Inspired by the life and legacy of labor rights icon Cesar Chavez, a woman from Inglewood has made it her life’s work for the past 14 years to pass on his legacy to younger generations. Arlene Williams, author of C is for Change: The Story of Cesar Chavez, One Person Can Change Many Lives (2014), said she wrote the book to show children what a difference one person can make in the lives of many.
Now an author, illustrator and educator in Seattle, Williams toured schools throughout the month of March, and culminated her journey on March 31 (Chavez’s birthday), participating in a day of service and remembrance honoring the late civil rights leader. Inspired by the man who went on hunger strikes to protest working conditions of fellow farm workers, Williams, herself, has become an inspiration.
She calls the book a “labor of love” and a “calling.” It is born from her passion to see the next generation embrace principles of social justice and equality. It is also a reminder for children to dream big. Despite, never finishing high school, Chavez went on to become one of the most prominent civil rights figures of the 20th Century. The battles and struggles he fought on behalf of farm workers in California are legendary.
Williams admits, however, that she was an unlikely follower.
"I grew up a suburban white girl in Seattle and we didn't know about Mandela, we didn't know about Chavez," she says. Despite her upbringing, Williams developed a passion for social justice, and in the eighth grade, helped start a school club against discrimination. "We'd go to different schools and advocate the need for social justice and diversity.”
By the time Williams became a first-year teacher in Inglewood in 2001, the desire to know more about Chavez was more than curiosity. She wrote a poem for students to perform at a Cesar Chavez Day Celebration. In the process, her respect and admiration for Chavez soared to new heights. This experience led her to visit the Cesar Chavez National Monument in Keene, Calif., and meet with Chavez's contemporaries, people like Magdaleno Leno Rose-Avila, founding director of the Cesar Chavez Foundation.
Fourteen years after the poem, Williams published her bilingual book, a combination of poetry, quotes and biographical facts about Chavez and the United Farm Workers (formerly National Farm Workers Association), which he founded in 1962. The bilingual book is designed for children and teenage readers.
Chavez died in 1993. Cesar Chavez Day is recognized as a state holiday in California, Colorado and Texas. It is an optional holiday in Arizona.