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Why Would I Mispronounce My Own Name? Interview with Irma Herrera

I recently had the privilege of watching a one-woman show at San Francisco’s Marsh Theater called “Why Would I Mispronounce My Own Name?”. The author and performer was Irma Herrera, a civil rights attorney, who shared stories of her childhood as a Mexican-American girl in South Texas, anecdotes from her career as a lawyer and activist, and much more. I met with her after the show and she agreed to do an interview for my blog. 

What made you decide to pursue a career in law? How old were you? What had you wanted to be before then?

I think the seed was planted when my mother admonished me with this phrase: “Muchacha eres una abogada sin libros.” She would say this to me because I asked many questions and was always arguing and trying to win others to my point of view. But perhaps the biggest influence was seeing the work being done by African-American civil rights lawyers on behalf of their community. When I looked at the ways that black people were treated in this country, I could can se…
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A Board Member's Perspective on San Francisco Public Schools

Rachel Norton is a former journalist who has served on the San Francisco Board of Education since 2009. She served on the SFUSD Community Advisory Committee for Special Education and is also an active member of Parents for Public Schools. I attended San Francisco public schools through 8th grade and was eager to hear her perspective.


What made you decide to first run for school board?

I have two daughters who attended SFUSD schools (both graduated from George Washington HS). I always knew I wanted to send my daughters to public schools and from the time they were in preschool I got involved with Parents for Public Schools and started paying attention to school board politics. 

My older daughter has autism, so from the time she entered Kindergarten I started volunteering with a group of other parents of students with disabilities, to help support parents through the IEP process and to help kids get the services they need. I became aware that so many kids were not getting what they needed,…

Powerful Essay on Racism in Prisons

Last year I interviewed Yukari Iwatani Kane, who taught journalism at San Quentin. Here's a poignant and insightful piece about racism written by Jesse Vasquez, one of her students and the managing editor of the San Quentin News:  https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2018/10/01/one-prison-taught-me-racism-another-taught-me-acceptance/?utm_term=.0d90d2d5302f

Modern Day Abolitionist Nancy O'Malley

Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley was recently awarded the Modern Day Abolitionist Award from San Francisco Collaborative Against Human Trafficking (SFCAHT). During a recent online video interview, she told me about her involvement in human trafficking, her career, and her advice for young change-makers.
How did you first become interested in fighting human trafficking? When I was a young prosecutor in 1996, I was assigned a case that involved a 12-year old girl who had been sexually assaulted and raped by a 50-year-old man.  She started telling me her story and told me she had a 39-year-old boyfriend who took her out on the streets of Oakland and was selling her eight or 10 times in a night. When the police found her, the 50 year old man who had paid to have sex with her had raped her.  That’s when I realized she was talking about trafficking. We didn’t even have a law in California then. That’s how I first learned about it. I started getting a better understanding after t…

Interview with John Bonifaz, Expert on Democracy and Voting Rights

John Bonifaz is a lawyer who uses his knowledge of the US Constitution to make sure people can vote and that their vote counts. He has co-founded two organizations: Free Speech for People, where he serves as president, and the National Voting Rights Institute. He believes it hurts our democracy to have wealthy individuals and corporations influencing and distorting elections. In 1999, he received a MacArthur Fellowship, also known as a “genius” grant, for his work on voting rights. (That’s the same award Lin Manuel Miranda received in 2015!)

You’ve founded two organizations focused on laws that relate to voting, the National Voting Rights Institute and Free Speech for People. Can you compare their areas of focus and approach?
I founded the National Voting Rights Institute in 1994 with the primary initial focus on challenging our nation’s campaign finance system as the newest barrier to our right to vote. Former Constitutional Law Professor Jamie Raskin – now Congressman Jamie Raskin of…

Interview with Rinku Sen, Writer and Activist

Rinku Sen is a writer and activist best known for her work with racial justice organization Race Forward and its award-winning news site Colorlines. Under Sen’s leadership, Race Forward had many successes, including a campaign to get media outlets to “Drop the I-Word” and stop referring to immigrants as “illegal.” (The Associated Press, USA Today, and the LA Times all changed their practice.)  I interviewed Rinku to better understand her particular career path.
What were you like as a teen? Did you know you would grow up to be a community organizer, writer, and activist?
When I was in my early teens I had no politics, so I definitely didn’t think I’d grow up to be an organizer. That is, politics didn’t interest me much, although history did.
I loved books. I started keeping a journal on loose-leaf 3-ring paper when I was 13, and I did want to be a writer. I read fast so I must have taken in thousands of romances and mysteries before I went to college. Some time during high school, one o…

Modern-Day Slavery

Last fall I attended a conference organized by the San Francisco Collaborative Against Human Trafficking (SFCAHT). Human trafficking, often described as modern-day slavery, is a crime in which people are forced to do work or prostitute themselves for the benefit of the person who is victimizing them. Sometimes victims are manipulated and controlled through fear of violence, or, if they are immigrants, fear of deportation. Sometimes they are victimized because they owe a lot of money.

There were many wonderful speakers and panelists at the conference, including Nancy O’Malley, District Attorney for Alameda County; San Francisco City Supervisor Katy Tang; Ryan Spradlin, Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent in Charge; William Scott, San Francisco Police Chief, and many more. But the most moving presentation of all was from a former victim of trafficking and now advocate: Harold D’Souza.

Harold D’Souza and his family moved to the United States after obtaining what they thought…

SF City Supervisor Katy Tang on her Youth Council

San Francisco City Supervisor Katy Tang recently invited me to be a part of her Youth Council, so I asked if I might interview her for my blog. Ms. Tang represents District 4 and was gracious to answer my questions.


What inspired you to create the Youth Council? What do you hope it will achieve?


I was inspired to create the Youth Council because I met so many students who wanted to get involved in our community.  Through participation on the Youth Council, I hope that students will learn more about how the city operates and how city government works to address issues, such as housing, homelessness, public safety, and beyond. I hope that each participant will make new friends, continue to serve as a leader in our community, and inspire others to become active and engaged residents.



What kinds of projects or policies have SF youth spearheaded in the past?


Youth in San Francisco have worked on amazing initiatives in the past. Whether I have agreed with the policies or not, I have loved seein…