Spend a few minutes with 87-year-old labor leader and community organizer Dolores Huerta and you’ll quickly forget her age as she excitedly talks about her busy travel schedule crisscrossing the country attending summits, speaking engagements and her continuing to fight for justice for all
Students and patrons of Lipscomb’s HumanDocs Series had a unique opportunity on Nov. 6 to meet Huerta after a screening of the Sundance Award-winning film “Dolores,” to be aired on the PBS series Independent Lens in February 2018. The HumanDocs special screening of Dolores was presented by the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences.
The feature documentary, Dolores, chronicles Huerta’s lifelong struggle for justice for farm workers, Latinos and women. She has worked for civil rights and social justice for over 50 years. In 1962 she and Cesar Chavez founded the United Farm Workers union. She served as vice-president and played a critical role in many of the union’s accomplishments for four decades.
A mother of seven, Huerta labored alongside Chávez to ensure the fair treatment of the people picking grapes in the fields of California, and blazed the trail for future women and men who would echo her call for justice.
Huerta said she learned from a young age from her mother’s example of taking care of those in need.
“That’s the way we were raised,” she recalled. “She was very active in the community not only being charitable, but also being helpful.”
Seeing the extreme poverty of farm laborers, motivated Huerta to advocate for their rights.
“I would see homes where people would have dirt floors and used cardboard boxes and orange crates for furniture when I was going door-to-door registering people to vote,” she said. “I would see malnourished children. They didn’t have adequate clothing and shoes. It was difficult to see because I knew how hard they worked and that they weren’t getting paid the money that they deserved. At the same time their employers were wealthy. I thought, ‘This can be changed.’ And that was what was behind forming the union.”
In 2002, she received the Puffin/Nation $100,000 prize for Creative Citizenship which she used to establish the Dolores Huerta Foundation (DHF). DHF is connecting groundbreaking community-based organizing to state and national movements to register and educate voters, advocate for education reform, bring about infrastructure improvements in low-income communities and create strong leadership development. She has received numerous awards including The Eleanor Roosevelt Humans Rights Award from President Bill Clinton in l998. In 2012 President Barack Obama honored Huerta with The Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States.
Following the screening, Lipscomb student Leslie García interviewed Huerta in front of a packed audience in Stowe Hall.
?García asked Huerta to share why students should be concerned with issues that may not directly affect them.
“I think that all issues directly affect us,” responded Huerta. “We all know that the environment, for example, impacts every one of us.”
Huerta had a special message for the women in the crowd.
“I want to say to the women in the room that a lot of time there may be opportunities or a job you may be thinking about,” she said. “But what we often say as women is ‘Eh, I’m not really prepared for that or I’m not qualified for that position.’”
“Ladies, just do it like the guys do. Pretend that you know and learn on the job,” she quipped.
Huerta, a Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, was in Nashville to receive the Global ATHENA Leadership Award earlier in the day. The Global ATHENA Leadership Award is presented to an exceptional woman leader who demonstrates professional excellence, gives back to her community, assists other women in realizing their full leadership potential and has created an international impact on the lives of women.
Now in its ninth year, HumanDocs aims to inspire critical thinking about vital issues of social justice. Hosted by the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, HumanDocs has long-standing partnerships with Lipscomb’s Honors College and the Nashville Film Festival.
Want to know more about the HumanDocs Series? Email series director Ted Parks.
— Photos by Kristi Jones