Anthony Chavez: Continuing a Legacy of Inspiration
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Mar 25, 2017
Today, we have a remarkable guest speaker, Anthony Chavez, whose passion for compassionate service, empowering youth, and promoting the power that inner transformation can have on oneself and the world around them, has led him to be a social change maker in his own right.
They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree and so it seems the case with Anthony who is walking in the footsteps of his grandfather, civil rights icon, labor leader, and spiritual activist Cesar Chavez.
Anthony says that "I remind students what my grandfather said, 'We don't need perfect political systems, what we need is more perfect participation,’" But Anthony does more than speak about the social impact of his grandfather. He conveys the internal character, sacrifices, and commitment to service, compassion, and community that made the external impact of his grandfather’s work possible.
Anthony fondly recalls of his grandfather, “He always used to remind us there's never a time in our life when we don't need the help of another… and that, "The end of all education should be service to others.” Anthony tells youth to aim high, dream big, follow their heart.
As one may naturally surmise upon hearing all of this, Anthony’s activism, like that of his grandfather, is also supported by a spiritualism. It’s no surprise to learn that he spent many years serving at the side of Benedictine monk, Brother David Steindl-Rast – a world-renowned author, speaker, lecturer, and interreligious pioneer. Thus, with this type of background and Anthony’s continued cultivation, the soil seems rich for our conversation today. We are grateful to have Anthony with us.
Staying on this note of gratitude, behind each of these calls is an entire team of ServiceSpace volunteers, whose invisible work allows us to hold this beautiful space – we are thankful to them and to all of our listeners for helping co-create this space.
Nipun: I want to add a bit to Anthony’s bio for the benefit of anyone who might not know Anthony or might not have read his bio. Here is a very brief summary. He is a youth activist. I would say he is a reluctant spiritual seeker. He may not admit that. [laughter] He is, of course, the grandson of Cesar Chavez who formed the United Farm Workers Union and lead the farm workers movement in California starting in the '60s. And he fought for civil rights while promoting non-violence.
Anthony works for the Alameda County Office of Education. He has really been trying to plant seeds of service and learning in young hearts. And in all his spare time, this guy manages to serve on the board of gratefulness.org founded by Brother David Steindl-Rast and is an advisor to both the Frederick Douglass Family Initiative and President's Advisory Council at character.org. And I'm told that he is an avid skateboarder.
Anthony, in all your wonderful ways, we welcome the whole 27 years of you.
Anthony: Wow, Awesome. Thank you guys so much. I really appreciate the opportunity to share with the ServiceSpace global network. It is really amazing to know Nipun and Guri and get to know more and more of the team. And always look at the tremendous work that you are doing. So thank you for inviting me to be a small part of that.
Nipun: Absolutely, it is a pleasure and an honor. Before we get into a lot of the questions, I have to start with your grandfather. Everyone knows about him. Cesar Chavez was a champion of nonviolence and, really, human rights. But I was reading a quote by you in one of the newspapers. It says "30,000 people showed up in a march in his honor, and I thought what my grandpa--that fun-loving guy who loved jokes, loved his dog, would stand on his head when he had hiccups--that guy?" So I want to ask you who was Cesar Chavez to you?
Anthony: That is a really nice question. It is one that I don't always get a chance to speak to. I think that quote that you shared summarizes that we always thought of our grandfather as fun-loving, easy-going, always enjoying every available minute when he could when he was surrounded by his grandchildren and even kids who weren't his own grandchildren that he saw as part of his family. He would make anytime available to try to have fun with us.
I remember things as simple as where we grew up in a small little mountain town that has now turned into a national historic site and conference center, but when we grew up it was much more humble. And sometimes my grandfather would receive guests for meetings who wanted to travel down to see him or wanted to talk to him about their ideas. I remember one time he saw me playing out in the middle of a field all by myself and he stopped the car and honked and waved me over and invited me to jump in the car with him for a short 5-10 minute car ride. Just so we could get a chance to hang out in his car, eat some sunflower seeds, listen to some music, and escort his friends in. And as soon as we got back in and he saw my favorite little playing area, he stopped the car and said, "Ok, I think this is where you want to be."
It was things like that. Other times it was hanging out at my grandparent's house for the holidays. We were celebrating Easter and he wanted to be the pitcher for both teams. Other times it was for Christmas and we were all gathered in their small little two bedroom house, about 30 or so of us grandchildren, opening our presents and they were kind of playing Mr. and Mrs. Claus, passing out the gifts, enjoying the moment there with everybody.
Those are really the fond memories I have of my grandfather and my family. And kind of like you mentioned about seeing those tens of thousands of people who showed up when he passed away. I started to have a new kind of appreciation of who my grandfather was. I would say that growing up we would go out to marches and protests and certainly talk about these things at the dinner table--basic concepts of human civil worker's rights with our parents, but it really wasn't until my grandfather passed away that we started to have a new appreciation for what he meant to so many other people. And from that day forward things changed in ways that we still can't believe. Even up to most recently with all the tributes and events that still continue on in honor of my grandfather and the Farmworker's Movement that he represented.
Nipun: That is interesting that it wasn't until he passed away that all of you, and certainly you, fell into that legacy that he has left behind. Because when he's around, he just felt like a humble guy that hung out with you and making sure that you had a good time, playing Santa Claus, and pitching at games. So you never really felt burdened by his legacy?
Anthony: No, not at all. I was far too young. When my grandfather passed away, I was only 7 and a half years old in third grade. For me the priorities were play, play, and more play. I wasn't necessarily thinking about those weighty issues of the times.
If there is any burden, it is self-imposed, just wanting to give back the tremendous amount of blessings that we have received in our lives by growing up in the midst of such a social justice movement. But I would say it is really the responsibility that we have personally. I think there is a sense of inspiration. I tell people that I'm just inspired by what my parents and grandparents have done for the Farm Worker's Movement, as I think some of them are. Because even though they are my parents and my namesake and things like that, it is still pretty amazing to imagine that you are so close to somebody who is making such monumental change. So there is definitely big parts of inspiration and a small piece of civic duty. Again, that is all intertwined in that personal responsibility.
Growing up our parents never said, "It is your obligation to carry on this movement." That is never how they were with us. I think part of that is out of their own experience. My parents, my dad especially being the son of Cesar Chavez, he didn't always have the opportunity to make decisions about what he wanted to do as a young child because they were just in the midst of it all. So instead of spending his weekend playing Little League baseball, like I did, he spent his weekend traveling to the countless farm worker towns up and down the Central Valley for different rallies and protests and for passing out flyers. That was the game that they made up for the weekend. In some ways, a lot of their childhood was sacrificed. I have even heard stories about where my grandfather is gone for long stretches of time, and sometimes barely being able to catch a birthday party. And literally being there for just singing Happy Birthday and then off to the next thing.
So I think out of recognition of some of the sacrifices that they took in their own lives, they didn't want to impose that upon us without allowing us the opportunity to make a choice. And I think that is how all of me and my cousins were raised, even those who have jumped right back into the center of things, whether it is supporting farm workers or working in politics or whatever endeavors they are carrying on. It has always stayed with us -- just that reminder to be of service to others and to live compassionately. I think each of us go out and we try to carry that message in our own way.
One of the things that I wanted to say, going back to your earlier question that I was kind of young. It is true that I was kind of young, but I had other cousins who were generations older than me. There are generations of cousins you might say because there are so many of us. So there are certain generations of my cousins and my family members who were much more in the heated times of the movement, in the '80s and '70s, and even some of my oldest cousins in the late '60s. Where we would hear stories about their young parents and them as basically little babies in car seats where people were threatening them and were running their families off the road in the middle of these lonely country towns as they were out there protesting.
You'd hear stories about my cousins who were only teenagers at the time, maybe even younger, out rallying and picketing, and people telling them as they were coming in and out of the grocery store buying grapes things such as "I hope your grandfather dies this time when he is fasting." So they really faced a lot more directly, some of those heated times and dealt much more with the trials and tribulations. And we are just able to cognize what it all meant. But growing up toward the later end of that period and that era and after my grandfather's passing, the whole tone of things really changed. And we have benefitted in being able to go out and share that life story. But we still also show up for rallies and for protests. I still have those same cousins who were there at those hard times who are showing up and getting arrested on behalf of worker's rights campaigns. Showing up at LGBTQ campaigns showing up all over the nation to help support drivers license for undocumented communities in those respective states. So you know everyone is still continuing on in their own way I would say.
Nipun: That’s beautiful and one of the ways you’re showing up is through education and youth, so I want to dive a little bit into your personal story. Your grandpa had an 8th grade education, but you were the first member in your family to get a college degree. You were doing Poli Sci and Econ and then you shifted to religious studies. Can you tell us a little bit about your formative years in education, and how that inspired you to go into that field?
Anthony: Yeah. Again, growing up there at the headquarters of the farmworkers movement which is now a national historic site, one of the last places President Obama went out to and declared a national historic site. There was over 6000 people who showed up for that event which was just amazing -- all these friends and supporters at this small little area where we grew up, celebrating a new national treasure. But growing up there in the deep foothills of California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, we were able to enjoy, nature and just be pretty carefree. I realized how lucky I was to grow up and not have to worry about things like knowing how to cross streets and which bus lines to get on and how to get to and from places, because where we grew up everything was kind of right there. So being able to enjoy nature and the small community of cousins and family and friends, and then to have all of the loving adults and parents around us -- that was kind of our foundation. And the going into school -- as I mentioned my grandfather passed away when I was in third grade and my teachers learned about my background, they would point me to different topics of interest like politics and economics and social issues and as I completed high school and was getting ready to go to college I ended up staying at home and went to college at Cal State Bakersfield.
So I was the first in my immediate nuclear family to go to college, and fortunately all of my siblings are now following me and pursuing more higher education and one of my siblings just graduated. I was going to Cal State Bakersfield I was the first in my immediate family navigating all of those systems. I just really enjoyed taking a wide array of courses for my undergraduate studies and found it was very difficult for me to decide on a major, whether I should focus on politics as the place to make change, or was it actually economics and looking at incentives to make change? And what I discovered as I was going through all of my studies and interning and getting a chance to work on a political campaigns, and to be a part of little meetings and convenings, I found that the people that I most greatly respected and admired in this settings had actually all, coincidentally, been out of the seminary and they had their intellectual roots somehow connected to philosophy and theology. And when I looked back I realized it was actually my religious studies professors whom I appreciated the most. The way that they would look at the history of the issues, the way that they would look at the politics of those historical moments and the economics. They would talk about all of those different factors that would influence the moment, how they would make it opportune for a social movement or trend of those times.
And it was really by looking at people, where they place their worth and where they find value that I found you can speak to their daily motivations, through their incentives and their inspirations and help them feel compelled to make action. And that’s how I ended up declaring Religious Studies and Philosophy as my major and Poli Sci as my minor. I think it ended up working out well, given that I started up working with Brother David not too soon after.
Nipun: Yes. You were fairly young when you met Brother David. For those that don't know of Brother David, he is a Benedictine monk, author of many books, and a thought leader around gratefulness. Jean Houston called him one of the greatest spiritual lights she's ever met, and she’s practically met all the spiritual leaders of our time. :) He has spent decades in meditation. So here is this 91 year old contemplative who he’s also deeply immersed in service. Anthony, can you share a little bit about how you met -- in your early twenties?
Anthony: I think we actually met I was about 19. It’s really funny how all these slender threads kind of tie things together. What happened was I was a senior in college, there was an event that was being arranged by some of our mutual friends over at the Association for Global Youth Thought and they were doing a peace training conference and taking a bunch of attendees from southern California in Los Angeles on the Amtrak train to San Jose and they would use the entire trip and the carriage cars to do smaller little breakout sessions. I happened to miss the start of the trip, but my father was supposed to be going to San Jose to make a presentation at the closing of the conference. And at the last minute, I forgot what happened either he got sick or some conflict came up or there was some urgency, something happened and he happened to call me to his office as I was on my way out to take some courses at Cal State Bakersfield and he's like, “Anthony I feel so bad I'm supposed to go to this conference in San Jose, but I have to cancel,” and he goes, “You know it’s this peace community,” and he looks at me and goes, “You’re into peace and religious studies -- maybe you should go!” And I was like, “ What are you talking about?” He’s like, “All this big program, thousands of people, and I've already committed, and I’m on the flyer and I feel so bad that I'm not going to be able to make it.” Being the young college student that I was who enjoyed getting out, I saw it as an opportunity to you know, get to the Bay Area on a surprise visit, to have somebody else help with my accommodations I said, “Yeah that sounds great, I’ll show up and hang out.” And little did I know that they were still expecting me to give a speech in place of my father, and so when I showed up, I got the chance to listen to Brother David in the morning and I was just blown away by this wise cool dude up there on the stage who was rocking the mic and I was like this guy has lived it, he is phenomenal. I went into Religious Studies to listen to people spout this kind of this wisdom, precious life gems, and here he is just giving them away so freely in this short 15 minutes. This is essential stuff right here! I remember just writing down on whatever little scraps of paper I could grab, everything that he was saying.
After I listened to Brother David I thought I had made all of my rounds. I’d said hello to everybody I needed to say hi to and I was on my way out of the conference. And some of the organisers had spotted me walking by myself and leaving and they said, “You should come join us for lunch,” or whatever it was. And I go to the lunchroom and I know absolutely nobody in the room. I was like,”Oh my God! All these dignitaries and amazing people! I’m just going to stay over here in the corner by myself.” Brother David must have spotted me being kind of a little standoffish or a little bit isolated, and he ended up pulling up a seat next to me and it was Brother David who really started the conversation, “Oh how's it going? What's your name, what are you studying? What are you up to?” I mentioned all of these little things and in the course of about five or ten minutes he told me he had this group called gratefulness.org I should check it out. How neat it was that I was pursuing a degree in philosophy and religious studies, and we just went away at that point. And I didn't really make much of it.
I continued on and was with some friends that night, and I was telling some friends about the day, and how I was with the great great grandchildren of Gandhi, and the daughter of Martin Luther King Jr and met this really cool old wise monk, and they're just laughing like, “What an interesting conference!”And I said, “But I really need to look up this Brother David guy. He is just really fascinating.” So I brought up somebody's computer and I looked him up and all I could think of was, “Darn it! I should have been interviewing Brother David! He would have been the perfect primary source for the paper I was working on in college!” Forget the life questions I just wanted to graduate college, and I missed this amazing opportunity to talk to a trailblazer in the whole field of interreligious dialogue. And so it was pretty funny because I was like, “Man I missed a great opportunity for my college paper on what was it -- the Eightfold Path of Buddhism in the Civil Rights Movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.” And then about a month later after the conference when I'm still kind of kicking myself for not interviewing Brother David after the conference, I end up getting an email in my inbox from one of the conference organizers they said, “Brother David would like to request your contact information to be in contact.” I'm just like, “Yeah sure no problem whatever!”
We start exchanging emails probably like in the spring of 2009 and he pretty much just said, “I'm coming back to California and my usual travel assistants aren't available, and I know that you're California-based and I thought maybe you would enjoy a couple of weeks assisting me and we would get to know each other better.” And I just kind of decided to say yes. So I took up Brother David on his offer, and at the time I was actually working on a political campaign in Phoenix, Arizona, and the candidate that I was working for had been in the seminary and thought he was going to be a priest. Eventually he left the seminary and led a life of public service but when he heard that that this important figure, Brother David had invited me for a couple of weeks, he basically kind of made me to leave the campaign for two weeks and said, “Don't worry politics will be around forever, and as much as I love, and would need your support in helping to get elected, you should go and see what this invitation is about. This is about the rest of your life I think.” And so I said, “Okay thanks.”
I took 2 weeks off the campaign, went out to lovely California and spent time with Brother David at Tassajara and we hit it off just pretty fast, and I thought those were going to be the only two weeks that I would ever spend with him. At the end of two weeks I thanked him profusely, not for the answers to Big Life questions that he was offering but just really for the example. I really appreciated who he was as a person, he deeply spent every moment of his life reminding himself of what you might call essential self, true self whatever you want to call it, and also helping others recall that for themselves. I thought that was pretty profound and inspiring to hear him, as he spoke from a place of grateful living it just made such sense to me, because where I grew up we were grateful for the gift of life and that’s why we worked for the equal treatment of all forms of life, and so when he was talking about grateful living I was just like, “Oh,this is another amazing grandparent figure!” And that's really what it became over time. Me assisting Brother David to get around to make his global rounds and lecturing and sharing at all kinds of different retreats and conferences, but at the end of it all he really became another grandparent. And it went from kind of a working relationship to a much more close and personal relationship over time, as I was assisting and aiding him over the course of really much of his eighties, and he didn't really slow down until recently, when I settled back in the Bay Area to work with Alameda County -- now to start working with an educational non-profit the educational trust in West Oakland. And so since then he’s kind of slowed down quite a bit now that he's in his upper 80s. I told him he needs to start acting his age a little bit!
Nipun: I don't think retirement has quite worked out, right? Despite being in his 90s now!?
Anthony: Not at all! He’s still traveling still staying busy.
Nipun: So you were probably traveling full-time with Brother David for many years?
Anthony: I think for about 7 years. I say, “I think”, because literally the years just start to blend together. At first, we thought it was going to be traveling just in the summertime and then it turned into travel in the summer and then early fall, and then it turned into late spring, summer and then early fall, and before you knew it we were planning out our calendar a year and a half in advance. Making plans to go to Australia, to go to Hong Kong, to end up in Tunisia, and all of a sudden to be invited to the TED conferences, just amazing places where I knew Brother David could be such a beam of light, a radiant beam many people are yearning for all over the world. It was amazing, it’s so fun to be with somebody who even at the ripe age of eighty years old tells everybody, “I shouldn’t even be buying green bananas,” to be able to still be discovering his own apex was just phenomenal. I still feel that there are great heights for Brother David to reach. It's fun to try and assist him in any small way to reach those heights. I feel very honored and lucky to have been his travel companion, even when it wasn't always easy. Nipun, I’m sure you know about some of those times when traveling with Brother David would get very trying on me but it all helped me to grow.
Nipun: What I'm wondering about is how 20-year-old with this incredible legacy, studying in college, meets this Benedictine monk and feels this inner call to serve him quiet ways for 7 years -- what others might call the prime years of your life. You could’ve started a movement, you could’ve built up your resume, so many. But you chose this. What was going on through your mind at the moment?
Anthony: To be completely frank, when I finished college with a Religious Studies degree I was like, “Now what?” I didn’t really know. I was really fortunate, as the first in your family to go to college usually your parents are pretty practical. They want you to get a business degree or Comp Sci degree, they want you to do a degree that leads to a really strong career and profession. I was so lucky even with my father -- he without a college degree built a less than a million dollar non-profit into a more than half a billion in assets non-profit, so he’s a very sharp person and I think I'm very lucky that he didn’t force -- didn’t really push me much harder to do something much more practical. He allowed me the liberty of being able to study and learn about all these different topics myself. Because I think it was something he didn't have a chance to do and he so appreciated that his kids were having the chance to do that. I’m really lucky that my parents didn’t have stricter demands on what I should do with my studies. But then after I was done I was like, “What’s next? What do I do?” And this opportunity from Brother David came at just the point in time where it seemed like that was the best thing to do. I didn’t really have an idea if I wanted to be involved in politics or in education.
All those things were still uncertain to me, unclear. And so when Brother David offered this opportunity it seemed like a great opportunity to be of service to someone who had a pursuit that was larger than their own life and seemed to be making a real impact in the world. And I figured it would be a great way to learn about so many other things. And so I took it on in that vein. But there was another part of me as the child of my dad and as the grandchild of my grandfather, sometimes there were people who would offer us certain things because we met them in certain spaces. They would be like “come intern with us” or “come over here and work on this campaign with us”. So there were always offers and opportunities, well not always but interesting offers and opportunities. We would just say no because we felt awkward, we felt it was only being offered because of our name or because we just happened to be in this exclusive room. So for a long time I would feel awkward when people made offers like that. But I got to a certain part of my life where I said you know these offers enable me to get my foot in the door and with my other foot I could be non-violent but kick down the door so that more and more people could get into rooms like this and have all these opportunities. So when Brother David made that offer I was at a place where I was just trying to say yes to more things. Because I had always been nervous or apprehensive. I would give it thought and analysis paralysis would set in and I wouldn't make a decision. When Brother David offered I said, “Why not?” That was my response, “Sure why not. What else am I going to be doing?” And it became just an incredible affair. There were amazing friends that we made all over the globe. It was amazing. Just great. I grew in so many ways that I knew of, that I had set myself out to do.
When you called me a reluctant seeker, or spiritualist, I forget exactly how you put it, it was the perfect description. Because I think in a lot of ways I am a reluctant spirituality type. Because often times I have to go back to Brother David after being on the road, at all these retreats and all these types of places and just confide in him "Brother David I've hit my spiritual brick wall I just can't do this any more. I need to talk politics. I need mundane things in my life while this is just too much”. He would laugh and say “You know what Anthony, you are absolutely right, you shouldn't have to.” And he would give me space. He would tell me,”Take off, don't come to this next session of the retreat. Take off and find some kids in the city and go skateboarding with them.” So he was very encouraging in that way too. He didn't force me to always be in every meditation session. Truthfully I think I will say that in all of years that I travelled with Brother David I think probably meditated like actual sit down meditation 15 times. Usually whenever there was a meditation session it was free time for me. I would go walking, I would read. It's funny I have recently received an invitation from the Museum of Meditation Society or something like that to do an interview. I am like, “I don't know what we are going to talk about. I don't meditate.” I probably should now.
Nipun: That’s amazing, to have this opportunity with Brother David. Anthony is downplaying himself a bit. If you were to see him in circle, you would see his shining spirit -- and Brother David clear tapped into it. And Brother David is quite intuitive himself. I remember how one of my friends was in the audience and Brother David passed by him casually after a talk; hundred of people are there and he asks my friend, “May I look into your eyes?” And my friend had a profound mystical experience. So that kind of a monk is inviting a 20-year-old to be his travel assistant -- when, really, so many others would be happy to take that role. So he clearly saw something in you, Anthony, that maybe you are too humble to talk about or that you may not even be conscious of. But I think Brother David shares the same fondness of you that you have of him.
Anthony: Yeah I don't know. That is such a funny question. I’ve asked myself so long, "Why me? Why me?". Because literally from the first day that I started telling people I was his executive assistant or his travel companion, I forget what term I was using when we first started, people would tell me "Oh my God you have the dream job. How did you apply for that?”. I don't even know, it kind of found me. I never knew the response and you're right it was one of those things where you just didn't realise what position you are in until you met other people who really would have given up everything. There were a couple of people who stepped in and really supported Brother David at periods where it wasn't working for me. So there was a young man from Colombia as a matter-of-fact, Philippe, who was helping out Brother David on a couple of occasions where I just had to tell Brother David, “I have to get away from this stuff, I have to pull out. I know this is great and I really think it's valuable and I respect what you are doing and I want to support you but right now it is not feeding me. And I need to get out of it, I need to just find something else.” I think one time I took off pretty early on in our travels and I think I was in Spain with him right after Sangama which was a good experience I got to share with Nipun and Guri more recently towards the end of our travels. But early on when we were at one of the first Sangamas I was just so tired and exhausted that I told them I had to leave his side and he understood. So he allowed me to leave. I came home for a couple of weeks. When I came home my girlfriend at the time was laughing. She said "Well you're not going to come back here and mope. Don't think you're going to come back to me and pick up the pieces." She was like "You better get out there and work on that Obama campaign". And that was exactly what I needed to feel my core. So I went. I worked on the Obama campaign for three weeks and two weeks in Colorado. I had a phenomenal time and ended up being part of that victorious final stretch. That was what I needed. Then I returned and ended up being with him until the end of that year. That was great.
Nipun: How did you contrast the Obama campaign to being with Brother David? Maybe they seem similar to you but they are very different in energy. A political campaign, fighting for social justice, versus quietly upholding inner values like gratitude and contemplation.
Anthony: I would say that from me it triggers a lot of the same kind of energy and excitement. It comes expressed in different ways. With Brother David being on the road I saw the huge level of demands and how much he was giving of himself. I was thinking this guy is going to give of himself until the very end. So what I tried to do was to be a buffer. I tried to handle more things and I tried to really be a task manager if you will. Even though he is such a perfectionist and knows exactly what needs to be done. I tried to think that I could help them do all those things. He really didn't need all the help, I think he just appreciated the companionship. Because sometimes it gets lonely on the road. I can see how going through all of these experiences and not being able to share them with anyone could get trying in its own way. Because you are trying to maintain your own inner light and to encourage others. So when I was with brother David I followed this global campaign to build this global ethic and virtue of grateful living. To revive it. People already know it's there, to bring it back to life. So for me it was very much about strategy and tactics. I was like we are here in the room and I know that X,Y and Z people here and I know that they are connected with this conference and they are associated with that foundation. So we've got to get in front of them and we have got to find a way to be their friend. I am not going to lie, I made it like that, that's how it was for me. This guy is way too brilliant to not be in these bigger venues. To be sharing that place with major influencers. Not to say that the groups we were sharing with were not influential themselves and that we cannot all influence in a small way in our own path. But to me I also thought that it was important to try and get him into bigger venues, like TED. To try and get him out towards the World Economic Forum. To try and get into different settings where people were talking about mission, vision, values. Where people were talking about wisdom and all these things. And here is this amazing individual who can articulate all that so eloquently and clearly that it would make sense for your life even if you were some stockbroker on Wall Street in New York City. That's what I wanted to do, to get him into different places where it would make sense for people from all different aspects of life. The thing was that he had done that before. Brother David had shared with the Green Berets in the past. He had shared with the Rockefeller foundation. He had shared with all of these very interesting groups. I was just trying to get him out into more contemporary groups that were just as interesting. Where he could share a message that would be slightly subversive. And would maybe get them to think just a little bit differently. You never know what those impacts could be.
Nipun: Can you give us an example of this skilfull transformation? Brother David on Wall Street talking about gratitude to all these investment bankers, for example. You have seen him in so many diverse settings.
Anthony: One example that comes to mind because it's funny and I think a lot of the folks online will laugh at this. One time we were in Boston and we've been invited to go out to Boston to be part of a panel with the Dalai Lama. Dalai Lama, Brother David and Father Thomas Keating of the Centering in Prayer movement. Brother David and I had been having this long conversation for like a year and a half, two years about how mindfulness as important as what it represents, is not enough. And it's kind of like the difference between tolerance and acceptance. You can only tolerate something up to a certain point and then you're going to do something about it, whereas acceptance is really just accepting of what it is. I felt that mindfulness as important as it was, wasn't really quite yet what I thought was the underpinning of what made me so interested in Buddhism, which is the cessation of suffering. I felt like too much of the mindfulness was just an exercise to be aware, but not really to apply that awareness. And so we had this conversation for a long time and Brother David reminded me that it takes time, you can't just go straight to the goal line, and you know the mindfulness may be the first start and you know that people talking about happiness and mindfulness is a good start and I would say “Yeah you're right, but we also try to you know get people to see the finish line.” So when talking with the Dalai Lama he had this question that he had been working on for a long time about - isn't it really about mindful engagement and not just mindfulness and Dalai Lama said, “Yes exactly you're right,” and it was just so great that in a small way Brother David in a very quiet and humble way but also very dedicated way was really trying to get to the heart of the matter. It almost kind of upstaged the Dalai Lama at his big event and it was so funny to listen to Brother David's responses and to hear just the deep heart sighs from the audience members as he was sharing and I teased him at the end of the day saying, “I don't know if you're supposed to upstage the Dalai Lama, you may have almost done that.” He was laughing and laughing and said, “Don't worry but I'm sure that's why he came to share all of that.”
That to me was a really proud moment because it was part of a conversation that Brother David and I had been having for a long time and me coming at things from a much more political stance and always wanting to see kind of a final action in coming at it from the inner curation and the culmination of the spiritual process you know was really happy to see that too. And so I felt like that was one of those places where together we did something.
You know another time was when we were sharing with the group of major entrepreneurs here in American business. So folks like the owner and founder of Whole Foods, folks from the Container Store and some folks from Wal-Mart and all these places. And there's a very contentious conversation going on with some climate change deniers in the audience and the conversation was just getting really off base. And me being the political kind of activist you would have thought I was one who would have been up in arms and saying things like, “This is so wrong and backward.” And it was actually Brother David, he just kind of felt frustrated, he felt like the conversation was not moving as he wanted to and and so I had to take a little walk with him and spend some time and remind him that this might be the only time you get a chance to be in a room with this type of individuals and slowly by just trying to remember you know the opportunity that we had in our midst you know we were able to to get re-centered and refocused and then Brother David did a really good job of turning around the conversation and looking at a different focal point and being able to get everybody to arrive at that focal point which really helped to guide the conversation for the rest of the convening. Because it was almost to the point where like some of the crucial partners were getting ready to leave because they felt it was just such a stalemate. I felt proud to help Brother David to think through and to coach him and try to help him deescalate the situation. And little things like that.
Nipun: Traveling with Brother David, you’ve probably met all kinds of diverse people -- and experienced lots of fun moments. For instance, I know Dalai Lama and Brother David are so close that Dalai Lama will even pull Brother David’ eyebrows. :) Outside of your two remarkable grandfathers, are there any particular folks that feel like role models to you, in these current times? Perhaps people creatively bridging inner and outer change?
Anthony: Yeah I think there's some folks who are doing it in bigger and smaller ways.
So,there's one friend who I was very fortunate to help out with a project to get started. It's called the Wellbeing project, looking at developing these inner resources for some of our big social entrepreneurs and societies around the globe. I helped him get our projects get seed funded with some different foundations. So I'm really proud of my friend Aaron Pereira, what he is doing on the Wellbeing project even though sometimes I don't always fully see the vision and I don't understand why that project it's so important as opposed to some real immediate issues. I do see the importance of cultivating those values and real potential social societal influencers. Influencers for good social entrepreneurship. Really exciting, individuals out there doing good.
Some of my friends in and around California and the East Bay area, doing some really interesting, profound kind of inner developmental spiritual work with formerly incarcerated and system impacted youth and adults. So there are some groups like Fathers and Families of San Joaquin who are doing some really phenomenal work out in some very blighted and distraught areas of California, trying to bring back real hope and real positivity in helping folks to identify their inner community roots.
There's another group in East Oakland called CURYJ - Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice. They are doing some really phenomenal work and looking at indigenous spiritual practices to ground young Latino males primarily in the right path. There are some other neat groups out there. A group called Nupa again, also looking at Latinos’ indigenous spiritual traditions and to try to help get that inner clarity to be able to make those right movements outwardly in the in the world. So those groups are pretty exciting.
This isn't just to say it because we are on the phone together Nipun, but I have a lot of respect for what you do and what ServiceSpace represents, and the movement that you're engendering in the world. So I really want to thank you and really take this time, this moment to thank you for being such a great encourager of me. You said somethings that I carry deeply in my heart and that I continue to use as a guiding light. So I look to you Nipun, for what you're doing in the world that I really respect that, even when I don't understand how you're doing it and the faith and where it comes from. Time and time again I see how it works out. I think that's an amazing testament. So I applaud you and the ServiceSpace network because I know it's not just you, it's everyone. You remind everybody, so I appreciate the way that you live in that embodiment.
Of course my friend brother David and so many people and it's scary to be able to see that and to appreciate that knowledge for what it is in it’s own place and in its own way and to remember that each one of those bigger and smaller dots although they may seem isolated they're always pushed in the same direction, a kind of life affirming and life reaffirmation and kind of the virtue and cultivation of even greater life.
Nipun: I know Amit had a comment or an announcement before we continue here.
Amit: Well, to continue to embarrass Nipun, I definitely share your gratitude as well about all the work Nipun has done and continues to inspire so many of us.
Nipun: Wait, that’s not an announcement, I mean that's totally not allowed, that's like hijacking the mic. If you have any questions, please press *6 or email us.
Liz: Anthony, thank you for sharing everything that you have done. I think I met your grandmother or your aunt or one of them in Napa at one of the Cesar Chavez ceremonies. A fantastic moment. I was just humbled by the opportunity to sit next to her and share a meal with her. I was like ecstatic for the next three hundred sixty five days. My question is in regards to more the female influence you had. Can you talk a little bit more about that?
Anthony: Absolutely. I appreciate you Liz for bringing that important focal point. I don't get enough opportunities or maybe make enough opportunities to talk about this. The keystone roles that women have played in my own life, first and foremost my own mother who I say is my heart and my dad who is my head. But it's ultimately the heart that cooks the brain. I give my mom immense credit. Going back another generation I remind people that there would be no Cesar Chavez without Helen Chavez. She is probably one of the biggest most overlooked individuals in the entire farm worker movement. So I think you're probably heard of Dolores Huerta, who has been celebrated as an important figure in the civil rights movement, but there are you know so many other people but I remind people that there would have been no Cesar Chavez without my grandmother who made the decision together with my grandfather as to whether or not they were going to quit their jobs and their steady lives that they had in that middle class America in the East L.A. and give that all up to go back to the same field, their family had left. So really if it wasn't for my grandmother making that choice to put her own family's lives in jeopardy and making that decision to go back to work in the fields after she had had the fortune of getting the chance to actually leave the field and having to take her children back into the field to earn the money that they needed to provide for themselves while my grandfather was trying to form this movement, it never would have happened.
So you're absolutely correct, my grandmother is a reflection of what many other families went through. Again we're talking about very humble farm workers who make next to nothing so the decision to quit your job is a life threatening choice and it really was a decision that I imagine in many families was probably ultimately made by the mother, because the mother was the one who was really I'm sure you know most often and always thinking about how are we going to take care of our children. I am glad that you mentioned that. It's rather unfortunate and the way that history is rendered in the large popular form, where it's one person one placement time. Here again when I talk about my grandfather, it doesn't go without talking about the role that the many women played in his life and then you look at my grandfather's life, his lessons of non violence came from his mother the same way that Gandhi’s lessons of nonviolence came from his mother. So if you look at the role that anima has played and the feminine spirit has played, it's always been there. I think sadly it's been understated and under acknowledged. But I feel that now more so than ever as we talk about this compassionate service, this is the moment of anima, the feminine spirit. I think more and more as we see what the value shift and what the kind of ethical appropriateness is gauged by, I think we see it much more and more shifting back towards a celebration of the feminine spirit and all of those values. I don't think we need to genderize it, but I think that there definitely is a growing recognition that this feminine spirit is going to be the spirit to guide us in the next generation plus for sure.
Nipun: I just want to follow up on Liz’s question and ask you for a specific anecdote, because you often say that it is your mom that gave you your heart. Can you share an anecdote where your mother taught you this lesson of love, of generosity, of an open heart?
Anthony: Yeah sure. I think for my mom when she grew up,their family lived through some very hardscrabble times. That’s why I really love my mom and all of her family because while I was living with one half of my family with this last name Chavez and all of the interesting and exciting opportunities afforded to us, I would go back and I would spend the summer with my mom's family and some of my cousins were still working in the fields in order to pay for their clothes for school that year. Some of my cousins were going through some really tough times and just all of those things that remind you that how fortunate we were how lucky we were.
And so my mom growing up and coming from that, she knew and she kept us very humble and very grounded and kept us in place. So even though when I was growing up we were getting free and reduced lunch, government assisted programs and stuff like that, and going to free health clinics, I remember my mom would still always be collecting things to donate that we had outgrown and stuff that we weren’t using that we're dropping that off at the Boys and Girls shelters and clubs in the area. I remember times when we would be at events and there would be altercations between some individuals and fistfights. My mom was the first one running into the crowd to break up the fights and we were also worried, because she didn't want anybody harming anyone. And I could think of times when my mom was just always showing up and just doing without really asking or prompting whatever was needed to be done.
And then I think about all the time that she spent with us individually nurturing us. As I was going to college which was something she had never experienced but she would just sit and listen to me endlessly talk about all of what I thought were my trials and tribulations of the moment and she would still offer up a response that didn't seem trite that didn't seem as if she was trying to act like something that she hadn't been but would just offer up wisdom from her own place and listen to something that you could honor and respect and didn't try to over impose on you where you were coming from and I think that was a tremendous thing to learn from my mom and just her immense level of patience it's something that I still aspire for. So yeah it's just numerous things that I could point to and call out.
So yes I really do do mean that when I say my mom is my heart, and my dad is my head.
Amit: I know you talk about a lot of the sacrifices that the family has made, your grandfather and grandmother, your parents. When you think about your life, about how you can be that change, what sort of sacrifices or challenges that you brought up on yourself to represent who you want to be?
Anthony: Yeah.That's a really good question. I'm not even sure that I have a response for that right now. But that's a very real question and something I've been contemplating much much more lately. You know I've had a have had a very privileged life I've been very very fortunate. I haven't had a lot of material and means, but I've had great opportunities and wonderful friends and family and other riches of life aside from material riches. I entertain there's a very unique opportunity to somebody like Brother David, which was just another huge heaping amount of blessing in my life that I just knew would put me in such karmic debt that I just don't even know.
It's too vague to say that I try to spend all of my time thinking about how I could give it back because there is no specific an exact way. But I do know that for the rest of my life all I want to think about is how I can give back the immense level of multiple lives worth of the blessings that I've been offered and I'm still trying to figure out what is the right way to offer all of that back.
So I don't know. I guess I think that I always try to challenge myself to say yes when I when I'm feeling no. And I always try to challenge myself to think about what so many other people did before me with so much less and I try to think about how I have a great fortune and privilege of much more and how much more I hopefully can be doing. And I try not to make a burden. I think I make that too much of a burden frankly. It is just always focusing on how much less people had and how much more they did in relative terms and how much more I have and how much less I feel like I'm doing today. I try not to let that burden me but sometimes it bothers me. I feel like I wish I could do things with a bigger impact, bigger bang. Bold, audacious, noble goal. I don't know what that is yet.
Amit: I appreciate you taking the time in sharing.that.
Nimo: Hey brother Anthony, I feel very honored and humbled to hear your very authentic sharing brother. Thank you. When I think of your lineage and kind of your journey, this idea of planting seeds comes to my mind. So many seeds have been planted and you’ve harvesting the blessings -- but also paying it forward to the next generation. I'm just curious, what's your work with the children? What is the engagement that you have with them?
Anthony: Yeah, you know thank you for your question and for your kind compliments. I think it's a really great image and metaphor -- planting seeds. That’s what I felt that I did for a long time aid to peace and call myself as Johnny Appleseed. Other times I used to call myself as subversive with a smile and sometimes in a positive prerogative are used to say as well, because I had the great fortune of being able to go and share in many schools around California and around the nation and even abroad. I got a chance to share and so oftentimes what I was doing was just trying to remind students by radically being committed to their abundant sense of curiosity and caring and really committing themselves to wanting to make the world a better place and to share all of its glory with everyone and that you can do tremendous things.
I always try to say yes to any invitation and so sometimes that means I was going to your most exclusive private schools in all of Los Angeles and San Francisco and other big cities around the nation. In other times, then I was going to some of your most impoverished schools where there were literally holes in the roof and other times I was going to juvenile justice centers where some of the youth I was talking to are probably never going to leave prison and at that time they were in their fifties and on and on and on. But I think in each and every place the message was always the same about “yes we can” and how even your own life even if you're not able to to give back in as big of ways and even if you may be in prison for a long time you could still use your own life and the lessons that you've learned to help inspire, to motivate and so organize others. Oftentimes it was one of the things I would talk about with some of the youths who were locked up and who were thinking hard about their former decisions and I would say look nobody knows better, nobody could be a better spokesman to the next generation to not follow this path than you and oftentimes I would hear from some of the young imprisoned men that was exactly what they were trying to do with cousins and siblings whenever they got a chance to talk to them, to try to help keep them focused and not trip up on the same stumbling stone that they had it hit in their very own lives.
It's always just trying to take the time in the moment when a teacher tells you, “Oh the student of yours is going through some hard time”, but I really think that talking to you would just make a little bit of a difference and just making yourself available could, you never know out of all of the students that you're out there reaching, talking to who might be the next Barack Obama in that little audience, who might be the next Michelle Obama, who might be the next whoever is your favorite idol out there in that audience. So, I always try to take my time and give whatever I could to those young students and I think that was very affirming because I was just reminded of what my friend Brother David used to do. Just taking the time and just trying to make everybody in that room feel like that was exactly where you all needed to be in that moment and that was one of the things I was really grateful for and I was just sharing that with Amit before we got started on the call.
I was looking at my Facebook social media profile, it has these little reminders about where you've been in the past been for the last couple of years that had all of these reminders of the schools that I was visiting and sharing and it just brought back such fond and warm memories about being in all those spaces and sharing and just hopefully in believing that the simple lessons you shared are still continuing on and carried on. I see those as a kind of a way of just kind of keeping the light alive lighting lot of new candles and I feel really thankful for all of those opportunities. It is ultimately what brought me into my work and wanting me to look more broadly at education systems as do all of the school sharing opportunities.
Nipun: An anonymous online question has just come in -- You've done so much at such a young age; where do you see yourself in five to ten years?
Anthony: Oh those five to ten year questions -- so hard, so hard! I think the hardest part when I think about your tough question is the fact growing up we were always taught to think kind of in terms of we and us and so when I started getting into college and they started out it's like what do you want to do with your life and all that stuff turns out to be singular. But what I would like to be a part of in five to ten years is be part of this educational equity movement that we're building in California and across the nation to ensure that we have high standards for all of our children and that's specially that our most vulnerable and needy students are really getting the support and services that they need in order to thrive for the new economy and to be part of changing that global space.. Here is a different hue or different representation of demographics but how we can adjust ourselves to better be ready for the future that's ahead of us, so I look forward to working on that. I don't know potentially maybe you'd like ten years maybe I would be interested to get into all that city politics. I think that's something that I find interesting and I think is important and I hope more people are really thinking about the importance of being locally and civically involved because that’s where the most important decisions are being made. Maybe once they decide to put some roots down somewhere maybe I'll think about trying to get involved in the local school board or maybe a local city council. I find those decisions that are being made that impact our lives in a visible and inordinate ways are important decisions that we need to talk, think about together. So yes I think those are maybe the biggest figures in the next five to ten years.
Amit: Thank you Anthony. I think in your response I couldn't help notice how it was difficult for you to answer it from a me perspective but rather from a we perspective and and you said that it is part of sort of your upbringing. I'm curious, what part your upbringing or what sort of things did your family do to instill that type of a value when you're looking at it from where “we” going to be and the “we” being even larger than family? I think especially even in our ServiceSpace community, there are a lot of young parents that are thinking about ways to instill those type of values in their kids, so they think much more beyond themselves, their career and so on. A shift from what’s in this for me to what's in this for we?
Anthony: Yeah, you know it's a really good question because growing up I just thought everybody really was like this and then I realized that wasn't always the case. I think one of the things I was lucky was from and from an early age I think our parents are always reminding us how interconnected we were, how indebted we were to others that we just didn't do things alone and for ourselves. I think they remind us of the great web of interconnections, they probably wouldn't say it in that language. I think there was some very basic level of grateful living going on and I think just those simple moments of helping young people to choose to respect the complexity in the inner interconnectedness of life. Again I don't think that's how they explained it to us but that they just reminded us that we're all in it together and they let us that together we are better. And then I think through basic lessons of respect really helping children resee the world. The word respect reminds us to resee and resee the world over and over again I think that’s how I was able to arrive in this place. And of course direct action, there's nothing better than going out and being of service and having that feeling and walking away from those shared experiences and realising even with the few couple hours or with a small afternoon you can make a difference and that difference will make a difference for you than you would imagine as time goes on. I think direct experience is probably the best way and it is probably the best conversation you can even have.
Nipun: Speaking of direct action, we do have an online comment from Marc: “What inspires me about elders and the conversation here is the image of the tree of life where all humans and other living beings are interconnected in and interdependent that's very strong. Every food, every bite of food, traces back to the work of thousands of farm workers, truckers, machinists, engineers road workers. These utility workers, clothing makers and so on there is no other, only when we think of another as an enemy it is because we have not heard their story, walked and tripped up on their past as we have on ours.” I guess the question that I want to end with here as a follow up to Mark's comment is: how do you process such inter-connectedness in our current era of intense fragmentation? How do you process it, and what do you think Cesar Chavez would do? How does Brother David response? How do we rediscover the richness of diversity and blur these boundaries between us and them?
Anthony: Yeah, I think everybody's chomping on that question right now. Sadly, I think there's something in us that really appreciate the dichotomies, the black and whiteness of situations and I think it doesn't really help that the media thrives on these black the white stories that makes things so polarized. When we polarize things and we just make it black and white, it takes away from where life really happens which is in the gray space. I think that’s what's tough and we as creatures just want things to make meaning and to make sense to be in order and that it could seem very black and white and when things seem gray and it's questionable we put out our projections, our fears, and our assumptions, and opinion to what we think help demystify that space but really it only convolutes it. So I don't know, it's tough. I think the best way to try to get beyond that other is to try to making you an uncommon friend, to try to listen. One of the things that I enjoy when I'm traveling is actually talking to people traveling alone and just trying to hear a little bit about their story and what they're up to what they're doing. Reading, I think is a great way to try to remove the otherness. If we could remember that each and every individual person is kind of going through their own life's journey. I think we can try to remember that no person is ever fully completed and that there are always still that work in progress I think that might be where we're maybe we could focus as you know although this person may be seen as resolutely committed to one standpoint or one perspective, there's still a work in progress and that it's just about trying to find where that opening is to try to help them shift their own perspective and hopefully yours in the same process.
So that's just a really, really big question and I think it's one that we're all going to be entertaining for a long time and all of our work and I look forward to coming up with absolution together and I do really want to thank Mark for the comment about how all of the things that were intertwined in starting around the dinner plate at the dinner table. I think that's actually one of the best ways that I really have to tribute that to so many important life lessons that I learned from my family was really by being around the dinner table, able to share that precious quality time around the dinner table to have those conversations about like yes where did yours come from and all of the many things that affects on your way as it arrives to your dinner plate. Even as you're done and you keep throwing away, put it into the trash to continue keep thinking about where it goes and where it ends up. I think those things are all very important and fortunately more and more people are thinking in that term, new larger systemic term. I do feel hopeful that our young people be well poised to try to help deal with the new level of complexity and this ever changing world but together we're going to find the solutions not any one person is going to have to answer .
Nipun: Thank you Anthony. Before we close out the call, one last bit: when the world feels overwhelming when you get down, what ignites the optimism in you?
Anthony: Really good question. I was feeling pretty pretty burnt out the other day and not really feeling in all the greatest periods but I could try to go for a hike. I had to go for a hike you know go up into the mountains and just kind of pull away from things for a little bit. Fortunately there are some nice hills up above the East Bay Area where I live and often times that's my refuge. Sometimes it can occur up out in the country I have to end up back in the mountains to kind of find some serenity and some clarity and other times it's when I have the energy and when it's nice and warm out I like to go down to the skate park and I like to go hang out at the skate park with some of the young folks there and just remember all of the abundance of energy that we have, the creative approaches that we all bring and to think about just doing things differently and that's why I like to go and hang out with the kids up at skate park. It always revives me with that sense of energy and playfulness and I think I could also be really helpful in these times.
Amit: I would like to keep this call going but want to be respectful of your time and everyone else’s and there's so many other questions and would love to learn -- like that paper turn on Buddha's Noble Eightfold path and the life of MLK. Can we get copies of it? There is one final question, though: How can we, as a larger ServiceSpace community, support your work? The next Anthony Chavez campaign or a social movement or a spiritual journey?
Anthony: It's a really good question. Really, what I would say is to find the things that makes you come alive. I think that's where you need to put your time and your energy into what makes you most excited, the most enthusiastic because that’s where you are going to give most freely and willingly and it's not going to feel contrived or preconceived. Anything like that it's just going to happen for you being naturally. And I just think because of the way my life experiences played out it got me very fascinated in politics and education and I think for other people it's going to be other systems.
I think if there's any one thing that I would like to invite people more and more and to be attuned to, I would like to invite folks to be in more attuned to see how the personal is political or how all of the small little daily decisions are also in a way reinforcing or perpetuating the type of larger societal structures we want to see. So when I teach my students, who more often than not are not of the voting age, I remind them still, with every small dollar that they have that's a vote for you know what type of world they want, where they place those clicks on the Internet shows the world where they want to focus their attention, what they think is important, and so all of those small daily decisions are for the types of things that we want in our world, and so to think about how the personal is political I think is what I want to invite everyone to do the small choices they can shape about larger courses of our society.
Amit: That’s beautiful. And I can’t wait to see what blooms from the seed that you've been planting with all of these children. Thank you so much for your time today for sharing all of these beautiful insights and all these wonderful experiences whether it was with your grandfather, your family or Brother David and just along your journey. We really really appreciate that. Especially this call to reflect on how the personal is political and we can make a choice. Our choices really do matter, no matter how small they may play and so thank you.
Anthony: Yeah, thank you all very much. I really really appreciate the opportunity and I hope that in listening to the conversation of two friends, Nipun and myself, you're able to garner some lessons for yourself.
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