How Fort Worth hopes students use their new holiday to follow in Dolores Huerta’s steps

Fort Worth students have an extra holiday this year and school leaders hope young people will use the new César Chávez-Dolores Huerta Day of Service to help build community while learning about the Hispanic civil rights movement.

On March 25, the school district will hold its first-ever school holiday to honor the lives of Chávez and Huerta. The labor activists formed the United Farm Workers union in the 1960s to protest the poor treatment of laborers. Huerta coined the well-known Spanish-language rallying cry: “¡Si Se Puede! (Yes, we can!)”

School district leaders said they believe they are the first district in Texas to honor the Hispanic civil rights leaders with a holiday. They say she has accepted their invitation to speak at a gathering.

“Dolores Huerta is part of our Latinx history in America,” said Jacinto Ramos Jr., a Fort Worth school board member representing Diamond Hill-Jarvis and North Side high schools.

Latinx is a gender-neutral term for Latino or Latina.

The holiday is one way the district has been addressing racial inequities on several fronts, including curriculum and school culture. The district added an overlay history and social studies curriculum focused on African Studies. Work is under way to establish a similar effort in Latino Studies.

The district also established a racial equity committee and policy to target institutional racism. The school board and Superintendent Kent Scribner have reminded immigrant students that all learners are welcome in Fort Worth schools through resolutions and public statements.

This week, the district released a video in that includes several four-grade students telling the community about Huerta’s civil rights and labor rights work.

Visit from Dolores Huerta

Huerta’s presence will allow students to hear history through her voice. School leaders said this is significant because students have told school leaders they struggle to see Hispanic leaders in their learning.

“It looks very favorable that she will be with us,” said Sherry Breed, chief of equity and excellence for Fort Worth schools. “We will be in the presence of greatness.”

On March 25, dozens of high school students have been invited to an event with Huerta at the Tarrant County Trinity River Campus in downtown Fort Worth. Huerta will speak to students. Later, some will work on volunteer projects while others participate in work sessions about community service and leadership, Breed said.

“We want them to know, not only how to advocate for themselves, we want them to know there are heroes and ‘sheroes’ who are still with us. We want them to hear from them directly.”

More than 62 percent of students in the district are Hispanic. The district listed 86,234 students in its latest annual report.

Last spring, the school board approved a resolution that established the observance of César Chávez-Dolores Huerta Day of Service on the Monday before Chávez’s birthday. His birth date was March 31. He died April 23, 1993.

Educators are encouraging students to observe the day as a “day on, not a day off,” similar to calls for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in January.

Solidarity walk

The school district’s day of service comes days before the César Chávez Committee of Tarrant County holds its annual solidarity walk through downtown Fort Worth on March 30.

“Civil rights is a movement that is still very much in play,” said Alejandro Hukill-Arias, president of the committee.

The solidarity walk is another way young people can become involved and delve into Hispanic history, he said. The event allows older generations to connect with younger people.

The walk, which is in its 19th year, begins at 1 p.m. at General Worth Square on Main Street near the Fort Worth Convention Center. Participants will meet at noon. At 1 p.m., they will walk down Main Street to toward TCC Trinity River Campus, where a rally will be held after the walk.

Hukill-Arias said the committee’s partnership with the schools isn’t new. In the past, they have held events at Dolores Huerta and César Chávez elementary schools.

Chavez’s history in the Hispanic immigrant community is complex as he opposed illegal immigration. Hukill-Arias said there is a place for community discussion on Chavez’s evolving stances on illegal immigration.

“He sparked intellectual dialogue,” Hukill-Arias said.

Ethnic distribution in Fort Worth schools

Total students: 86,234

Hispanic: 62.4 percent

African American: 22.6 percent

White: 11.4 percent

Asian: 1.8 percent

Two or more races: 1.5 percent

Other: .2 percent

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram

Diane Smith, a graduate from the University of Texas at Austin, has been a reporter for the Star-Telegram since 1997. Smith, who has covered municipal government, immigration and education, has won multiple awards for reporting, most recently as part of a Star-Telegram team recognized by the Headliners Foundation of Texas for coverage of child abuse and Fort Worth’s Las Vegas Trail area.