Wendy Hernandez
By Ben Falik

Even though I’ve never taken to yoga (the practice, not the pants; I love the pants), I have learned to notice when the light within someone else honors the light within me. Here are three people who lit my fire this week:

Wendy Hernandez is 16 years old, which makes me older than two Wendy Hernandezes. To be clear, I have wanted to grow up to be Wendy Hernandez since she was 13 and I was going on 30 and we were painting a basement bowling alley in Southwest Detroit.

Wendy climbed from the basement bowling alley to become the top-ranked student at Western International High School, then raised money online to fund her IQ test and Cranbrook application fees. The school offered her admission and a 50 percent scholarship. This might have ended up like a lottery ticket with half the winning numbers if Wendy’s mom hadn’t insisted they knock on the door of LA SED (Latin Americans for Social and Economic Development) to ask for help. LA SED now marshals the rest of the funds for tuition, room and board.

Why board? Along a route to Cranbrook much longer than Livernois and windier than Woodward, Wendy’s dad died, her sister turned 18 and moved out, and her mom had a new baby. Wendy had promised her dad that she would become a doctor and make him a new heart. That’s still her plan — she tried to explain but lost me at “cell scaffolding” — and I have total confidence in her to do this and virtually anything else, even if she did do yoga to satisfy Cranbrook’s gym requirement.

Wendy Hernandez

Ellen Cogen Lipton is Exhibit A in the case against term limits. Brilliant, tireless and principled, Ellen’s tenure in the House of Representatives ended before it could really begin. Maybe her most visible work in the House was demanding transparency and accountability from the Education Achievement Authority (EAA), a statewide school system for failing schools. Through Freedom of Information Act requests funded out of her own pocket, Ellen uncovered gross mismanagement — including unlawful, unethical discrimination against special education students.

Ellen came to speak to a group of Repair the World alternative spring break volunteers and made it clear that, term limits notwithstanding, her work is not yet done. It’s bigger than the EAA. Ellen described public education as the greatest democratic institution we’ve ever created — its politicization and monetization as devastating for young people and communities.

Rather than addressing the systemic poverty at the heart of the achievement gap, time-bound state legislators from gerrymandered districts bend to private interests and their lobbyists. Ellen is working to restore democracy to education in Detroit, to increase college matriculation through mentoring in Hazel Park and to be present for two teenage children who had to share their mom with Lansing for the last six years.

Jason Williams looks like the bouncer at a bar, if not the guy who gets kicked out. But the co-founder of Batch Brewing is very much at home behind the bar of Detroit’s first “nano brewery” at 1400 Porter St. in Corktown. Before long, our conversation moved from the Obscure Reference, an Imperial Stout made with Madagascar vanilla beans, to Jason’s studious 19-year-old daughter.

And then to the fact that, growing up in Southwest Detroit, eighteen of his friends had been killed in gang violence before he was her age. And, as a result, his hopes of getting kids off the streets by sending them to camp and having gang tattoos removed through the Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation. And his plans to scale these philanthropic efforts through a Feel Good Tap at Batch Brewing and elsewhere, with proceeds going to a variety of good causes. RT

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