Reflections on the FCNV’s 25th Anniversary Banquet

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Youth award winner Kiera Kaiser with Professor Matthew Jendian and students from UC Merced and CSU Fresno. L to R: Kiera Kaiser, Denixa Orales, Amy Vasconcellos, Jasmine Leiva, Melissa Quesada, Cinthia Quesada, Michael Ballin, Katrina Villena, Dr. Matthew Jendian, Valezka Murillo, Eva Perez, Laura Hernandez, and Gunjan Pasi. Photo by Richard D. Iyall, Cowlitz

By Katrina Villena

At the 25th Anniversary of the Fresno Center for Nonviolence and Peace Banquet, I learned a great deal from the keynote speaker, Kathy Kelly. Kelly described her experiences living in war-ravaged areas and her experience in prison.

She calmly described a horrendous instance where she was working in a hospital and helped to treat a man who had been in a hospital attacked by U.S. air strikes every 15 minutes. She described how he had been hurt while attempting to flee. She mentioned his repeated question “Why are you doing this?”

Associating Kelly with the United States reveals the fear many countries have regarding U.S. interventionist policies. She mentioned one of her thoughts at a hospital when she saw young mothers and their infants and reported, “She could not afford their despair.” She also described an instance where she was arrested at Fort Benning, Ga., while protesting the School of the Americas and was pinned to the ground after gently refusing to cooperate.

I was truly appalled by some of the stories Kelly was retelling. I felt as though my experiences would never amount to some of the horrors she has faced. I feel as though her speech will continue to motivate me to get involved throughout my post-graduate life. I was interested in finding out more about how Kelly has used her privilege to help enact social change. I think her efforts have helped, but I need to help be the change I wish to see. I will be able to do this by continuing my participation in the Fresno Center for Nonviolence and Peace.

The most interesting thing I learned at this event occurred after I was able to ask Kelly about how her experiences may have been affected by her White privilege. She offered a fresh perspective and mentioned that she was well aware of her privilege and how this may have affected her experience at Fort Benning by relating it back to Eric Garner’s case, where she echoed his last words, “I can’t breathe.” It was a truly harrowing recollection to hear about.

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Katrina Villena is a graduating senior at UC Merced. Contact her at kvillena@ucmerced.edu.

 


 

By Valezka Murillo

On May 6, I attended the 25th Anniversary of the Fresno Center for Nonviolence. The anniversary consisted of a dinner, an awards ceremony and a special guest speaker. The evening began with a nice dinner catered by Tree of Life Café and Bakery, which was followed by the Way of Peace awards. This award ceremony presented various outstanding members of the Fresno community who have demonstrated compassion and commitment to the well-being of others through their advocacy and hard work.

The recipients honored were Dixie Salazar, who is a local artist involved in the Eco-Village project of Fresno. The next recipient was Sukaina Hussain, who is a Muslim American activist and community advocate working to address the concerns of marginalized groups. The youth award was presented to Kiera Kaiser, an 11-year-old from Fresno who believes in human rights and works to create equality for all.

The organization award was presented to CineCulture, both a class and club at Fresno State, which screens powerful documentaries and invites the directors to address the community. These awards honored several inspirational Fresno community organizers and truly showed that it only takes one person to make a difference.

After the award ceremony, the guest speaker, Kathy Kelly, spoke on her experiences being in war zones. She spoke about what it was like witnessing the pain of those involved in a hospital bombing in Yemen and the pain of young mothers holding their children; in her words, they do not have “the privilege of our despair.”

Kelly discussed the importance of using kindness in our activism; when she was protesting the School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Ga., she was pinned down and tied by the guards. By showing kindness toward the guards, that kindness was reciprocated by one of them. Her experience shows that kindness can reach even the most militant, authoritative people. Overall, this event created a sense of hope for the future of community activism.

I found Kelly’s words truly inspiring. I agree with her sentiment toward despair being an emotion of the privileged. There is a huge amount of privilege in being able to feel despair toward situations of terror; those amid these situations cannot afford to feel despair, there’s no room for it. I believe that it is important to acknowledge our privileges when engaging in activist work; Kelly does just that.

Kelly acknowledged that she holds White privilege and that if it were not for this privilege her experiences with law enforcement might have been different. This was most evident when she told the guard that she could not breathe and she was shown kindness and empathy; in contrast, when Eric Garner, an African American man told police the exact same words, he was greeted with a different response that ended his life.

I personally relate closely to this idea of how privilege affects activism because, as a person of color, the consequences of being an activist often scare me. How am I supposed to be an activist if one wrong move could end in me staring down the barrel of a gun or being suffocated to death?

I found the most interesting part of this night was Kelly sharing that she has been protesting the war by evading taxes since 1980. Taxes are something that most people pay without truly paying attention to what they are being used for. It is extremely brave of Kelly to take a stand for what she believes in and refuse to pay into a warped system. I will take inspiration from her activism and always strive to stand up for my beliefs.

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Valezka Murillo is a senior at UC Merced. Contact her at vmurillo3@ucmerced.edu.