"A Community of Blood: Jesuits, University Professors, and Worker Martyrs"
Rethink what your responsibility is to the truth.
That was the message Jon Sobrino, S.J., passed on to a packed Mundelein Auditorium on November 20. Sobrino, who helped found and taught at the University of Central America, was out of the country when the Salvadoran military killed six Jesuits, their housekeeper, and her daughter. Otherwise he very likely would have been killed as well.
“Our responsibility is to continue their struggle by speaking the truth and defending the poor,” Sobrino said.
For Sobrino, the martyrs’ deaths are a direct response to the work they were trying to accomplish during the country’s bloody civil war. The men were actively speaking out against the military’s brutality, political misdeeds, and the living conditions of the poor.
“Where we are tonight, it is important to remember that in our world today there continue to exist many victims who die from poverty, malnutrition, the absence or poor quality of health care, and from a lack of access to education,” Sobrino said. “There are innocent victims who die just because they live in dangerous places.”
Sobrino believes universities are in a position to fight for the truth and help the poor because governments and international groups often fail to address those issues.
After the martyrs’ deaths, Sobrino continued his work in Central America and has become a well-known liberation theologian. Before his address, Sobrino was presented with an honorary degree from Loyola for the work he has done as an educator, a scholar, and an advocate for the poor.
All About Attitude
Kerry Obrist (BS ’91, MEd ’96), who is legally blind, works on behalf of others with disabilities.
Kerry Obrist (BS ’91, MEd ’96) was working as a school psychologist in Chicago’s south suburbs when she realized she was losing her vision faster than expected. Recognizing that some activities were going to become more difficult for her, Obrist decided to challenge herself.
“I specifically did things that were outside my comfort zone. I wanted to experience things that I thought I might not be able to do later on,” Obrist says.
She traveled to South Africa, Egypt, and Turkey. She participated in a 500-mile bike ride. She took up photography. She learned how to rock climb. She went downhill skiing.
“Which I probably shouldn’t have done,” she notes.
Obrist was diagnosed with a genetic vision loss condition at age 23, and by age 30, the loss was disabling. In 1998, when she became legally blind, she had to stop driving. She became unable to recognize faces. While Obrist’s vision loss made many things tougher, she says it changed her for the better in unexpected ways.
“I know I became much more interesting as a visually impaired person,” she says. “I think I was maybe fun beforehand. But I became much more gregarious.
In a store, I have to ask someone if clothes match. I have to be more open to asking for help and being willing to admit I can’t do everything.”
Obrist went through rehabilitation, learning how to navigate the everyday by relying more heavily on her other senses, such as putting a key in a lock by mechanical memory, instead of by lining up what she saw with her eyes.
“It’s not like other forms of rehab—you’re not getting the vision back,” Obrist says. “It was just learning to use your mind in a different way. I’ve become a much better problem-solver. I have to be creative.”
Despite finding new ways of doing things and making resourceful adjustments, the vision loss made it challenging for Obrist to continue working as a school psychologist. Doing classroom observations of students from a distance and working with printed materials became impossible, and so Obrist left her position.
“It was frustrating, because I saw what I had been doing in a different light. I thought I was an effective school psychologist before, but I know I would have been even more so with the disability,” Obrist says.
She volunteered with various organizations and went on interviews, but found that employers seemed to lose interest once she disclosed her disability.
“After I divulged the issue, the atmosphere in the room would change,” Obrist recalls. “You could just hear the air go out. And it’s like, ‘Okay, thanks for coming in.’ And it would be over.”
But, after three years, Obrist found a way to turn her job-seeking experiences into an opportunity—for herself and for others. She started working at a nonprofit called Second Sense (at the time, the Catholic Guild for the Blind) which serves adults and children with vision loss. She worked as the education coordinator for two years, eventually becoming the director of services and developing career readiness programs that would help people with vision loss who wanted to return to the working world.
“I developed a program based on what I would have wanted during those three years without a job,” Obrist says. “I knew that I had the skills and the intellectual ability to do these jobs, I just didn’t know how to present myself to an employer. I think it was because, in the beginning, I had lost my confidence. I think I was defensive at times.”
She wanted to instill in those she worked with a sense of agency and confidence, along with practical tips—such as how to dress professionally for interviews. She also worked with senior citizens experiencing vision loss on how to navigate their homes and daily routines.
“We’re all human. We all have challenges. But we’ve all been given gifts,” Obrist says. “It’s that kind of attitude I want to share with other people who have been beaten down by life or the system or whatever. I think it really comes down to whether you perceive yourself as being in control of your life and your destiny, or if you’re going to be a victim of it.”
Obrist worked for Second Sense until 2009, when she started her own disability consulting business, consulting with various organizations about how to serve both customers and employees with disabilities.
“With a lot of advocacy organizations, the main goal is to get people with disabilities hired. We all need jobs. That’s all fine and good,” Obrist says. “But until employers and the general public are comfortable with people with disabilities, it’s an uphill battle. I had this brainstorm one day, and I thought, ‘I’m going to make these companies money.’”
Obrist thought if she could show companies how to welcome people with disabilities as customers, it would also go some way toward destigmatizing those disabilities. “Many Americans have a disability. It’s a huge market,” Obrist says. “And no one, or very few people, actually market to this group. People with disabilities need the same products and services. They want to go to dinner or the movies and enjoy life. But no one’s tailoring to them.”
Obrist has spent the last several years working to make organizations more open to and accommodating of people with disabilities. In 2014, she took a six-month position at DePaul’s Center for Students with Disabilities, working with staff to help them better understand their students and local employers to encourage them to think about hiring students or graduates with disabilities.
She also started a job club for students, helping them to hone interview and self-advocacy skills. Ultimately, Obrist says she is eager to continue her work helping others with disabilities and educating those without disabilities about how to be more accepting. She continues to create photography (pictured here), and her work has been accepted into numerous juried art shows. She also hopes to travel more, as she did when her vision had started to worsen, despite the challenges that might present.
“I’ve become much more of a risk-taker over the years than I was before I lost the vision,” Obrist says. “I think because I don’t take life for granted now, or what I have.”
Ramblers work as hard as they play
Loyola’s student-athletes achieved their highest-ever Graduation Success Rate score, according to the latest figures released by the NCAA. The Ramblers’ 96 percent GSR puts them in a tie for 16th nationally and is the highest among Missouri Valley Conference institutions. This marks the fifth consecutive year that Loyola has improved its GSR score.
The men’s basketball program compiled a perfect score of 100, the only MVC school with a grade higher than 90. It is one of six Loyola programs to earn the highest score, joining women’s soccer, women’s golf, women’s volleyball, men’s cross country/track and field, and national champion men’s volleyball.
Michael Godinez: Internship Profile
Major: Pursuing a BSEd in secondary education and a BS in math
Internship: Student teaching at St. Ignatius College Prep
Coordinating Teacher: Ruston Broussard (MEd’ 12)
Why teaching? “My mom is a teacher, first of all. But I wasn’t sure what I was going to do when I was in high school. Then, senior year, I had a great pre-calculus teacher. It was the first time I understood how math worked, and I was tutoring people. My teacher said, ‘I see how you explain things to people. You can do this.’”
One-on-one “We have a department office, and we have an empty classroom to use as a math resource room. Kids come in with homework or whatever. I’ve been taking those meetings, which I really enjoy. I like being able to work one on one with kids.”
Excelsior “There are days when you get up there, and you think you have the greatest lesson plan, and they just look at you like, ‘What are you talking about?’ So you keep trying to do better.”
Drive to succeed “I really enjoy it. The kids are almost too driven—especially the older ones. I tell them not to stress out too much. Everybody is like, ‘How can I do better? Can I come in for help?’”
Tip of the iceberg “Just from seeing my mom, I knew teaching was a lot of work.
She’ll be at school until 7 and then work another couple hours at home. But I never fully realized how much goes into preparing for class. We work through homework problems, because we have to explain it the next day and we don’t want to be solving giant equations on the fly. We’re doing the homework too! I’ve been surprised how much teaching goes beyond just the things you think of—grading, writing tests—there’s so much more.”
The sky is no limit
”Man is by nature a terrestrial animal. He doesn’t belong in the air,” says David James (PhB ’49).
He is speaking from experience. James served as a military pilot and a member of the Tuskegee Airmen in World War II. He went on to become, among other things, the first African American salesman at the Burroughs Corporation, the first African American attorney hired by the American Bar Association, the first African American homeowner in Winnetka, Illinois, and a lifelong civil rights advocate.
James had always been captivated by aviation. As a child (one of 10 siblings), he would take the streetcar from his home in the Woodlawn neighborhood to the airfield at Midway to watch planes take off. He remembers Italo Balbo’s landmark flight from Rome to the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair.
“I have a souvenir from the flight, bringing greetings from the king at that time,” James says. “Mussolini was of course the premier. It was a big feat—a daring expedition and a demonstration of the potential of aviation. It was amazing. It was wonderful.”
In 1942, shortly after enrolling at Loyola, James joined the Army and went to Tuskegee, Alabama, to train as a pilot and a member of the Tuskegee Airmen, the first African American military aviators in a racially segregated military. James learned to fly at Moton Field in a Boeing Stearman, a biplane with an open cockpit and virtually no instruments, save an altimeter, a tachometer, and a magnetic compass.
“Flying was very primitive in those days,” James says. “I often say that the first automobile I drove didn’t have a self-starter, and neither did the first airplane I flew.”
Primary training lasted six weeks, after which James graduated to a more advanced plane with an enclosed cockpit, a radio, stabilizers, an artificial horizon, and a gyroscopic compass.
“It was a big leap,” James says. “You have to learn lessons in humility—your senses aren’t reliable, so you learn to depend on your instruments.”
In the final stages of training, James and his class learned firsthand about the importance of oxygen.
“The airfield had an oxygen chamber—huge, maybe five stories—that simulated altitudes from sea level to 30,000 feet,” James says. “To impress upon us that you need oxygen, they put us in this enclosed chamber and the guy conducting the experiment said, ‘Half of you go up with oxygen masks, and half without.’ I volunteered to go without. I thought, ‘I can handle anything.’ We watched those guys putting on their masks, and we started making fun of them, laughing, saying they looked funny. Then we started going up. At 5,000 feet, we felt good. At 10,000 feet, we felt great. I kept thinking, ‘Higher, higher!’ The next thing I knew, I woke up and the guys with the masks were laughing at us. We had all passed out.”
The experience stuck with James for the rest of his life. “The only thing that I guess I have a fear of is not having enough oxygen,” he says. “I can be in a situation, and I know it’s totally psychological, but I think, ‘I wish I had a mask.’ I know what oxygen can do.”
James and the 332nd Fighter Group flew skillful combat missions over North Africa, Sicily, and mainland Europe until the war ended in 1945. They risked and sometimes gave their lives for the Allied cause, despite the discrimination they faced both inside and outside the military.
After the war, James was eager to return to Loyola, where he studied the classics: Latin, Greek, and philosophy. He was one of just six African American students at the university, and he recalls being treated well.
“There weren’t enough of us to cause a fuss,” James says. In 1946, while in school, James began to volunteer at Chicago’s Friendship House, a Catholic apostolate devoted to interracial justice and race relations. It was there that he met a young lawyer named Mary Genevieve Galloway, who asked him to join a sit-in at a Walgreens lunch counter. “I thought, I must have some homework or something to do,” James says. But he went anyway.
The two married in 1949 and went on to have six children. Mary, who came from a well-off family in Wisconsin, was inspired to work for racial and economic equality by a walk through a poor Chicago neighborhood on her way to catch a train at the LaSalle Street Station.
“She just couldn’t believe people lived like that,” James says. “She had never seen poverty before. She started asking questions, and the answers she got were very stupid, like, ‘They want to live that way.’ Nobody wants to live like that if they have a choice. She wanted answers, and she spent a lifetime trying to figure them out.”
Upon his graduation from Loyola, James went to work for the Burroughs Corporation, a business equipment manufacturer, as the company’s first African American salesman. He chose the company because of its work in developing electronics, which James believed to be revolutionary. “I decided that computers were the wave of the future,” James says.
He later worked for the University of Chicago and the State of Illinois, eventually pursuing a law degree, which he obtained from De Paul in 1963.
“I married a lawyer, and I went to law school to figure out what she was talking about,” James says.
In 1967, James became the first African American lawyer to be hired by the American Bar Association, where he worked until 1984. He and Mary continued their work for Friendship House, and through his connection with the organization, James met Martin Luther King Jr. when he came to speak at the Village Green in predominantly-white Winnetka, Illinois, in 1965. King had been invited to speak by a group of citizens concerned about housing discrimination and a lack of diversity in North Shore communities.
“I drove him up to the speech. There were eight to ten thousand people on the Village Green. I said, ‘Good luck,’” James says. “But it didn’t precipitate a riot. Martin said, ‘These folks are incredibly receptive. Someone’s got to break the ice and move in here.’ At the time, I hadn’t the foggiest notion of moving to Winnetka.”
But, in 1967, move into the area he did, becoming the first African American homeowner in Winnetka. That same year, he and Mary founded the Together We Influence Growth day camp, which brings children from the South Side of Chicago together with children from the North Shore each summer. In the early ‘70s, James helped found the Interfaith Housing Center of the Northern Suburbs, which works for housing equality.
His legal career took him from the US Department of Labor to private practice until his retirement in 2000. Mary passed away in 1996.
Harry Truman signed an executive order ending racial segregation in the military in 1948. In 2007, George W. Bush honored the Tuskegee Airmen with a Congressional Gold Medal for their service six decades earlier. In 2009, James, along with more than 100 other Tuskegee Airmen, attended the inauguration of Barack Obama by special invitation.
David James has lived a life touched by war and discrimination, but also by love and an unceasing commitment to justice. And through his bravery and determination—both in the air and on land—he has changed for the better the country he loves.