For those of us immersed and enmeshed in the primary campaigns, the world around us became more and more distant. Today I say, welcome back primary campaign workers and candidates. The world is waiting for you to jump back in.
I was honored to be a guest at the Justice High School graduation ceremony on Monday, June 7. The ceremony was moving; however, the Class of 2021, the third to graduate from the newly renamed Justice High School, was filled with students whose life stories were more moving and impressive than the graduation ceremony itself. Nearly half of the students in the class were the first in their family to graduate from high school — that fact made me proud that our community has provided the support for students to be able to be the first high school graduates in their families. I was also proud that we, the General Assembly, have finally granted in-state tuition to DACA students.
I have been working for years to make this a reality and hope this new law is a benefit to some Justice graduates. This exceptional class of Justice graduates had chosen to invite School Board Member Abrar Omeish to give the Commencement speech. Ms. Omeish’s address was truly inspirational, and reminded me of the necessity to leave the cocoon of a primary campaign and re-enter the world.
She said, “I’m going to keep it real. I’ve come to see that one of the hardest things to do in leadership is to keep hope alive. We must believe even when the barriers seem immensely great, even when it feels justice may never be reached, we must have hope. To see the tunnel of light as small and dim as it may seem, and to lead others forward. You (Justice HS graduates) did this too. Over the four years, even when you didn’t see the tunnel [light] all the time, you’re now on the other side.
She continued, “And, in building up hope, let compassion for your fellow human beings, not anger or rage, fuel you through the tunnel first, and then guide you to hold the flashlight for others. Be the light people seek empowerment from. Our world is unfair. It’s not always just. But your truth, your courage, and your path to uplift those who are not heard will leave you on the right side of history….you are a seed.”
Ms. Omeish is leading us in the direction that we progressives say we want to go; the direction of building a fair and just society that empowers and uplifts all its members. To become leaders moving in this direction, we must seize the opportunities presented as we strive towards those ultimate goals.
For example, at this moment, one could seize the opportunity available now to push the Virginia Safety and Health Codes Board to adopt strong heat stress standards to protect workers who work in excessively hotconditions (conditions that will become more and more frequent as we experience the climate change already upon us).
In 2021, the General Assembly, whose members you are currently electing, passed legislation requiring this Board to issue regulations on heat illness prevention for workers, aimed primarily at outdoor workers,such as farmworkers and construction workers.
But these regulations would also apply to indoor workers. Letters of support for a regulation such as this could make a difference. This is an opportunity available now that could be a step along the way to a more fair and just Commonwealth.
Some will say that this ‘opportunity’ is a bureaucratic regulation with a relatively small impact scope. But that regulation, if adopted, will impact real people in real time, improving their lives. This is an opportunity of the moment, while on the way to a broader goal, but an opportunity nonetheless. Every opportunity to build equity and justice is of value and should be seized upon when presented.
The real world offers many of these quiet, yet impactful, opportunities–not sexy, not earth-shattering, but definitely worth acting upon.
True leaders will recognize and act upon these opportunities of the moment while we are all working our way through the figurative tunnel to the beckoning light.