By Larry Fondation, Director of Community Engagement at Green Dot Public Schools
When Marco Diaz thinks about what he wants to give his three sons, he most wants to give them a better neighborhood and a stronger community. It may not be the most typical gift, but it is a sentiment that parents from Boyle Heights to Venice can agree with.
Of course, the best way to improve your community is to speak up and advocate through civic and democratic actions. However, barriers to participation in public life abound: for those working two jobs, time is scarce for both volunteering at school and community activism. Because of that, civic actions are too often de-prioritized or neglected. For example, voter registration is more arduous than it needs to be; comprehensive reform to provide for a reasonable path to citizenship has not occurred; income inequality persists across lines of gender, race, and class.
Despite external barriers, Marco Diaz, a single father of three sons and a leader in Green Dot Public Schools’ United Parents, exemplifies the balance between the duality of love and power. “As an active community member and a parent, I lead by example. Every day, I make decisions that impact other people, people who are related to me, and people who are not,” says Marco.
I have to nurture my sons and my community by being open and approachable. I need to listen and come up with viable solutions to situations, both inside my home and outside.
Leadership in private and public life
What makes Marco such a strong community leader is his ability to turn private pain into public action. Take for example his involvement in the United Parents Safe Passages initiative, where parents successfully improved safety for students traveling to and from school. “I’ve learned that you can scream all you want. One person screaming in the background is just noise. But if you can get 10,000 people screaming, someone will turn around and listen,” he says.
If you compose yourself and organize, you can do things the right way while respecting the process and procedure to get things done.
Through community organizing, members of United Parents (an organization led by and for Green Dot parents) were able to remove this barrier to learning faced by their children. By establishing relationships with law enforcement and gang prevention programs, United Parents is active in daily efforts to improve safety around our schools. As a parent of three daughters myself, I echo Marco’s concerns and approach. In her book “The Human Condition,” the philosopher Hannah Arendt states that in order to have a full life, we must have both a robust private life and a vigorous public life. In other words, we need to exercise both our ability to love and our ability to act with power and agency. This is Marco’s example.
We are all born with a dual birthright: first, the ability to relate to one another—to love and be loved—and second, the ability to act—to develop our agency and our power. The first right we readily understand and acknowledge; the second becomes an increasingly difficult pursuit in our current society.
As Father’s Day approaches, we acknowledge the fathers in our own communities, such as Marco, and what it takes to properly raise our families and advocate for our communities. It takes both love and power, especially in the face of barriers and opposition. We need the double helix of love and power, entwined together, aiming for justice and peace.