their families and the community. To attain this vision, Positive Paths’ mission is to create a safe, positive, and empowering environment for Native youth to learn and live in wellness.

The five key strategies for ‘Positive Paths’ are: Support and facilitate students’ academic success; empower students’ positive growth, development, and identity; increase students’, families’, and community’s cultural knowledge through community involvement; provide students support and mentorship through relationship building; and provide access for students to safe spaces and skills to succeed in urban environments, Indian country, and society at large.

Joe has been an inspiration to his children and fathers in the Native American community.”

Nominated by: Andrew Johnson


Oscar Vazquez – ‘He Did Whatever It Took’

Dad’s Name: Oscar Vazquez
Home City: San Elizario, Texas
Organization Affiliation: Adults and Youth United Development Association (AYUDA)
Community Participation: Issues affecting low-income residents, helping the uninsured, immigration
Why This Person Is Being Honored: “Oscar Vazquez, 34, is one to lead by example. He has been married to Marcia Vazquez for over 15 years and they have two sons and one daughter. He migrated to the United States in 2006 and has struggled ever since. Oscar and his family had to go through many sacrifices, such as living in a 500-square-foot room and with a paycheck of less than $100 every two weeks. But Oscar wouldn’t give up. He didn’t want to be away from his family so he did whatever it took to keep the family together. This hardworking, passionate, courageous and loving father has managed to support his family by working at a body shop. His wife helps by selling fresh baked bread. You can always find Oscar at his boys’ soccer games. With his dirty mechanic uniform or not, he never misses a single practice or game. Let’s not forget that these three kids are very well-mannered and value the most important things in life. Oscar Jr, 13, Irving,10, and Osmary, 7, mean the world to this man and this is why AYUDA Inc. would like to nominate this outstanding and admirable father.”

Nominated by: Olivia Figueroa

Mario Santana – ‘I Try to Guide Them on the Right Path’

Dad’s Name: Mario Santana
Home City: Pharr, Texas
Organization Affiliation: ARISE Support Center
Community Participation: Immigration, education
Why This Person Is Being Honored: “Mario Santana was born and raised in Mexico. At the age of 8, his father abandoned the family, and at 15 his mother died. Around that time, he met a girl working at a video store in a nearby town called Reynosa. Fabiola and Mario fell in love, and not too long afterward their first son, Bronce, was born. Looking for a stable way to support his family, Mario joined the Marines at age 15. It was in the Marines that Mario learned about discipline, about helping others and about treating people with respect. He spent the next four years traveling back and forth from the base to the town where his family lived. His children hardly recognized him, though, because he was home so rarely.

Mario knew that it would be difficult to continue living away from them, so he decided to leave the Marines. Having a family at such a young age was difficult but even more so in a country with limited means of employment. Seeking a better educational future for their children, they set off for the U.S. Mario crossed first and arrived at a used car lot. They gave him work and allowed him to sleep in a room on the premises. As soon as he had saved enough money, Fabiola and the children joined him. They rented a small bare room in the Las Milpas community of Pharr, Texas and slept on the floor. They had no bed, refrigerator, stove or dishes. Little by little, they found used mattresses or furniture left outside of other buildings. They began building their new life, little by little.

In the years since the Santana family began their life in the U.S., they have worked hard to provide their kids with more opportunities. ‘I always try to make time for my kids. I didn’t have that support from my parents, and I don’t want my kids to live through what I lived through. I want them to have as many opportunities as possible. I want them to see me at their graduation. I try to do all the things that weren’t done with me. Every day, I try to be a good father,’ he said. Mario works during the day, and Fabiola works in the evenings. He works in landscaping, washing cars, building fences. Mario says he’s a man of ‘mil usos’ – a thousand uses.

When the children arrive from school, he talks to them about their day. He goes to school to find out how they are doing and is one of the only male participants in the PTA meetings. ‘I like going to the PTA meetings because we are dealing with our children’s futures. For example, I learned that my son, Bronce, needed a certain number of credits to graduate and I had no idea which classes qualified. You are able to learn so much and really help your children when you actively participate in their lives. I try to guide them on the right path, so that they can be successful in life,’ he said.”

Nominated by: Jazmin Francis

Luis Islas – ‘It’s All About Respect’

Dad’s Name: Luis Islas
Home City: Chicago
Organization Affiliation: Albany Park Neighborhood Council
Community Participation: Housing
Why This Person Is Being Honored: “The Albany Park Neighborhood Council (APNC) is honored to nominate Luis Islas, a devoted husband and father of two children, Kevin and Stephanie.

Luis has rented the second floor of a two-flat near Albany Park with his wife Maria, and two kids, Kevin and Stephanie for the past three years. One day, without any warning, he came home to a bright-yellow sheet of paper posted on his door that said he had 48 hours to make arrangements and leave his home or else the sheriff would come, change the locks, and escort his family off the property without any regard to their personal belongings.

Scared for his family, Luis looked into the situation and found that the building had been foreclosed on. (By law, renters in his situation are supposed to receive a notice that gives them 90 days to vacate the property after foreclosure.) Luis fought back against the illegal notice, but the real estate company would not budge. According to Islas, they told him if he was not out in a month, both he and his family would be locked out of his home. Luis stood up for his family and refused to leave.

Finally, just when it looked like Luis and his family were going to be able to stay, his wife reported that the real-estate company, CHIProperties, in her view, was trying to board up the building while his family was still inside. Luis decided this was the last straw. Luis joined other members of APNC to march to the office of CHIProperties. Together with over 30 community members and Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, Luis demanded that CHIProperties stop handing out these notices. Shortly afterwards, the metal sheets were removed from the windows of Luis’s home.

But Luis was not done fighting. To protect his family and other renting families around Chicago, Luis used his story as a catalyst for the Keep Chicago Renting Campaign. This campaign had two goals: 1) keep tenants in their homes despite foreclosure, and 2) prevent more vacant buildings.

Less than three months after Luis made his stand, the Keep Chicago Renting Ordinance was passed. Because of Luis’s willingness to stand up against injustice, renters from all over the city of Chicago are now protected by an ordinance that allows them to stay in their homes after they are foreclosed. When asked about how he feels, Luis just said: ‘I finally feel like we are getting the respect that we deserve. It’s all about respect: Respect me, respect my family, and respect other people. That is what I am fighting for, that is what we are fighting for.’

Nominated by: Nick Jefferson

Juan Jimenez – Proud Father, True Leader

Dad’s Name: Juan Jimenez
Home City: Huntington Park, Calif.
Organization Affiliation: InnerCity Struggle
Community Participation: Education, justice issues
Why This Person Is Being Honored: “Juan Jimenez is from Mexico City, Mexico and is a proud father of four children. He has been very active in his children’s education and schools. His oldest daughter will be the first in her family to go to college in the fall of 2013. She will be attending the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Juan is an active member of Familias Unidas Coordinating Committee for the last five years. He played a key role in passing Proposition 30 in California, which will raise revenue and bring funding to our needed schools. He has also been very active in the environmental justice movement in his community.

Juan is a true leader and is dedicated to educational justice, bringing more resources and ensuring a quality education.”

Nominated by: Roberto Bustillo

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