We are about to go down a rabbit hole, or three or four, so I will give you the punch-line, the spoiler ending, up front. Juan Crespí Middle School, which sits on the northeastern edge of San Francisco Bay, was formally renamed Betty Reid Soskin Middle School Wednesday, on Soskin’s 100th birthday. And there was much rejoicing.
Why was the school named for Crespí in the first place? Who was the dude? How did he get picked for the naming? Why did they decide to rename it now? I had questions. Of course, each question led to more questions. In my previous work life, we were trained to uncover the root cause of problems by asking Five Whys. When you do that on the Internet, suddenly, the morning disappears. There’s always more than meets the eye. But it’s all good.
So, if you want some answers and to learn a little about the history of the Spanish New World expeditions, missions, epidemiology, and the politics of nomenclature, then settle in for a few minutes. The Internet beckons. La madriguera de coneja–the rabbit hole–beckons.
In honor of MLK day this past Monday, I’ve been thinking for a few weeks about dedicating this entry to Betty Reid Soskin. I have to admit, though, it’s been difficult to get going, and as I began pulling quotes and details to share, I finally realized why it’s been hard. She is damn intimidating!
A five foot three, soft-spoken 97-year-old might not seem particularly overwhelming. For those lucky enough to have heard her speak, you know also that she is extremely approachable and willing to share both her thoughts and listen to yours. But what she has accomplished in her life makes clear that this woman is a force of nature. What she lacks in height, she has made up for with a lifetime of copious activism and the promotion of American ideals of liberty and equal opportunity.
Chock Full O’ History
Here are just a few portions of her remarkable life story. She comes from Cajun, Creole, Spanish, and African ancestors, with a great-grandmother born into slavery and an ancestry that stretches from the time of witches to Dred Scott through the Civil Rights Movement to Black Lives Matter. She came to California from New Orleans and served in a segregated Jim Crow union hall in Richmond California during World War II. Opening a gospel-themed record store in Berkeley with her husband, she raised a family, experiencing redlining in Berkeley and both subtle and overt racism in the suburbs of Walnut Creek. Continue reading “Betty Reid Soskin: Social Justice Ninja Warrior”