Archive for March, 2015


March 17, 2015 Comments Off on HAPPY SAINT PATRICK’S DAY! General


Hello readers of my blog! I first published this on Saint Patrick’s Day on March 17, 2013. I got so much great feedback on it that I have decided to publish it again today. Cheers!

                Whenever I visit Ellis Island, or look over at it from Manhattan with the Statue of Liberty to the left, I think of my ancestors who came to the United States. Like so many people, I wish that I knew much more about them. Before my last remaining uncle passed away some years ago, he gave me his grandmother’s photo album. None of the people in it were identified, and he had no idea of who they were. When I look at that disintegrating album today, I see the faces of very serious looking men and women. They do not smile for the camera, and their faces reflect very hard work.  Some of the young men look pretty tough –they certainly don’t look as though they are afraid of a fight!  All the photographs reflect the lives of people who came to America from somewhere else. The fact that they were immigrants meant that they left a great deal behind – often parents as well as a way of life. Their hope was no different than the hopes of people around the world today – hope for opportunity and hope for safety.

The last time I visited Ellis Island, I walked over to some phones on the wall next to aging photographs. You could pick up a phone, look at the picture, and listen to the voice of someone sharing his or her immigrant experience. My favorite picture was that of an elderly woman pulling a donkey and a plow in a field. She was not smiling, and her face was lined with hard work and care. The voice on the phone was that of a man, her son, who talked about the day he walked across that field to say good-bye to her.  He was leaving for America. His mother looked at him and turned away. He never saw or spoke with her again. Leaving, and being left behind, is never easy. We endure such sad final partings because we must – either to seek for ourselves or allow others to see the freedom that lives in all our hearts and minds.

I often show my classes a beautiful film called A PLACE AT THE TABLE from Teaching for Tolerance. In that film, many different young people talk about the immigrant experiences of their families. A young woman with Irish heritage shows a picture of two of her ancestors, who took a boat alone to America from Ireland as young girls. Their parents were suffering the great potato famine, and took a chance on the girls surviving in America on their own. Indeed, these girls managed to survive the journey and make their way in a new land. This could not have been easy. Their young faces in the photograph  always make the think of all the children in the world today who are on their own, resilient enough to keep trying in spite of war, relentless poverty, and other very difficult circumstances.

Thinking of my ancestors, and of all immigrants, I always remember a story someone once told me.  I had a good friend in my graduate program who was about 20 years my senior. We often traveled to and from school together. One day, she told me the story of her grandmother, who had survived the great potato famine in Ireland. Every morning during the famine she would have to get up and carry three small children with her out into the fields to search for grain that might have fallen on the ground. After finding some, she would make a little bowl of cereal for her hungry children. Years later, when the children had grown up and her grandmother had joined the rest of the family to live in the United States; there was a new routine before meals. Her grandmother would look at all the food on the table before her, cry, and say, “Oh, if I had only had this food when I had the babies!” When she calmed herself and was more at peace, they would all begin to eat.

These are the stories that show us the face of human suffering, and help us remember the sanctuary that so many sought and still seek when they come to our nation. I always think of Saint Patrick’s Day as a happy day and a good time. But I also think about the compassion and generosity that would make such a tremendous difference to those who come to our nation today — from other places and other struggles. To welcome them with open hearts is to give them the chance that our own ancestors sought not all that long ago.

Written by Beatrice S. Fennimore a teacher educator focused on advocacy and social justice for all children






Icy Sidewalk


Anyone who thinks and writes about the importance of social justice and civic responsibility as much as I do finds frequent opportunities to observe those topics in simple daily experiences. As I see it, there is unquestionable evidence all around me that people who act responsibly on behalf of others have a significant and positive impact on their communities. I also see the ways in which an absence of civic responsibility creates problems and difficulties for others.

It’s been a very cold and snowy winter in Pittsburgh, so hazardous ice on sidewalks has been my current focus of civic attention. Although my neighborhood is “in the city” it has many single-family homes. As I walked my dog up and down the streets early this morning (not snowing for a change), we had an ever-changing variety of experiences. Many sidewalks were completely clear and dry – carefully shoveled all winter long. On these sidewalks, my dog and I enjoyed an energetic and carefree pace. Other sidewalks, however, were covered with thick and slippery ice. This required us to walk gingerly, step over to safer snow-covered lawns, or even go out into the middle of the street. Step by step, we experienced the difference between people who maintain a safe sidewalk in front of their homes in the winter and people who for whatever reason do not. Dangerous icy sidewalks create hazards for pedestrians all day long – some of them will fall and be injured. And there are some sidewalks in my community that have been covered with ice for the entire winter.

I don’t want this blog to descend into a “my pet peeve.” Obviously there are many reasons why people cannot or do not shovel their sidewalks. And I realize that this is something of a location -specific problem. I was recently in New York City, for example, where I was able to walk for miles without hitting ice (except in the streets!). I was in a section of Manhattan composed of stores and large apartment buildings that did a fantastic job of shoveling the sidewalks. In many suburban and rural areas, sidewalks either do not exist or are not an issue, because everyone drives everywhere. However, in a smaller city like Pittsburgh, with a lot of pedestrians, sidewalks in front of private residences are an important winter safety issue. So I am using them to make my point – when people fail to meet their civic responsibility in any way, it tends to have significant ramifications for many others. And, to look on the positive side, anyone who is doing their best to maintain even relatively small civic responsibilities is making life easier and safer for everyone!

I was thinking as I made my way home that it would be very interesting to make a film for my students of the walk that my dog and I took this morning. There is, after all, a city ordinance that requires citizen home-owners in Pittsburgh to maintain clear and safe sidewalks in the winter. Why is it so widely disregarded? And what is the impact of that disregard on others? How would someone on crutches or in a wheelchair manage on those icy sidewalks? What about people who are fragile or older, or young parents who might fall and be unable to take care of their children for an extended period? Or what about anyone who might miss weeks of work with a broken bone? I’d love to use such a film to make connections between icy sidewalks and the many ways in which our personal actions influence our neighbors, our communities, and ultimately the world in which we live. We don’t all have sidewalks, but we all have public parts of our lives that offer opportunities to be good citizens and look out for the welfare of others. There is no doubt about it – the choices we make about civic responsibility have a significant impact on many other people!

Written by Beatrice S. Fennimore a teacher educator focused on advocacy and social justice for all children