Old books and desks

Shared by Neodros Bridgeforth on 21st June 2013

Maudelle was my first teacher from the 1st  through the 3rd grade in Jefferson
 Arkansas in a little  one room shoolhouse furnished with used desks from the  white  school and used books from the white school. I still remember her the
nights before school started sitting and using ink pens to  block out the dirty words  that was in the books.  Sometimes the  drew lines to change the words so that the
students could not see what the real word were.But we studied and learned from
those books for Maudelle told us when we complained about the old books that
it was not the newness of the books that was important but our willingness to learn whether the books were old or new. And  we learned from those books. When I
graduated from the 8th grade still using those used books being taught by my sister Everette I went to Corbin High school in Pine Bluff Living in the dormitory I made
all A's and B's in my classes. So what Maudelle said was true. Neodros

Honoring Maudelle Shirek

Shared by Diane Benton on 13th May 2013

Honoring Maudelle Shirek

Rep. Barbara Lee                 


Mr. Speaker, let me first send my thoughts and prayers to the city of Boston, the families and friends of all of those touched by Monday's horrific tragedy. Incredible strength was in full display in the streets of Boston when untold numbers of people--the police, firefighters, volunteers, runners, and bystanders--ran towards the explosions to try to help in any way they could without regard for their own safety.

As we learn the details of this attack, let us remember that what makes us strong as a Nation is the tremendous care we have for our fellow Americans, especially during the hardest times.This is a lesson that I learned deeply from my friend and mentor, Maudelle Shirek. Maudelle died last week at the age of 101. She would have been 102 June 18. My heart and my prayers go out to her friends and family.

Maudelle was truly the ``godmother of East Bay progressive politics.'' The former city of Berkeley vice mayor and eight-term council member was born and raised in Jefferson, Arkansas. As the granddaughter of slaves, she was passionate about justice and civil rights.

After moving to Berkeley in the 1940s, she became active in the antiwar movement, fought on behalf of unions, advocated for HIV and AIDS awareness, care, and treatment, and helped organize the Free Mandela Movement. She was also the first elected official in the United States to advocate for needle exchange programs.

During her tenure as a Berkeley elected official, she was instrumental in creating multiple city commissions, including the Berkeley Commission on Labor. When she retired, mind you, at 92 years of age, she was the oldest elected official in California at that time. In 2007, the Berkeley City Council renamed city hall in her honor.

She not only urged me to get involved in politics, but also inspired my predecessor, Congressman Ron Dellums, to run for Congress. Her understanding of the importance of investing in people won the solid support of voters in her district and across the country.

I met Maudelle in the early seventies while I was a student at Mills College. She widened my perspective on global politics during our travels around the world. She reinforced the idea that we are all part of a global family and what happens here in the United States affects our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world and vice versa. Maudelle was a personal friend, mentor, and confidante.

Maudelle actually was a health aficionado. She was committed to educating seniors and the entire community on the benefits of healthy living. She loved shopping for fresh fruits and vegetables, and you would often find her cooking nutritious meals at the West Berkeley Senior Center.

We loved to walk Lake Merritt and the Berkeley Marina together, where she talked to me about acupuncture and natural remedies like cayenne pepper and warm water for colds and the importance of exercise.

Maudelle was a woman of great faith. During the seventies, we enjoyed attending the Church for Tomorrow, which formerly was the Church for Today. We went there together, and this is where I realized that her passion for service and justice was driven by her commitment to what she called doing the Lord's work on this Earth.

She was a woman who understood that she had to have a comprehensive agenda. It just couldn't be a single issue like health care or seniors or peace and justice, but it had to be about being committed to comprehensive and positive changes that seek to improve the lives of all Americans.

Maudelle worked at the Berkeley Co-Op Credit Union. She engaged all of us, in the seventies, mind you, in financial literacy, and urged me, as a young single student to buy a house because she reminded me over and over again that one's equity in one's home was the primary path to the middle class, and that that was the main way that I could get the resources to take care of my kids and send them to school, a lesson we should teach our own children today.

Several years ago, I tried to name the Berkeley Post Office after Maudelle. While this body has a tradition of supporting post office bills in a bipartisan way, Congressman Steve King from Iowa came to this floor and tried to tarnish her character. He brought groundless accusations, and this body voted against--mind you, against--naming the post office in my district after this great icon. I hope one day, in her memory, Representative King will apologize to Maudelle and her family and the city of Berkeley for such an unfair and unwarranted attack. She was deeply hurt by it, but kept her head high and lived to see the Berkeley City Hall named after her.

Maudelle refused to accept arbitrary limitations. That's one of the best things we all respected about her. Maudelle is one of the best examples of how one person can make a difference. She was a fearless and inspirational woman who tirelessly fought to make this world a fair and just place. She spoke for the voiceless and was such a staunch defender of our basic civil rights.

I believe, like many, that Maudelle's legacy of over 70 years of service to Berkeley, the East Bay, the Nation, and the world will inspire many to speak for the voiceless and to stand up for justice, both here in America and around the globe. I will deeply miss her wise counsel, love, and support.


Berkeley's Vice Mayor

Shared by Ronnie Bridgeforth on 13th May 2013

The Daily Californian
Berkeley's Vice Mayor Continues Long History of Activism Sevice includes local, international work
BY Will Evans Tuesday, February 29, 2000

Berkeley Vice Mayor Maudelle Shirek's support of the Free Mumia movement is just one more chapter in a life marked by international adventures, controversial radical politics and humble community service. The 88-year-old granddaughter of slaves in Arkansas, Shirek can still be seen jetting around town in her green Porsche, and her aides say she has every intention of running again for the City Council seat she has held since 1984.
"Politics is a part of life," Shirek says. "It ain't nothing new."
Through her progressive activism on local and international levels, Shirek has kept company with such historical personalities as Langston Hughes, Paul Robeson, W.E.B. DuBois, Nelson Mandela, Angela Davis and Jesse Jackson, says her aide Mike Berkowitz.
But even though Shirek has dined with the likes of Fidel Castro, she has never forgotten her ties to the Berkeley community.
Shirek has assisted people in need at a very basic, personal level, says Barbara Lubin, a friend of 20 years. She has taken people to the hospital, dropped off absentee ballots to people who were unable to leave their houses, helped youth get out of jail and even co-signed on houses for people who could not afford them, Lubin says.
"She's a one-person social service agency," she says. "She lives life the way most people only talk about."
John Iverson, an AIDS and health activist who has known Shirek for 20 years, remembers the time he found her cleaning the house of a blind woman whom she met on the street that day.
Apparently, Shirek is happy to do housecleaning for those in need. Berkowitz says he was looking for Shirek to speak at a conference once when he found her scrubbing someone's floor.
Even former Berkeley Mayor Gus Newport says Shirek used to call him on Sunday nights to clean.
"She'd have me on my knees scrubbing the floor till four or five in the morning," Newport says. "You don't question Maudelle no matter who you are."
Newport largely attributes his career as an elected official to Shirek's guidance, as do many other East Bay political powerhouses. Shirek helped elect the first black member to the Berkeley School Board and also persuaded former U.S. Rep. Ron Dellums to run for City Council in the 1960s, Berkowitz says.
Dellums says Shirek challenged him to run on his own terms and stubbornly supported him, thereby catapulting him into 31 years of public service.
"Maudelle is the one that changed my life," Dellums says.
Though Shirek herself has never sought public office beyond the city level, she always remained involved in international politics, travelling to the former Soviet Union, the Middle East, Central America and Eastern Europe, Berkowitz says.
"She wants to learn how other people do things and learn from that," he says.
Lubin, who directs the Middle East Children's Alliance, traveled with Shirek to Israel in 1988 to assess the impact of the Israeli occupation of lands claimed by Palestinians. To discourage the delegation, the Israeli military fired tear gas at them from helicopters while they visited a refugee camp, Lubin says. Shirek, however, was not discouraged.
"Maudelle was the first one up in the morning and the last one to bed," Lubin says. "She was the leader of the pack."
Forty years earlier, Shirek hosted community discussions in support of the state of Israel, recalls retired longshoreman Jim Lewis, who has known Shirek since 1946. She also cooked for meetings in support of Civil Rights and against the wars in Korea and Vietnam, Lewis adds.
During this time Shirek also organized boycotts against large chain stores in the Bay Area that refused to hire or service blacks, Berkowitz says.
Shirek became the first black woman to be hired by the Cooperative Center Federal Credit Union and later, while serving on the board of directors, pressured the credit union to give loans to poor people and people of color, Berkowitz says.
Shirek served as a union organizer and officer for the credit union, and later served on the state executive board of the service employees union.
Berkowitz says this was part of a long life of union activism dating back to the 1940s, when Shirek helped organize the sleeping car porter's union.
Shirek also co-founded and directed two of Berkeley's senior centers, even donating some of her own money to keep them running, Iverson says.
Shirek introduced many innovative programs for the seniors such as massage therapy, Tai Chi, visits to the aquarium, the Wine Country and mud baths. When she was 71, several politically motivated city council members, led by Jim Sweeney, forced Shirek to retire from the senior center because of her age, Iverson says.
Berkowitz says Shirek won an ironic victory after her forced retirement by successfully running against Sweeney for City Council in 1984. She has served on the council ever since, and has also been selected by her colleagues to serve as vice mayor.
Mayor Shirley Dean says that although they sometimes disagree, Shirek brings a voice of conscience to the council.
"She's the strongest voice on the council for labor," Dean says. "She also talks a great deal about Public Works projects to put people to work."
Berkowitz says Shirek continues to shop and cook for the New Light Senior Center and delivers meals every day to people who cannot leave their homes.
As a council member, Shirek became involved in AIDS activism, leading the first AIDS education campaigns and sponsoring the city's emergency legislation that allows activists to run the Berkeley Needle Exchange Program, Berkowitz says.
When Highland Hospital tried to close its AIDS ward, Shirek chained herself to the doors of the Alameda County Building with Iverson and other activists. Iverson says he spent seven hours in jail with Shirek.
"A police officer said, �There must be a mistake - was someone here actually born in 1911?'" Iverson says.
Under Shirek's leadership, the city formed the Labor Commission and the Peace and Justice Commission, Berkowitz says.
Shirek has always tried to apply national and international politics to her role as vice mayor. Berkowitz says she starts watching news at 4:30 in the morning to find out what is happening nationally and what she can do about it.
Councilmember Kriss Worthington says Shirek is also the city's liaison to the Mental Health Commission.
"Maudelle is a legendary and passionate advocate for every progressive cause you've ever heard of," he says. "When she speaks, people stop and listen."
Though heavily involved with senior citizens, Shirek is also a champion for the youth, Newport says. With Newport, she helped inner-city youth obtain scholarships to music camp. She also opposed the recent police sweeps of Telegraph Avenue as discriminatory and hopes to start a youth center, Berkowitz says.
"She went up to talk with the street kids to see if we need to do something for them," he says.
Many of Shirek's causes, such as the fight against the use of pepper spray, have led her into battle with the UC Berkeley administration, Berkowitz says.
"She's trying to make the university responsible, serve students and be sensitive to the neighborhood," he says.
After a long and intense life of political activism, Shirek is far from done. Berkowitz says her dedication and fieriness have not diminished over the years.


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