Civil rights discussion kicks off Diversity Week
Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR) in Boston, addressed an Upper School assembly Monday morning as the first event of Diversity Week at Thayer Academy.
Espinoza-Madrigal, best known for his work on immigration, education, housing, voting, LGBTQIA+ rights, public health, and entrepreneurship, discussed the work of LCR, an organization which works with communities of color and immigrants to fight discrimination and foster equity. LCR was founded in the 1960s at the request of President John F. Kennedy.
During his visit the attorney detailed LCR’s work representing Hope Coleman, the mother of Terrence Coleman, who died in a police-involved shooting in October of 2016 following a 911 call made by his mother; and many of the Venezuelan migrants who in September of 2022 were flown from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard at the behest of the state of Florida.
“They were stripped of their rights,” said Espinoza-Madrigal of the Venezuelan migrants, who had traveled on foot from their South American nation to request asylum. “They were stripped of their dignity.” Later, he explained that LCR advocates for many such individuals and groups who may be victims of what he called “identity-based abuse.”
The hardest part of his job, Espinoza-Madrigal told students during an extensive Q&A session, is working to not become desensitized after dealing with one crisis after another. Those words echoed the opening remarks of Head of School Chris Fortunato P ‘26, ‘28, who noted the recent tragedies taking place both nationally and on the South Shore which have caused shock and sadness.
“It isn’t supposed to be this way,” Fortunato told students. “It’s not.”
Fortunato said the diversity of the Thayer community is an integral part of the Academy’s educational experience and necessary to prepare students for college and beyond. He asked students to listen with open hearts and minds.
“Pay attention to the words and stories you will hear today,” he said.
Espinoza-Madrigal acknowledged his visit to Thayer was “under somber circumstances” — adding that he simply could not bring himself to watch recently released video of the death of Tyre Nichols at the hands of Memphis police officers who have since been fired and now face murder charges — but the civil rights attorney ended his remarks with hope and encouragement for his young audience.
“It starts with participation,” he told students, moments later adding: “Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, exercise your voice.”
He also urged students to not see “compromise” as a dirty word but a “win/win” for groups who sometimes have vastly different interests.
“Don’t think about it as polarizing,” he said of the struggle for civil rights and of politics in general. “Think about it as, ‘How do we find common ground? How do we find consensus?’”
Sarah Miller, assistant director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging, thanked Espinoza-Madrigal for his visit and reminded the assembly of Thayer’s mission statement to “contribute to the common good” and its commitment to antiracism.
“When we lean in and work through tough things together, we grow stronger,” Miller said.
The honor of introducing Espinoza-Madrigal at the Jan. 30 assembly went to Mia Matos ‘23. Mia is the President of OMEGA (Organization for Minority Enrichment, Growth & Awareness), an Upper School student alliance group which promotes and supports diversity at Thayer.