As our website goes live, America’s rhythms have arrested through coronavirus impacts. Within just one week, our lives have radically altered. While it’s necessary for us to get our own bearings, to take care of individual needs and find our footing during this wildly disorienting time, one of the reasons why Stand in for Nebraska exists is to remind us that we are stronger together—and when we focus on what’s best for the collective, we all rise.
A watershed moment reinforcing this truth occurred in February of 2019. Sarah Sawin Thomas, as a pre-service teacher educator at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for over ten years, was increasingly alarmed by the impacts on immigrant students and families across the nation—which reached an unthinkable fever pitch—through the “Zero Tolerance” policy resulting in thousands of unfathomably traumatic family separations.
Within that timeframe, Sarah and Carol Flora, a Lincoln High School Social Studies educator, were working in close collaboration through the Husker Writing Project featuring university professors working alongside secondary educators. Over the course of two years, they designed curriculum positioning students as highly agentive writers in their communities. A natural outgrowth of that civic-engaged work presented itself: an invitation to join a national Teach In coordinated by Teachers Against Child Detention. The event was orchestrated by then National Teacher of the Year, Mandy Manning, and involved Teachers of the Year across all fifty states. In this solemn and urgent Teach-In, where they marched in solidarity to the Juarez/El Paso with Mexican educators, Carol and Sarah made a commitment to bring this kind of presence back to Lincoln, Nebraska.
Nearly one year later, the initial vision featuring immigration advocacy and justice has grown into three mutually reinforcing human rights-focused organizations within the Stand in for Nebraska canopy: Stand in for Lincoln, Stand in for Omaha, and the Nebraska Poor People’s Campaign. The tie that binds features community coalition-building and advocacy for Nebraskans on the margins. Challenging oppressive realities (systemic oppressions) impacting Nebraskans through amplifying advocacy, education, voter registration and turn-out support, and policy changes to empower the most vulnerable are central forces across the three groups.
With diversifying the leadership as a priority, Renee Sans Souci, Chandra Díaz and Maeve Hemmer were asked to be on the leadership team. Chandra, as a Chicana, educator, and granddaughter of a Nebraska farm worker who grew up in poverty, aims to illuminate how ethnicity and poverty cut across social justice issues. She is motivated everyday to improve access to basic needs, safety and belonging for everyone. Renee Sans Souci, as a Native educator seeks to create understanding about the ongoing challenges of poverty, violence and oppression of Native people through presentations, discussions and by developing leadership capacity in all venues. Women’s issues are at the heart of her work as she dedicates her life to protecting the future. Maeve Hemmer, who grew up in a white, middle class family, and is having the chance to go to college, feels it is her moral obligation to use her privilege to advocate for others and boost their voices. She is driven to humanize the victims of human rights violations and emphasize their voices in our journey of resisting oppressive norms.
We are inspired to have collaborative opportunity with you toward ensuring fierce love–
expressed in relational, material, policy-reinforcing ways—will prevail in its demand for justice. Fierce love, we believe, is the most hearty, sustainable and transformational. It allows us to live out Bryan Stevenson’s four pillars to change the world: 1) Change toxic narratives 2) Get inconvenienced 3) Get proximate and 4) Stay hopeful.
Renee Sans Souci
Sarah Sawin Thomas