Advocate, Activist, SDFP Citizen Journalist
By Anna Daniels
Last night, November 30, KPBS presented the 2016 Local Heroes Celebration at the Kitchens for Good at the Jacobs Center. KPBS and their partner Union Bank have been hosting this event since 1998 as a way to “showcase what is good in our communities”.
It is impossible to showcase what is good in our communities without showcasing the people in our communities who do good. Sixteen heroes who reflect the strengths and challenges of San Diego’s diverse communities were honored for the unique way they do good. Jeeni Criscenzo, who is known to the San Diego Free Press community as a vocal, fearless and tireless advocate for homeless women and children was one of those honorees.
Jeeni was one of the founders of the non-profit Amikas in 2009. “Amikas addresses homelessness with affordable, innovative housing solutions for the San Diego Region’s most vulnerable population – women and children, with a focus on military veterans.”
She has shown that homeless women and children are undercounted, consigning the most vulnerable among us to streets and canyons. Jeeni has advocated for a village of tiny houses to address the immediate need of these women and children for physical safety while long term housing is being pursued. She writes in prose and poetry about the lives of homeless women at the San Diego Free Press in her column My Niche.
As a citizen journalist, Jeeni has educated the progressive community about the policies we need and the funding that is necessary to provide transitional and permanent housing for women and children. She has inspired editors and contributors alike to make homelessness a central issue at SDFP.
In her acceptance speech last night Jeeni acknowledged the importance of the sheroes in the room that include her friends and colleagues of Women Occupy San Diego, “an independent organization of San Diego County women dedicated to creating an equitable economic system and restoring government for and by the people rather than for corporations and the wealthy”.
She thanked activist Martha Sullivan, founder of Grassroots Oasis, a progressive community space that puts local music, art and the spoken word first. Jeeni recognized musician Steph Johnson who co-founded with Nina Leilani Voices of Our City Choir for people experiencing homelessness and those who support them; and editor Anna Daniels at San Diego Free Press, noting the importance of an independent media.
Jeeni understands that it takes a village and she knows how to build one.
The rough beast in the room
For the ensuing two hours, the sixteen honorees spoke about the values they believe in and the work they do to make those values tangible and meaningful to San Diegans. What went unspoken but hung in the room like a foul whiff of sulfur was the name “Donald Trump”. For eighteen years the Local Heroes Celebration has showcased San Diego’s diversity and multi-culturalism. For eighteen years there has been a recognition that making a more perfect union is predicated upon inclusiveness and full and equal participation of every one of us in our society.
One of the first honorees to speak was eighty-six year old Rose Schindler. She and her husband Max are Holocaust survivors who speak about their experiences to young people to make sure that Hitler’s atrocities are neither forgotten nor happen again. The last honoree was Makeda Marianne Cheatom, founder of the WorldBeat Cultural Center, who urged us to “make music, art and dance the weapon.”
Rose and Makeda were bookends on the compelling, often deeply moving stories told by the other honorees. Each of these honorees exemplified some form of resistance– resistance to the lack of educational opportunities for segments of our society, to physical disabilities, to prejudice, stereotypes and ignorance. A number of them asked us to expand our support beyond San Diego to the efforts of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in North Dakota.
That unflagging spirit of resistance and personal courage is what is required of all of us to combat what lies ahead. We are grateful to Jeeni and all of the other 2016 honorees. Their voices are more vital than ever.