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O’Dowd Students in D.C. for Solidarity and Justice

From November 16 to 18, nearly 2,000 individuals, including an O’Dowd delegation led by Director of Justice and Kinship Michael Downs and English teacher Kate Cunnane, attended the annual Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice in Washington, D.C., the theme of which was “Radical Hope, Prophetic Action.”

<img class="alignright size-medium wp-image-33987 lazyload" src="" alt="" width="300" height="225" srcset=" 300w, 768w, 1024w, 1500w" sizes="(max-width: 300px) 100vw, 300px" />Upon arriving in D.C. the O’Dowd group kicked off their time by sharing a moonlight walking tour of D.C. monuments and history capped off with gelato and hot chocolate. The following morning, students visited the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. These experiences provided space for students to acclimate, enjoy one another, and reflect prior to the Teach-In.

Initiated in 1997, the Teach-In commemorates the lives of the Jesuit martyrs murdered in El Salvador in 1989 for speaking out against the country’s civil war. Known as the largest annual Catholic social justice gathering in the U.S., the gathering attracts attendees from over 130 Jesuit and other Catholic universities, high schools, parishes, and organizations in the U.S., as well as Canada, Mexico, Spain, and El Salvador.

O’Dowd’s delegation participated in opening prayer and activities. Connor O’Leary Herreras ‘21, Soleena Carrillo Ramanathan ’22, and Cayele Esteva ‘20 led a Land Acknowledgment with the indigenous Prayer in Four Directions led by Aislinn Kenny ‘20, Gabe Tarantino ‘22, Chisom Nlemigbo ‘20, and Chelyn Johnson ‘20. O’Dowd students Trinity Cooper ’20 and Abigail Gonzalez ‘21 delivered impassioned words about environmental justice. Cooper shared how O’Dowd’s Living Lab helped her connect with herself, others, and the world, and spurred her desire to ensure that same opportunity for those disproportionately affected by climate change—the economically vulnerable and women. She shared, “Nature allowed me that moment and offered that connection. It allowed me to disentangle myself from other people’s expectations and to find the freedom to be myself.” Abigail Gonzalez addressed how asthma disproportionately affects the socioeconomically vulnerable. Reflecting on her experience, she shared, “I met some very inspiring people from all over the world who are taking action in their own communities and this motivates me to keep fighting for justice in my own community.”

View O’Dowd students’ public prayers and presentations here.  In addition to the students’ presentations, Michael Downs led a breakout session on climate inaction, addressing why people who care about climate change do not do more to change their habits and actions.

The Teach-In culminated with what is estimated to be the largest Catholic advocacy day of the year. More than 1,500 individuals attended legislative advocacy meetings with members of Congress and their staffs on Capitol Hill to urge Congress to advocate for immigration reform and action on environmental justice issues. The O’Dowd delegation met with senior staff from the offices of Representative Barbara Lee and Senator Kamala Harris. Along with other California student delegates, students met with representatives from the office of Senator Dianne Feinstein.

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2019 Keynote presenters at the gathering included Marcia Chatelain, Ph.D., a Provost’s Distinguished Associate Professor of History and African American Studies at Georgetown University and scholar on race and ethnicity in America, Sr. Peggy O’Neill, founder of Centro Arte Para la Paz, a regional educational cultural center promoting peace through dance, art, and theological reflection, in Suchitoto, El Salvador, and Reyna Montoya, founder and CEO of Aliento, a community organization that is DACA, undocumented, and youth-led, addressing the needs of those impacted by the inequalities of lacking and immigration status.

Michael Downs shared, “Being there, I was hit that what we do is really important. Educating for justice is as important as it gets. To be in a community like O’Dowd that prioritizes this work and to do it with students who come from diverse backgrounds—who have the intellectual chops and life experiences to contribute to the conversation—I feel privileged to do this work at O’Dowd with our students. I really am proud of our kids.”

O’Dowd student social justice leaders, Solidarity in Action, along with other Bay Area high school students, are hosting a Bay Area Teach-In for Justice on January 25 at O’Dowd. Learn more and register.


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