Ding Ding TV, in partnership with India Currents and Civic Leadership USA (CLUSA), presented the next panel in a series to create a dialogue around how average citizens evolve from their roles as parents to civic leaders. In a panel moderated by Jeff Chow, Associate Vice President at Morgan Stanley, on September 27, 2019, the attendees of the event and the speakers explored education as a means for entering current community activism. The panelists were Nancy Alvarez , College Access Family Liaison at East Palo Alto Academy; Pragati Grover, former Board member for the Saratoga School District and Team4Tech Operations Manager; and Anjali Kausar, former Board member for the Cupertino School District and current CEO of the Cupertino Chamber of Commerce.
Three impressive women, mothers, and immigrants are bound together by their thread of passion for education. All three happened upon this mutual interest through their own children. Alvarez, who came from Mexico twenty two years ago, found herself advocating for her children who had been placed in an ESL (English as a Second Language) class. Her children were regressing and falling behind because they were in ESL. She proposed that her decision to pull her kids out of the class eventually benefited them; she has one student at Stanford and one at UC Merced and continues to advocate for the next generation of under-resourced students at East Palo Academy.
Similarly, Anjali Kausar and Pragati Grover, began working in their children’s classroom and discovered that the teachers faced many difficulties. In order to be proponents of change, both became board members for the school district in their region. Kausar came from Africa thirty years ago and found it hard to navigate the school system. It was when she became entrenched in the school that she found not only a means to support her children but also her identity as an American. Grover shared this sentiment and stated, “One should give their time, not their money” and that “I want to give back because this is my community.” As immigrants, they both found their sense of belonging and identity by being a part of the school system and having a voice in their communities.
Once the panelists left the stage, we were graced by storytelling through the art of Bharatanatyam by Nirupama Vaidhyanathan. She came with a narrative that continued the message woven throughout the discourse of the night–a narrative of resilience, passion, and social activism. Her first performance was a journey in time to her ancestors who took part in the Salt Satyagraha with Gandhi. Her grandfather protested against the salt tax imposed by the British and had exchanges with other revolutionaries on the caste system, sanitation, and other barriers that Indians were facing under colonial rule.
Vaidhyanathan’s second piece was based on a Tamil poem by Sugathakumari. The poem encapsulated the evils of pollution on the environment and was interspersed with the Indian myth of Shiva churning the ocean to drink the poison created by the evil on Earth. It was clear by the end of the performance that this forum had left an impact on every person in the room.
In a day and age in which civic engagement may seem like a fruitless task, it was wonderful to see engaged and empowered women of color take the stage. One can only hope that the next generation can embody the tenacity of the three women who spoke on the panel. Keep checking in with India Currents to see when the next panel discussion will be and how you can become an engaged leader in your community.