Educators choose NEA Social Justice Activist of the Year

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Inaugural award recognizes the commitment educators make to the success of every student

Jose Lara, a social studies teacher and dean of students at Santee Education Complex High School in Los Angeles, speaks at NEA's 94th Representative Assembly in Orlando, Florida on July 5, 2015.

Educators have always been rabble rousers, activists and true believers. --NEA President Lily Eskelsen García

More than 7,000 educators gathered for the National Education Association’s Representative Assembly today recognized one of their own, Jose Lara, as the 2015 Social Justice Activist of the Year. The award recognizes one exceptional NEA member who demonstrates the ability to lead, organize and engage educators, parents, and the community to advocate on social justice issues that impact the lives of students, fellow educators and the communities they serve.

Lara is a social studies teacher, dean at Santee Education Center in Los Angeles, vice president of the El Rancho Unified School Board, and a board member of the United Teachers Los Angeles, NEA’s local affiliate. A dedicated social justice activist, Lara has organized parents, educators and students around issues of educational justice in our public schools.

“As I accept this award, I ask you once again to always remember that social justice is a verb and as Frederick Douglass once reminded us, ‘power concedes nothing without demand,’” Lara told his fellow advocators. “It is time we organize and start making demands.”

Most recently, Lara formed the “Ethnic Studies Now Coalition” and led the campaign to make ethnic studies a graduation requirement in the Los Angeles Unified School District—the nation’s second largest—last fall. After a successful vote, school districts and states across the country are beginning to pass similar resolutions.

“Educators have always been rabble rousers, activists and true believers,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “Jose Lara embodies this tradition, and his work illustrates how we make our mark on the world—as educators who understand the fearless power of collective action.”

NEA’s members have a proud history of social justice activism that is steeped in civil rights. Education advocacy and social justice advocacy go hand in hand, as an increasingly diverse kaleidoscope of students and educators must feel welcome in our public schools. Every day educators take extraordinary action to show leadership on social justice issues in and out of the classroom.

Earlier this week, Lara joined more than 600 fellow educators at the Joint Conference on the Issues of Minorities and Women, sponsored by NEA’s Human and Civil Rights Department, where he participated in workshops and learning sessions focused on issues of social justice.

NEA’s RA is the world’s largest democratic deliberative body. It is the top decision-making body for the nearly 3 million-member NEA, and sets Association policy for the coming year. Delegates, who have been elected at the local level to represent their fellow members, adopt the strategic plan and budget, resolutions, the legislative program, and other positions of the Association.

For more information on NEA’s Representative Assembly, go to http://www.nea.org/ra

Hi-resolution photos are available for download at http://bit.ly/1LQNj48

Follow us on Twitter at @NEAMedia and keep up with the conversation at #NEARA15

The National Education Association is the nation's largest professional employee organization, representing nearly 3 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators and students preparing to become teachers. Learn more at http://www.nea.org.

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Richard Allen Smith
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